San Luis Potosi…

September 25, 2010

San Luis Potosi had come up time and time again in conversation, and as it was on our way to the Biosphera, we decided to pay it a visit.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a pretty big sized lake not mentioned on our map about 20 kilometers outside the city and it didn’t take much for us to call it a day.  We set up camp for the evening, taking time to fish in a little drizzle and have a very sav-ory meal of spaghetti and red sauce, quite a rarity in Mexico.  We’d been saving this box of sauce for a while.  The ride into San Luis Potosi went from unnerving, as we had to ride on a freeway to get in, to excitingly comical, once we found there was a bike path, bound by little concrete walls, leading right down the center of the highway.  In it we took comfort, protected slightly from the colossal trucks passing on each side, and we cruised the 11 kilometers effortlessly toward the downtown.

I have to say that it was in this city that we encountered the most genuinely friendly people.  Everyone who stopped to ask us the usual (where are you from, where are you going) really wanted to know and took sometime listening to us butcher Spanish, asking us if we needed any place to stay, anything to drink or any local information.  One very helpful local, AG, even ran off and grabbed us a map of the area, which proved to be quite valuable over the course of the next week.

We had no intention of staying overnight in the city and we sat scratching our heads, staring bleary eyed at the computer screen in a café as it got later and later.  We were both growing a bit tired of the colonial cityscapes. As beautiful and breathtaking as they can be, they can get pretty redundant after while.  It was time for us to put some distance between us and what we felt like it was starting to become Spanish Colonial Tour 2010.

“What do we want to do next?”

One of the beauties of bike touring.  At any given moment, we can decide which way we want to go or what we want to do right and then.  We had heard about the Sierra Gorda range and planned to head there, but we had also just been given an onslaught of new information and names of places that were personally recommended as area favorites.  As we started to type in some of the names, we were bombarded with picture after picture of beautiful scenery.  Brilliantly colored waterfalls, lush cloud forests and mystical sculptures set amongst jungle green backdrops where just a few of the things we saw.

“Let’s go there!”

It was as easy as that.  We where adding a couple 100 kilometers to our trip and taking quite the zig zag way to head south, but it was a new plan that we would thank ourselves for over and over throughout the next week and a half.

An afternoon spent relaxing in a drizzle...

Trying to figure out how to get onto the highway...

...sometimes ends with just pushing the bikes up the embankment and hurtling them over the guard rail...

...to face the daily travels of beasts like this...

To our delight, we got to ride in the middle of the highway, protected slightly on either side...

A bike shop we passed along the way which graciously let us put our wheels on their stand and get a little bike maintenance done...

Ooogling in progress. This was one of the nicest, most organized shops we had seen in Mexico thus far...

Enthusiastic school kids in San Luis Potosi. Most schools here require uniforms...

What goes on when school gets out...

I've mentioned the plazas we find in each town quite frequently before. Well, San Luis Potosi had plazas of many different kinds...

The "real" plaza of San Luis Potosi, Jardin Hidalgo...

Kurt perusing the pastry aisles, as usual...

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We eventually were able to pull ourselves away from all the pastries and modern conveniences of Zacatecas and, as usual, those first few pedal strokes out of the city filled us with such joy we rode on into the evening, putting more and more distance between us and the bright, glittering lights.  Our course of direction was more or less heading east, toward the Biosphera Sierra Gorda, a reserve located in the Sierra Madre Oriental, the of the other mountain ranges of Mexico.   En route we stuck to as many dirt roads as possible, getting to see and feel the impending fall season as we rode through open valleys and  worked over farmland.

Time to switch over to the other pair I think...

Goats, goats, goats. This one's for the homies. Maaaaaaa......

The heart warming sites of autumn on display...

All bound up in the desert flora...

I love the details of these...

These girls were too much. I was packing up and getting ready to push off into an afternoon of riding when I noticed their two little faces continuously peeking out from a nearby community computer lab. Eventually they came over to ask where I was from, where I was going, etc. Then they asked where I slept at night and when I told them we camped and I showed them the tent, they gasped and squealed "Campamiento!?!" Then the girl on the left very cutely, quietly and quite boldly asked me if I wanted to sleep over. The thought of this interaction brings a smile to my face every time I think about it...

Another great unhaunted, tentless sleep spot...

