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Old 10-19-2004, 07:16 PM   #1
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The Road Less Traveled to Copper Canyon

Since there are a lot of great pics of Copper Canyon already in the catacombs of ADVRider, but this trip report is going to focus more on the trip to and from.

Intro:

For about a month, I have been researching a half dozen paper and GPS maps, looking for an obscure, offbeat and less traveled route across the Sierra Madre than the usual routes.

After much thought, I decided to cross at Douglas/Agua Prieta and head south through Sonora and cross the Sierra Madres into Chihuahua through a very rugged and remote area.



I was riding a 2001 KTM 640 Adventure, and jumpingchollo was on a street legal 2000 XR600R. The KTM was outfitted with an MT21 in the front and a TKC80 in the rear, and was freshly serviced and ready to roll. The XR was fitted up with a Karoo in the front and a TKC80 in the rear. They both proved to be good choices.

We packed light, with just two day's worth of clothing, tools, tubes/flat repair stuff, some survival gear (if everything just went all to hell), a few Powerbars, lots of water, Camelbacks, and three GPS' to compliment the maps. No sleeping bags, tents, camping gear - too heavy.

Our plan was to ride as far as we could and find a place to sleep before nightfall. We didn't plan to camp, but if we needed to, we had enough gear to rough it and get by (emergency sleeping bags and a tarp).

We rolled into Douglas on Tuesday night about 10pm, and we got all our paperwork done that night. That was a good thing since the border shut down the next morning for a few hours with a computer SNAFU, effectively delaying a lot of travelers (like lasvegasrider).

With everything done, we settled into the Gadsden Hotel, had a few Tecates, and crashed at about midnight. In the morning, we needed to get some coffee, repack the bikes, change some money, get some extra oil and hit the road.
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Old 10-19-2004, 07:47 PM   #2
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Day 1

Day 1:

We woke at dawn, packed the bikes, and set off to change money. The morning is cool, maybe in the mid fifties, and not a cloud in the sky.

CRAP! The Cambio doesn't open until 0900! Dammit!

We head up the road to Mc Donalds and get some coffee and screw around for a while.



The KTM is set up with Dirt Bagz, and they are a very effective and cheap way to carry a minor amount of gear for a trip like this. Two thumbs up Travel light.

After a bit of java, we're bristling with caffeine and head down to the Cambio, which opened early. We're first on line and change out some American cash to pesos, and we're off to the border!



We head down Avenue 6 until it intersects with 2, and head east. On the east side of Agua Prieta, right at the propane tanks, there's a lonely dirt road that heads off southeast into the Sonoran desert.

This is where you leave the pavement at Agua Prieta.



Before long, the road becomes the typical Mexican dirt road, but becomes progressively more narrow, curvy, with a lot of elevation changes. The road had been graded sometime recently, and the cattle guards make excellent whoop-de-doos. I'm roosting along, and catching air on a loaded 640. Cool!

As we push into the desert, I see the headlight on the XR go out. We pull over, and find the whole electrical system has a massive short in it and keeps tripping the circuit breaker. Abort? To hell with that, we don' need no steeenkin' lights. The XR has a seperate ignition coil/pulser, so we push onward.











There isn't a soul out here, and the road become progressively more rough, narrow and windy, turning into more of a trail than a road. We're making good time before we get lost the first time.

The maps of areas like this are somewhat sketchy, and there are far more trails and doubletrack out here than there are on the maps, which, by the way, contradict each other in a number of ways.

After a 20+ mile navigational fiasco over some rather heinous sandwashes and other stuff, we begin to figure out a system using the powerlines, an occasional road sign or painted rock, and the GPS.



The road becomes a trail and we soldier on. The riding is great, although our speed continues to drop. I had figured we could make 200 miles a day, but that quickly proved to be not possible.



After about 75 miles of sandwashes, arroyos, boulders, we emerge onto a nicely graded road. It's in a beautiful valley and we begin to see signs of civilization, in the form of caballeros and a river - with some greenery!



After a few more miles, we reached the small desert town of Bavispe, where we need to get gas, some food and recharge our water supplies. By now, it is 1400, and we have figured out we're a long ways short of where we hoped to be.

We find gasolina, the pump carefully hidden in a closet, some Cokes, water and 'Glorias' - a cookie of some sort, which becomes lunch.









I chatted [in broken Spanish] with the guy that runs the road grader at this Northern end of the valley - at least as far as they manicure the roads. After some insights from him, we decide to try to make Bacadehuachi or Nacori and look for somewhere to stay the night.

After gassing up, we saddle up and hit it, now racing the sun.

The town of Bacerac:



The road through the valley is alternately well manicured dirt that looks to have some amount of traffic the farther south we go.



