Slot canyons surround the edges of the Urique River, which winds through the tropical forests in the Copper Canyon region. Military macaws squawk from the treetops and wild fruit grows throughout the area. This image is only about a hundred yards into the canyon; on the reverse side, the canyon winds several miles deeper into the side of the mountain, where a small family of Tarahumara people live, raising chickens and crops in an open clearing.
My guide was a local Urique resident, woefully hungover after spending the previous evening drinking and celebrating at a local young woman’s Quinceañera. I thought, by the time I had made it this far into the state of Chihuahua, I was reasonably conditioned to make this hike without too much trouble. Tomás managed to make me feel like a weak and vulnerable kitten.
It was a rigorous hike. My two traveling companions tapped-out and headed back to the village only an hour-or-so into the canyon. I’m incredibly thankful that I stuck it out, even though I was somewhat hobbled by blisters the following day. Once we made it back out and onto the gravel road, we hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck. It was the hottest part of the day, closing in on 115 degrees. I got back to the farm I was staying at, plucked a basket full of lemons, and hung out in the shade, slicing and juicing them into a plastic pitcher.
Best glass of lemonade I think I have ever enjoyed in my life, before or since.
The town of Urique is at the bottom of the valley Barranca de Urique, formed by the river of the same name. In today’s photograph, you can see this river winding through the frame, and the small town huddled around it (a population hovering around one-thousand). The road down into the canyon is a series of switchbacks that wind back and forth toward the village. It’s a low-maintenance road, and a reasonably harrowing experience to drive down. Stories abound about rocks that have crushed cars, and vehicles that have tumbled over the edge.
I bought a bus ticket and put my life in the hands of somebody more skilled at making the journey than myself, and we crawled down the dirt road.
Due to its relatively low elevation above sea level – Urique is about 550 meters – the climate is nearly tropical. The town only has electricity for a fixed number of hours every evening (for light, mostly, once the sun goes down) and, during the hot days of summer, most of the village goes down to the river during the day to keep cool in the water, saving work for the early morning and for sundown.
Papayas, lemons, oranges, and bananas grow wild in the surrounding areas on the outskirts of town, and the villagers actively cultivate their own fruit and vegetable gardens. On hikes through the forest, you can find a shady spot, pluck a fresh orange from a tree, sit down and take a rest. It’s a glorious and unspoiled little corner of the world.