Our dirt road traversed beautiful open scenery such as this...

They smile every time we come in the door.

Yum...

...yum...

...yum...

Bird’s eye views…

September 12, 2010

Looking towards the Cathedral en la noche...

As we hiked up the hillside heading for La Bufa, we came across many a cave and old mine shaft. This is how the bats see la cuidad...

So much packed in there...

The sprawl starts to dissipate a bit as it spreads from the center, but only so much...

To help you absorb it all from above, Zacatecas has the Telerifico. This aerial cable car will take you across the top of the city up to the Cero do la Bufa to peer down at all those colorful rooftops...

After another great morning of dirty dirt riding and dodging kind offers for us to “stay and eat and rest” in the small town of El Maguey, we arrived into the hustle and bustle of the Zacatecas downtown in the late afternoon.  The city is built up on high ground, spreading out beautifully over the hilltops and spilling into the valley situated between.  The ride in was a slap in the face of big city highways and traffic, but we maneuvered just fine.  The Spanish influence and colonization is overwhelmingly present and could be felt immediately (and literally) as we bounced down the cobblestone streets heading for el centro.  Our game plan was to take the afternoon to explore the city, scout out some of the bigger attractions and head out just as it was getting dark to camp outside the city limits.  In our experience, we’ve found that most empty lots, whether abandoned or the sites of things being constructed, are excellent camp spaces…as long as you don’t mind some lights and the noise of careening highway traffic fairly nearby.  You can’t beat the price, the location is usually pretty close to where you want to be in the morning and most times they have a friendly night watchman who is happy to have you.

A brief overview of this great, grand and beautiful city…. Zacatecas is the eye-catching result of some serious amount of silver nearby and the Spaniard greed to extract it all.  Filled with cathedrals, plazas and museums, you can’t help but feel you are somewhere in Europe.  The indigenous folk of Zacatecas, refered to as Zacatecos, mined different mineral deposits for years prior to the Spanish invasion in 1548.  After that, they were enslaved for centuries as the Spaniards shipped load after load of silver off to Mexico city, hence building the wealth allowing for all of those fancy cathedrals and plazas.  The flow of silver slowed in the 19th century due to the political instability and revolutionary types behind them.  Enter Pancho Villa.  In 1914, along with Felipe Angeles, Villa defeated 12,000 soldiers loyal to the then president Victoriano Huerta, thus reclaiming Zacatecas, which was crucial as it was the gateway to Mexico City.  As political stability returned, though it was many more years for this to be, the silver mines did start up again and there is still one active one just outside the city.

Knowing we were going to stay in the city for a day or two, I arranged for some packages to be shipped to a hostel there.  The hostel, Villa Colonial, is smack dab in the middle of the city and after seeing the amazing rooftop view and meeting the friendly owner Ernesto, we decided to stash the bikes here and explore the city on foot, a bit of a luxury in a way.  I am proud to say I even spent a night salsa dancing my flip-flops right off my feet and challenging Ernesto, his brother and their friends to game after game of fuseball, where I managed to stay in the plus (and the Margaritas) for the remainder of the night.   The night ended with them taking me to the best taco stall in all of the city, very reminiscent to getting pizza in NY before heading back across the bridge.

September is prime festival time (Feria de Zacatecas), and this year Zacatecas was celebrating it’s bicentennial by doing things up in a grand way.  Everywhere we looked there were organized, as well as impromptu, performances, parades, fairs and celebrations.  For the next three days we settled comfortably into the city enjoying everything it had to offer.

Approaching the city on a hill...

Concrete jungle here we come...

Entering the city, trying to make it as quick and painless as possible. We got a lot of honks. I'm going to think they were all great big welcomes...

Museum...

One of the many streets...

Mexican mountains = silver = spanish invasion = elaborate churches and plazas everywhere. This is the Cathedral. Built between 1729 and 1752, the detailed carvings have been interpreted as a giant symbol of the tabernacle...

Striking resemblance...

Celebrating to the beat...

...and honking...

...and honking...

...and honking. We learned each day of the three week festival is designated to a different essential operation, and they celebrate individually by getting together (today was Friday and the day for taxi drivers) and driving in a caravan from La Bufa to the fair grounds, swerving, honking and throwing candy out the windows...

Mustachios for sale...