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Old 10-19-2004, 07:58 PM   #3
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You said:It's in a beautiful valley and we begin to see signs of civilization, in the form of caballeros and a river - with some greenery!

'Glorias' - a cookie of some sort, which becomes lunch.

Caballeros....? this is spanish for 'gentlemen', I reckon you mean 'caballos', which are horses?

As for the glorias, normally they are caramel with nuts rolled up in a celephane wrapper?

Hey, cool report keep it coming.
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Old 10-19-2004, 08:05 PM   #4
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When we reached Huachinera, it was already nearly 4pm, and we abandoned the original plan to take a very rugged 50 mile route across the Sierras to Tres Rios, since it would be nightfall long before we could traverse the trail.

It was a cardinal rule before we set out to not ride at night, and with one bike now with no lights, impending pitch dark and no moon, 2,000+ foot dropoffs, and the local reports of banditos and drug mmugglers ranging about up there, we decided to push south through Huachinera towards Bacadehuachi and Nacori Chico and take the long way around.





As we went farther south, there were road crews out surveying and actually making cuts into the landscape to make the roads more smooth and even in this undulating foothill terrain.





By now, we were back to 60+ MPH blasting across the desert, as the road was in excellent condition:



Then, as we neared Anbabi, the road became PAVED! A Godsend, as the shadows became longer and we still had a ways to go to get to a town. I feared that more pavement was coming in the future.





The pavement didn't last long, as we had to turn east again and head back into the foothills towards Bacadehuachi.



The shadows grow longer!
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Old 10-19-2004, 08:07 PM   #5
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Quote:
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Caballeros....? this is spanish for 'gentlemen', I reckon you mean 'caballos', which are horses?
Cowboys, ie, guys riding horses --> the first humans we'd seen for hours.
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Old 10-19-2004, 08:39 PM   #6
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So, in retrospect, it appears that pavement is pushing it's way north up that valley, and at some point, the road will be paved to Hauchinera, then Bacerac, and maybe as far as Bavispe? Or further?

At this point, I realized my license plate fractured and fell off somewhere out in the desert, before we even reached Bavispe. Oh well, there's not much I can do about it, so we just keep going.

As the shadows grew even longer, it became apparent that we were going to hole up in Bacadehuachi for the night. As we rolled into the Plaza, we were surrounded by children. I was quite amazed how facinated they were with the motocicletas, and we enjoyed visiting with them until dark fell upon us.

We were lucky to find a "hotel" - cuartos de renta - in the dark. And that is when we met Raul and Dolores, the owners. They didn't speak a word of English - but through the day our Spanish had improved. Dolores offered to let us bring the bikes inside when I asked about leaving them on the street.



Dolores sent one of the hijos to get beer, and while we cleaned up, she cooked us a fabulous meal consisting of a chicken chile and potato stew, accompanied by rice, beans, homemade corn tortillas and the obligatory Tecates.

After talking with her, Raul and their daughter, Maria, for a couple hours, we decided to hit the racks. We'd only covered about 160 miles in nearly nine hours, and we were whipped.

Raul was in his 60's and had been the town's street sweeper since 1968. That is not a mechanized job - it's done with a broom. Interestingly, we chatted about the Yankees & Boston - Raul was a Yankees fan. He was also not a John Kerry advocate.



I suspect we were asleep by 2130! After what felt like a night's sleep, the rooster started to do his thing. I got up, feeling rested, and stumbled down the hall to the terlit to give back a couple Tecates. Right in the window (there was none - just a hole), was the rooster looking right at me.

At that point realized we had no timepiece. I dug out my GPS - which was still on TN time, and switched it on. It was 0122. The freaking rooster started crowing at 1122 local time. WTF?

Back to the rack, my brain attempting to tune out the rooster, to put my 40 year old body back into a fitful sleep - somewhat interrupted by that goddamned rooster about every 45 minutes.

At about 0400, I heard Dolores shuffling about, stoking up the wood fire as she began making tortillas. We got up at about 0600, and were treated to fresh ground coffee, fried huevos, beans, tortillas and salsa.

After settling up with Raul and Dolores - 160 pesos each for the room and the meals, the sun began to rise. We saddled up and got ready to hit it.



And so concludes the first 24 hours.

Day 2 is the crossing of the Sierra Madres. Stay tuned.
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Old 10-19-2004, 08:46 PM   #7
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Stay tuned.
Believe me, we will.
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Old 10-19-2004, 09:05 PM   #8
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Day 1 proved to be a bit of an ass-kicker. That was simply because there just isn't much information out there about the route we planned, and the mileage was much farther between points than we expected. A good deal of it was 1st, 2nd and third gear stuff. And getting lost in an endless sea of sand washes only to have to turn around because of a locked gate. That costs us an hour and a half right there.

Yet it was an AWESOME first day, with some of the best riding I have had in years. I was tired, but elated. Day 1 was an adventure!

