Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Reaching Copper Canyon terrifyingly exciting

Wick's World


Since I retired, buying books has become my lucrative hobby. Every couple days I scour used book stores, rummage sales, thrift shops, libraries, estates sales, auctions and anywhere new, old, used or rare books can be found. I love it; I made my hobby a business! Who wouldn’t love getting up each morning taking a never-ending morel mushroom hunt in feverish anticipation of finding the prize?

Last week I found a book that answers a question that has been lingering in my mind for 20 years. It wasn’t as valuable as the 1928 first edition book I recently found written by George Herman Ruth (the Babe) about his life in baseball. It was only a mere paperback with the title “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” that caught my eye. It was a book I never thought would be written. First, here is some background as to why I was so intrigued.

Twenty years ago, I took my family on a daring adventure to one of the most remote spots in the western hemisphere. The Copper Canyon Train traverses a series of canyons that covers one third of Chihuahua. It travels over 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels over a 400-mile span of tracks. At times you look straight down several hundred feet at the caboose as the train snakes its way through this beautifully nature-carved territory. Reaching Copper Canyon, located in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, requires a 14-hour train ride on what is widely acclaimed as one of the top five train trips in the world.

The canyon was named, not for the presence of copper itself, but for the color of the steep canyon walls. Another mineral was discovered in the 1800s at the bottom of the canyon near a town called Batopilas — silver. The silver deposits were so rich in this area building a railway system through this highly inaccessible area was attempted. What was started over a hundred years before was finally completed in 1961 and became known as the Copper Canyon Railroad. You can readily access a tour on the Copper Canyon Train through any travel agency, or like my family, hop a plane to Mazatlan, take a bus or train to Los Mochis and start your Copper Canyon adventure.

For a few pesos, we hired a 10-year old native girl named Veronica (pronounced Vera-neeka) to guide us around the area. She took us to a steep waterfall hidden deep in the canyons. The train, the accommodations, food, entertainment and everything in Copper Canyon cost only a few pesos each, resulting in a very inexpensive family adventure.

Nestled among these canyons, one finds the most traditional tribe of natives in North America, the Tarahumara Indians. They are known as the Running People. From the time they are born, they run up and down the canyon walls, traversing many grueling miles a day. When they want to visit the few neighbors in this remote canyon wilderness, it is not uncommon to simply run a hundred miles to the next settlement where a local corn beer called tesguino is being brewed, drink up, then turn around and run back home.

The Tarahumara are known for the days-long races that can last 300 miles. The races include kicking a wooden ball across rugged, inaccessible terrain. It was during this trip I heard rumors of legendary stories of this incredible tribe and their super-human feats. I also heard the legend of an ex-California marathon runner who settled at the bottom of Copper Canyon to live a life of seclusion. Rarely seen by locals, and almost never by outsiders, he was dubbed as Caballo Blanco (White Horse) because of his pale skin and long flowing blond hair.

This trip is not for the weak at heart as getting around the canyon can be quite the challenge. The train ride is sure to take your breath away, but a ride on one of the old beat up school buses that shuttle to the bottom of the canyon (a full day’s journey) is apt to stop your heart. Let’s put it this way: It’s terrifyingly exciting! It took me to the village at the bottom of the world where much of this story takes place.

I never knew if I could believe Caballo Blanco even existed much less staged “The Greatest Race the World has Never Seen.” Many of my questions were answered after reading this book. I had no idea I had actually walked within a few yards of reclusive Caballo Blanco’s stone hut hidden part way up a canyon wall.

Return next week for some incredible tales about races, marathons, ultra-marathons, narcotraficantes and how to hunt Tarahumara style by outrunning a deer.


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