A little self-portrait. In front of me was the Plazuela Francisco Goitia, which is used as an amphitheater for street performances...

It was great fun to explore all of the shops nestled into the tiny streets snaking everywhere. They were intimately adorned with a whole assortment of things we really have no use for at this time...

One of the many picturesque and worn streets...

Kurt getting off his shift from the mine...

A long way down...

Viva La Revolution!...

Eat...

...and eat...

...and eat...

...and eat...

Step 1- Have a tiny spotted dog wander into your campsite in the morning and, upon witnessing her small frame and obvious rib cage, decide a day started with a bit of water and a stale tortilla would be a good idea...

Step 2- After spending a bit of time together, maybe or maybe not having gently rubbed her behind her little ears, have her attend to your every move as you pack up for the morning...

Step 3- Attempt to leave like it's no big thing...

Step 4- Get trailed. Try and convince yourself it is only the food she wants, not you, just the food, just the food...

Step 5- After about 5 kilometers, realize she means business and consider which of those winter clothes can be tossed to make room in your pannier...

*It was tough, but we eventually lost her around a bend way too far down the road.

Sombrerete and beyond…

September 5, 2010

A view of the city of Sombrerete. This was the biggest city we had been in in Mexico thus far. It was very exciting for us and made us even more anxious for Zacatecas...

Riding around on the architectural wealth of Sombrerete (Photo: Kurt)...

I love maps. Here is the one we get to look at all day...

For cows...and cyclists?...

...and again. I would say we maneuvered over about 10 of these that day...

Geode love...

Some long days of riding must end with a dinner of cookies and beer...

We happen to pass through the town of Santa Barbara just as their anniversary festivities were at a peak. I got to witness my first rodeo...

...and as grand as it was, I had to look away most of the time. Seriously scared and confused cows are too much for me...

Yvette, a rodeo beauty...

Fans hoping for some action...

Determined to make it to Zacatecas this day, we rose before the sun. Kurt, with an early cup of coffee already in his system, took pleasure in flipping the eggs as high as he could as the dawn broke around us...

One positive thing about finding your camp spot in the darkness is that you get to enjoy a nice surprise of lit scenery in the morning, as we did here with this lake...

Just another perfect dirt road, no big deal...

The seemingly abandoned town of Nueva Australia...

Door jam love just outside of Zacatecas ...

Always taking the path less traveled, no matter what...

If we stopped to stay with everyone who offered us up their homes, we'd have to renew our Mexico visa several times over. Here is Kurt with Francisco and his family, Victoria, Poncho, Edmond and Sumeria. They approached us while we ate lunch next to a church and invited us to come "take a rest, have a shower, and have some food", the common offerings. We declined, as it was only midday and we wanted to cover more ground, but we did take them up on their offer of purified water they kept in the garfon in their living room...

Holy frijoles!...

We spent the next few days wrapping our heads around where all of those beans actually come from...

Bedding down in the corn field...

This was some great riding. Often our map is wrong and local directions prove to be extremely unreliable at times. This particular late afternoon we rode along some plots of farmland for a while, mostly on tractor roads, heading in the south-easternly direction we wanted...

...until we hit a wall and had to source out our next direction from the height of the rubble...

Inevitably heading towards the larger city of Zacatecas, we again are keen to stay on the smaller, dirt (when possible) roads.  As we approached our second lake in hopes of more fishing, we were faced with yet another extremely crumbly and rocky descent.  Even going very slowly, I found myself slipping and sliding and forced to pitch my bike and bail at certain points.  As I was regaining my balance at one point, I heard a truck behind me and I decided to move over completely and wait until they passed before I continued.  The two guys in the truck slowed to ask if I was okay and if I wanted a ride down.

That is not a mountain bike” one of them said  “This road is very dangerous on a bike, even with suspension.