During the night before we passed out, I researched the maps I had with me, and surmised that we should be able to reach Madera rather easily the next day. Maybe further than that. Our original plan had us taking a route south from Madera on dirt that would eventually take us almost to Basaseachi Falls. However, plans change --> On day 1 we scrapped the original route because we wouldn't have made it before dark, and we could get some miles in on the 'low road'.

However, for Day 2, what looked like 70 miles was in reality many more.

Switchbacks. Lots and lots of switchbacks.

And so starts DAY 2:



Notice all those really close together topo lines? Looks steep, eh?
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Old 10-19-2004, 09:47 PM   #9
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We left Bacadehuachi before gasolina was available. With a belly full of Dolores' great food, a few hours' rest, a full Cameback, we set off to Nacori.

So far, I have asked directions probably thirty times. Everyone we have met is incredibly nice and friendly and all too happy to help. However, if you ask directions from three different people, you get three different answers.

We change modes again and ask much simpler questions and process the information ourselves. It becomes obvious that many of the people we have met have never been to the next town, much less the town after that. Most folks know the route north to the border, but few know the route we planned to take this day.

The only vehicle we see between Bacadehuachi and Nacori was the Corona delivery truck. I couldn't believe a truck could navigate these roads. There were a lot of very sharp curves, huge ruts and holes, as well as rocks the size of your head all over the place. The truck has a blown tire, and we were no help.

At Nacori, we find a Pemex - the first one yet, and fill up. Killer, my riding buddy, destroys the glass cover on the pump while trying to kick start the XR600R, which has become increasingly more unruly as the altitude grows. After doling out a 100 pesos to fix the glass, we stop to get some more dry cookies and extra water since the next leg of the trip looks to be very rugged with no towns until we reach Tres Rios or farther. The Proprietor has no idea where we're going and can't offer any useful information.



As we pack up, a brown Chevy pickup cruises past us a number of times, and finally stops. Alejando introduces himself, and promptly offers us a cold beer from his cooler. It's 0830 in the morning. Hospitality O' plenty. Alejandro knows the route north to Agua Prieta, but has never gone over the passes to the east - where we're going.



On the way out of town, we met up with Luis, an American, who is visiting relatives in Nacori. He's from Payson, and we chat with him for 15 minutes before we head into the Sierras.





The road quickly becomes very rugged and steep, with many switchbacks, boulders, rocks and elevation changes. We pass through 8,000 feet and continue to climb. The views are AWESOME. Far off in the distance, we could see the road out of Huachinera that we'd planned to take yesterday, but didn't.....







We can actually see the road as we cross from range to range over the Sierras. Can you say switchback?



I'm loving every second of this, and here's a ADVRider pic to prove it:

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Old 10-19-2004, 09:55 PM   #10
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Gotta go to work. Part 2 tomorrow.

Thanks fer lookin' so far.
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Old 10-19-2004, 10:03 PM   #11
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Gotta go to work. Part 2 tomorrow.

Thanks fer lookin' so far.
fascinating and excellent, gaspipe. lookin' forward to tomorrow--very much!
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Old 10-19-2004, 10:04 PM   #12
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Old 10-19-2004, 10:30 PM   #13
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Great report so far Gaspipe.
It was nice to meet you at Creel, you guys took the ADVrider way for sure.

Keep it coming
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Old 10-19-2004, 10:59 PM   #14
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Gaspipe, this is a great review. You guys had a hell of an exciting trip. Great meeting up with you and "killer" at the canyon.
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Old 10-20-2004, 08:47 AM   #15
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Thanks for the encouragement guys. I have a few minutes, so I'll give another chunk of the trip:

Day 2, continued:

I forgot to mention the front flat on the KTM as we started this morning. No biggy, but I notice a lot of wear on my front tire. Low air pressure, lots of weight and fairly aggressive riding will do that.

As we continue to climb out of Nacori towards Tres Rios and Mesa Prieta, the road is so rough in places that I can no longer keep the GPS running at all while we're in motion. Every so often, I stopped and got a bearing, and continued on as the GPS shut off. It's not the vibration from the bike, but the constant pounding of the road. So much for the Touratech super duper squishy mount. It's my fault, because I never had the time to hardwire the GPS into the KTM.

Curiously, way out in the middle of nowhere on these switchbacks, there are random curves with a hand laid, crude concrete surface. Seemingly effective erosion protection?

I never stopped to take pics in the really rough sections, I was too busy negotiating them on a loaded bike that is a bit big for this job. An XR400 may be the ticket. Killer does an excellent job powering his way through this stuff with a sticky throttle and horribly rich carburetion on his XR's Only 600. Right before we left, he installed a 41mm Mikuni flatslide, and we never did get it dialed in. The altitude amplifies the problems.

