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Cathy Waterman
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Copper Canyon was created by rivers cutting from the high mesas at almost 8000 feet to river level at around 2500 feet. Part of the adventure of hiking in this vertical country is fording the rivers. There are suspension bridges, but every year there are less as age and record floods destroy them. Locals, too, ford the rivers with burro trains to supply isolated communities. #burro-trekking #backpacking #Mexico hiking #CopperCanyon
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EL CAMINO DEL DIABLO
A Trip Report on The Devil’s Highway.

An alternative route west of Arizona pioneered by Jesuit missionaries as they established their string of California missions became know as the Camino del Diablo. More northerly routes were subject to Apache raids, but this arid stretch through the Gran Desierto and the Sierra Pinacate offered less depredations, but no less danger. Long stretches had to be crossed without water, and many people and their stock made many an uncomfortable dry camp in anticipation of arriving at strategically placed life-renewing water sources. The string of pools, seeps, and tinajas were as precious as gold until the plentiful water of the Rio Colorado at Yuma. Early historic travelers commented on cross shaped piles of rock as markers to the unlucky. To this day, modern travelers can still see some of these dark rocks against the tan sands. From sporty Razors or comfortable 4wd trucks loaded with coolers, water tanks, and spare gas, the sight of these gravesites is a sobering reminder of the tough life of our predecessors. But even today, it is recommended to make the 130 mile journey with two vehicles or more. Unlikely sources of water in a vast desert primarily populated by ironwood and pronghorn beckoned missionaries, and later gold seekers to California. Fabled springs like Quitovaquito, Carrizal, Las Playas, Senita, Baker, Tule, Cabeza Prieta, and Tinajas Altas tempted the adventurous.

Recently, a group of us decided to travel the Camino with an eye to documenting the condition of the sources of water. Entering from Ajo, we traversed Cabaza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to Pozo Nuevo. There was a dry fenced-off well, an old mesquite corral, and a derelict windmill, but no water. Pozo Viejo was an unmarked, heavily fenced area not far away, and appeared dry, too. Here, a 14-mile (one-way) detour off the main road took us to a road junction with Organ Pipe National Monument and Quitovaquito Well on the international border. Thankfully, the lack of a border wall allowed us to see highway signs in Old Mexico in order to mark some Mexican aguajes mentioned in accounts of Padre Kino and Juan Bautista de Anza, among others (but that’s another trip report). The desert springs of Quitovaquito are a wonder. Half an acre of clear water surrounded by rushes and reeds, and inhabited by endemic Quitovaquito pupfish and Sonoyta mud turtles. Popular since before it’s “discovery” by Padre Kino in 1698, it was obviously rehabbed, and they did a good job. Long may it flow!

Back at the junction, our next stop was Papago Well. There was a flag-topped solar-powered migrant call-button, a windmill, an empty steel tank, and inconspicuously hidden nearby was a guzzler, with a motion activated camera on the lookout for wildlife and wily migrants. Papago Well is one of three “official” campsites so designated by picnic tables. Fires are allowed, but bring your own firewood.

The next water source was listed on the map as Las Playas. The only giveaway were the sinuous ruts that meandered across a scrubby, dusty llano. Even a trace of rain would turn that area into a glorious greasefest that we thankfully avoided. The braid of roads and ruts continued for a couple of miles, and put us onto a volcanic debris field. Here, our handy-dandy guidebook provided by the Cabeza Prieta NWR office upon obtaining our free permit, once again proved useful. The dark volcanic rock weathered in stark contrast to the light colored sands, but from a vehicle two historic markers could have easily been overlooked. O’Neil’s grave received many visitors. The unobtrusive “Nameer’s 1877” marker was our clue to park for a hike up a prominent cinder cone.

Tule Well is the next water source, and a major junction on the Camino. The north fork is 6 miles to Christmas Pass, and 50 miles to I-8 at Tacna on the west side of the Mohawk Mountains. One point eight miles to the west is the junction for the road up the east side of the Cabeza Prieta range. Just two miles to the north is a canyon entering from the west. Up the second canyon to the south is Buckhorn tank. There was about 50 gallons of dark, algae choked water in a protected, sandy-bottomed narrows. The map showed that Tule Tank was SSW in the next westward trending canyon, and Padre Kino’s description had the water pocket 1600 feet up the canyon. By heading the canyon, and dropping in from the top, we hoped to avoid circumnavigating the ragged, jagged outcroppings. Just ten meters above the Buckhorn, we found an overhanging rock protecting several Caborca Black water jugs, and a couple of pairs of carpet overshoes. This cottage-industry slip-on footwear is the height of fashion for the discriminating border crosser. The Border Patrol drags the road to smooth out tracks. In response, migrants don these low impact shoes to minimize their tracks, and if a decent wind is blowing, there will be no evidence of their crossing.

As we headed the canyon, and dropped into the adjacent drainage there were a couple of missiles, including one still with fins. Part of the free permit system is to become acquainted with this dangerous debris that litters the range. Military ordinance could be live, so never, ever touch them. From the head of the canyon, the southern canyon is a broad straight drainage, but our target was the next canyon to the west. Just five minutes on the ridge led us into this tight, sinuous arroyo choked with elephant tree, nolina, bighorn scat, and lots of fresh people tracks, with fabulous views of the broad plain to the south, and range upon purple range beyond. At a 40 foot cliff, we found Tule Tank; barely a gallon of semi-liquid water in a tinaja.