I insisted I was okay and they continued on.  Once the road started to level out, I caught up with Kurt, who was now stopped and talking to the men in the truck.  One of the dudes introduced himself as Fidel and invited us to his house that evening in the town of Canatlan.  We had not originally planned on heading in that direction, but it was easy to reroute ourselves and we took him up on the offer.  We put in another great half day of riding, including a lovely picnic by the lake, and moved on to meet Fidel in the plaza of Canatlan.  As we were about 8 kilometers outside the town, a jeep pulled up alongside us and slowed down.  It was Fidel and his wife Juanita, checking to see if we were okay and still coming.  So nice of them…

We spent the evening getting stuffed on Juanita’s cooking and learning all about the local Durango mountain biking scene, of which Fidel is a very active member of.  To my delight there was also a tiny tiny squeaky German Shepard puppy named Princessa just begging for attention.  Upon waking and having breakfast, Fidel, after finding out Kurt is a bike mechanic, asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at some of the local guys’ bikes and doing some tune ups.  We then spent the full day down at a nearby auto parts shop, with Kurt fixing bike after bike.  It allowed me some good time to work on some bike projects of my own that I’d been meaning to get too as well, such as shimming out all of my panniers so they hold snug to the racks again and sewing in some new padding to old, worn out riding gloves.  Everyone left with a smile and I am happy to report there are some smooth running bikes back on the streets of Canatlan.

Dinner with Fidel and Juanita...

Bike talk...

We got to see some great recent Mexico racing shirts, a rarity since we have been here...

It started with one bike...

...then the word got out and more started to show up...

...and some more...

...until the sidewalk was filled with bikes and local bikers. Here's the Canatlan Mountain Bike crew...

They were pretty adamant about me taking a photo of their URL, so here you go...

Funny thing was... there was a bike repair shop right around the corner. However, Fidel told us they didn't fix "competition bikes"...

What I imagine it may have looked like from Berkeley Hills many years ago...

Like living in a daydream almost all of the time...

We had an episode with some bees a bit back and Kurt lost his glasses while being stung repeatedly over and over. These are the new ones he picked up. Now I get to check out my hairdo all day when we have close conversations...

Please let me know if I take too many photos of green hills and you are getting tired of seeing them because I'm not...

The mini teapot bell gets them everytime (Photo: Kurt)...

Greetings from the shore of Lake Santiaguillo, a popular place for Menonites to settle...

La Mina…

September 5, 2010

Not long after leaving our lakeside camp spot, we were back on dirt and the day was fantastic.  We began by cruising right along the edge of the lake, taking in how big it actually was.  The road then led us up and out of the lake valley and we streamed along in wide open ranch land and desert-y landscape.  The hills were present, but everything was fairly firm and graded relatively well, so it was a whole day on dirt where I didn’t have to push my bike once.  Man it was awesome!  I felt happy and strong and back in action.  I have also discovered the wonder of Tang and I am not ashamed to admit it.  Paired with a little salt, it’s a homemade Gatorade and I stay much more hydrated during the day.

After a good chunk of riding we dropped down into the small town of Casas Blancas.  Immediately we sought out some supplies for dinner and some water, planning to continue on our way.  We approached a group of men sitting outside a liquor/snack store and I asked if they might have a source of water we could use, adding “no tomar”, which indicates that we don’t plan to drink it and any hose or faucet water will be fine.  I was then taken around the back where the kind lady of the house interrupted her laundry routine to fill our 6 liter bladder to the max.  Thanking then, we moved around to the neighboring street and proceeded to filter the water into our water bottles, a process we have to do several times a day.

During this, we were approached by a man speaking excellent English asking the usual questions.  He warned us of cartels up ahead, but insisted they would want nothing to do with us  and proceeded to explain a bit about himself.  He had grown up in Chihuahua and started working in the mines around the age of 16.  Moving through the ranks over the years, he now is the head boss at a mine they were in the process of setting up a few kilometers away.  As with all mining operations, there was a camp being constructed nearby as well for workers, visiting geologists, drilling experts, etc., and Angel invited us to stay for the night.  We were pretty keen to keep going, but with the offer of a cold beer on the table, we decided to hang out for a bit.  The rest of the night is history.  We tied a good one on with the towns folk/mine employees and stayed in the camp for not one but two days.  With all meals being provided (unlimited cereal and milk!), beds and warm showers, we settled in pretty comfortably for a bit.

The following day I went with Angel to the location of the mine to check it out.  We drove out a ways, climbing effortlessly in the huge truck over hills and switchbacks that would have taken us the better part of a day to traverse on our bikes.  So far they have dug about 1,100 meters into the mountain, which is about 15% of the way they plan to go.  Slowly but surely, over the next 20 years, that mountain will be coming down layer by layer.

What happens after that?” I asked.