As we near the continental divide, maybe a dozen miles from the Sonora/Chihuahua border, we get some awesome vistas again:

The road continually alternates from very rocky and rutted inclines to suspiciously smooth dirt road. The pic doesn't convey the steepness of the terrain very well.







As we crest the divide and plunge over the top near the Chihuahua border, the fauna changes dramatically to a pine forest. We're about 8,500+ feet, and the XR is coughing and basically busting Killer's hump, but he adeptly handles the challenge. We don't have time to stop since we've been climbing in 1st and second gear all morning. We've traveled many miles, but not made a good deal of progress towards our goal of reaching Madera or Guerrerro.



The high forest has been logged in the past, and there are many forks in the road and is generally confusing. The intermittent GPS causes me lots of confusion since the compass is now always showing NORTH, and I cannot get the thing to run long enough to build any tracks to see our movement trends in relation to the route we're following.

The views are still incredible as we look east.



After a few minor turn arounds, we reach Tres Rios and make a right towards Mesa Prieta - and right into a nice water crossing. I'm really wishing I brought a regular old compass now.

Much of the trail looks to not have had a wheel roll over it in quite some time. Mostly, those turn out to be the wrong turns! On one section, the trail is a stream - the reason why we went the other way. After a few miles, we doubled back and went up the stream and got back on course.

The area that we're traversing is right on the Sonora/Chihuahua border, and we make many wrong turns and negotiate some really horrible trails, only to find we have to retrace several miles of them. By now, we've lost a few water bottles, our Mexican cookies have turned back into flour, and we dropped a quart of oil while bouncing along trying to figure out where we are. I'm using my 60C as a a compass now - I was smart enought to bring a backup GPS, but it was unable to assimilate the Mexican route I programmed into the Garmin V.

We've not stopped AT ALL this day. No lunch, no nothing, and by now it is about 1500, and my Camelback is empty. I'm beginning to wonder if we're going to be bivouacking up here tonight, and thoughts of tangling with drug smugglers and other ne'er-do-wells come and go in my head.



I just put in a new set of fork seals right before we left, and have been good to bleed the forks periodically. However, they have begun leaking and the handling is beginning to deteriorate on the KTM.

Despite that navigational issues, the ride is amazing. Killer and I could only get a week off each, and our true goal was to find that road less traveled and make a real adventure for ourselves, even if it is to be short duration. The fact that we could find no information about this route is why we picked it, and we're glad we did.

Although the map says we go to Mesa Prieta, we find out that we in fact do not go there, and wind around the steep mountain valleys around it.

After we get ourselves lost a few more times, the shadows are getting long, and the valleys darker and darker now that we're on the east side of the divide. Tip: when you start reaching wire fence gates across the road, you've gone the wrong way.

Water is now becoming an issue, as we're a couple liters low due to loss, and I am developing a massive headache, just to add another distraction to the task loading. Killer's bike is nearly out of gas, despite a 5.5 gallon tank. We've only traveled about 60 miles by way of the crow's flight, but have traveled well over a hundred miles at low speed by now.

Our goal is now to reach El Largo by nightfall, yet will we make it? Madera? NFW, not today with no lights on one of the bikes.



After some more oddball dead reckoning, I figure out where we are and where we need to be, as well as a trail to get us there. Hopefully.

Our survival gear was minimal: A tarp, two emergency aluminized mylar sleeping bags, a butane lighter, a few Powerbars and iodine tablets. Travel light, remember? We may be slightly uncomfortable, but we'll be OK.

Minimal pics taken today, as we had a lot to do and needed to make time and miles.

All of a sudden, we're on much more level ground, yet still over 7,000 feet up. The road smooths out, and there are several timber bridges over a swift river in this beautiful pine forest. We're honking along at 50+ mph by now, and I'm catching air on the 640 as we cross bridges, dry mud puddles and other obstacles.

Killer's bike is now been on reserve for a while. I figure I have a couple gallons left in the KTM. The dust is severe and we have a half mile of distance between us. As we round a curve, a small village comes into view just as the sun begins to set.

We manage to finagle 3 liters of gasolina from a woman for 50 pesos. There's an old rusty barrel in the barn. She fills a few liters into an impossibly filthy 5 gallon plastic bucket and gives us a length of old garden hose to siphon the gas into Killer's bike. Smells like old paint thinner to me....

We're off again as darkness creeps up, and Killer's bike is now smoking and belching like a 19th century coke furnace. Shit! Bad gas!

Despite that, we blast down wide and smooth dirt roads toward El Largo, a place I know we can get gas, food and some kind of roof over our heads. The temperature drops rapidly as darkness envelopes us.

Killer does a phenomenal job keeping his lightless XR along side me in the darkness and dust as we do 60+ mph towards the dull glow of El Largo.

More Later Tonight.
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