Cabeza Prieta is best explored as an overnight so bound as we were to our vehicles, our next target was Tinajas Altas- the most reliable water source on the Camino. This water source is a series of nine pools in a northeast facing arroyo. As such, it isn't subject to much evaporation. The four lower pools can be accessed from the arroyo from an increasingly inclined slab. The upper pools must be accessed by climbing a steep, loose chute, and then dropping into the drainage. Each pool from above requires a rope to get into. Not a good choice for stock, but then all except the lowest from the bajada below is easily accessed! Evidence of its perennial nature is confirmed by numerous morteros, metates, and petroglyphs.

Just north of Tinjas Altas is Cipriano Pass that cuts to the west side of the range. As Vukopi ridge ends, the pass is home to Spook Tank. Upon our arrival, Spook Tank was no more than a wet spot in the sand about 20 minutes up from the mouth of the canyon. If it wasn't for a few bees slaking their thirst, this tank would have been easy to overlook.

Backtracking from Tule Well are a couple of tanks work noting. Senita Tank is almost to Christmas Pass, in a green arroyo to the east of the road, about ten minutes down an "Authorized Use Only" track. It was monitored by a motion camera, and the protected tinaja had a good pool of water. A man-made dry-stacked wall above served to slow water flow to settle out sand and gravel from the occasional rainfall.

North about 5 miles past Christmas Pass is a beacon tower on the right. This is the parking area for the 15 mile roundtrip hike to Heart Tank, Padre Kino's fabled Aguaje de la Luna. A heavily traveled "Authorized Use Only" road leads to it, and to every arroyo south of Sunday Pass, but not having authorization, we decided to walk. Fifty caliber, and 20mm shells throughout the cholla forest and desert flats remind one that the illegality of damaging saguaros is limited to terrestrial visitors, and not flyboys. Heart tank is up a steep granite apron, and the improved tank held hundreds of gallons of water. A nearby blind for bighorn observation, has in turn been taken over by those bighorn. A modern petroglyph was carved in the apron, while potshards littered the entrance near a remote weather station. Previous visitors from south of the border had left "recuerdos" of the popularity of this tank.

Continuing north, there was one last tank to investigate. Baker Tank is nothing more than a series of tinajas in a deeply convoluted riverbed, and was historically a reliable tank. It is a long way to go find it filled with dust, but it is a dramatic setting. The modern traveller can find it just 15 minutes south of I-8 at exit 40E. Don't forget your permit.
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2/16/18
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On a good day, you can see 80 miles from Cerro Pinacate to the high point on Baja California, Picacho del Diablo. Meantime, there is great hiking on shoe-shredding lava flows, explosive sunsets, celebratory ocotillos and elusive reserves of water!.#Reserva de la Biósfera El Pinacate #hiking #sonorandesert
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The 16th running of the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon is the first Sunday in March. If you aren't into running 50 miles in 6 hours, come hike with us. We will leave Divisadero and hike 50 miles in 4 days to arrive in Urique in time to cheer the runners onward and upward. Burro-supported hiking means you only carry a daypack- and our trip is all downhill. 5000 feet of downhill! #thru-hiking #backpacking #CopperCanyon #Tarahumara #burro-trekking
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Escape the Smackdown in the #Snowbelt! 68 inch in 24 hours?! Yow. Plan to visit unknown #Mexico this winter. Sure, beaches are beautiful, but ultimately boring. Try #backpacking, or challenge yourself with #climbing, #canyoning, and #indigenous culture in the spectacular #SierraTarahumara
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The hiking season is in full swing. Team-building, service projects, leadership training can all be accomplished with a backdrop of 1000 meter walls leading to wild flowing rivers. Harvest your own food along the riparian corridor, or let us plan a tasty local menu. #coppercanyon #backpacking #dogfriendly #Tarahumara #thru-hiking
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Trying to feed your family can be tough. It's especially tough in and area with sparse tourism and lots of poppy cultivation. The serranos and indigenous get creative- and sometimes at great peril.
https://features.texasmonthly.com/editorial/the-drug-runners/
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The Pamachi Loop is a fun 35 mile Rim to Rim to Rim with roughly 20,000 feet of elevation change. It's not as tame as Grand Canyon; steeper, deeper, and no bridges. Two fords at low water, or high-lining make it great for adrenaline junkies, too.
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20th anniversary for NAFTA. Corn prices are down, but the Soma holiday continues in DC. The upside is the locals and indigenous farmers in the Barranca del Cobre are supplying an insatiable demand. Copper Canyon Hiking takes you through fields of corn, beans, squash, and the highly sought flowers of evil. Agriculture is backbreaking work. #noglory #warondrugs #coppercanyon
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We can't wait to get back to the Barranca del Cobre. Daytime temperatures in Tucson are still over 100º. At least the Copper Canyon valleys have cool, wild, flowing rivers in them, and temperate canyon rims at 7500 ft.

It shaping up to be a popular backpacking season. Contact us if you can't make the minimum.
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