Then we plant some trees on it.  The Environmental Consultant came by and told us we’d have to plant pine trees.  They are going to import them from Afghanistan, a special kind that will grow well here.

I proceeded with more questions about the future of the town, grasping how much things were about to change in a big way for the people of Casas Blancas.  New schools, new roads, new funds pouring in.  For 20 years at least.  The mine is called La Pitarilla and is backed by the Canadian mining company Silver Standard.  Silver, copper, zinc and gold will be extracted through the calculated process.

After the mini mine tour, we went to go see some of Angel’s horses, some of which have serious papers to boast.  For all you horse fans out there, I got to see the grand-daughter pony of the 1979 world champion race horse, Dash for Cash.  What a day, let me tell you.

After a few more meals with the miners, and another good night’s rest, we packed up our things once again and headed south.

Heading out to the mine...

Just a hole in a rock wall, really. Of which they will extract some 20 million over the next 20 years...

This is the view from Angel's office. Not bad...

What every boss may or may not wish to have in their own office...

Just to remind you we are still in the desert...

Part of the newly constructed mine camp...

The man behind all the action and our gracious host, Angel...

If you are running for office this year, you may want to consider the seriousness a mustache brings to the situation...

Mind the spikes…

September 5, 2010

They are everywhere.

How the desert does acupuncture...

Dainty leaves do their best to hide the dainty daggers...

Toothpicks do grow on trees...

These give you at least a bit of a chance, as they hug their branch so closely...

La Presa…

September 5, 2010

Excited at the prospects of doing some fishing, Kurt and I made our way out towards Presa Lazaro Cardenas. We had about 80 kilometers to cover that day and we stayed on it best we could hoping to reach the lake just as the sun was dropping and the mosquitoes were swarming.  It all worked out perfectly.  The last 20 k or so was a serious descent of some amazingly picturesque paved road, dropping us into the town of El Palmito, located right on the lake.  We did our usual peruse through town, answering the typical questions and getting nice pats of the backs from elderly ladies before setting off again to find our spot.  As we wound around the lake, we were confronted with a huge damn (which we found out later had been closed off just that very morning).  The damn of course came with a huge barricaded building for government monitoring and somewhat of a concrete landing strip.  After that, there really was not much of a shore to spread out on and all of the sides just dropped off into huge craggy boulders before reaching the lake.  We decided to hop the railing and shuttle our stuff down and set up right on the patio.

Over these few weeks we’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t matter so much where you camp.  Granted there is a lot of of private land, we’ve yet to run into any trouble or anyone telling us we couldn’t camp somewhere.  Even on the private land, the farmers or ranchers usually just give us a nod and a wave and leave us alone.   Usually we hide off in the woods somewhere, looking for spots that will offer shade when we wake up and have our leisure morning time.  However, sometimes we’ve realized it is best to just camp in the open, making it clear of your presence.  We’ve been hidden way way out somewhere, with hardly a path in site, let alone any buildings or structures, and had visitors walk up on us out of nowhere, always just friendly and curious.  Then there have been other times when we’ve been right next to a highway, or on the edge of the heavily touristed canyon, and we’ve not encountered but one other person passing by to blink an eye.  And as with our experience of camping in the canyon, we decided some nights that it really was best to camp right out in plain view, with the thought in mind of “Hey, hi, here we are.  We know you have weed growing back around that corner and we want nothing to do with it.  We just want to get some rest and continue on in the morning.  Muchos gracias.”

So next to the lake we camped on the concrete, no undoubtedly the flattest spot we’ve had thus far, and Kurt cast out the line a few times in hopes of catching some fresh dinner.  I spent the time floating on my back, feeling truly weightless and oblivious to the rest of the surroundings except the darkening of the sky up ahead.

A perfect way to spend any afternoon...

Pure magic...

Kurt caught some little ones, but nothing sizable enough to justify a death in a frying pan...

Strapping down my panniers before heading out in the morning (Photo: Kurt)...

Another view...

Having tackled the canyon, we set our sites on a string of lakes dotting our map.  This meant we’d officially be leaving the state of Chihuahua behind and entering the state of Durango.  The riding was mellow and a mixture of both road and dirt.  It was during these days that we started to drop ever so slowly out of the Sierra Madre, winding down through beautiful valleys filled with acres and acres of crops.  It felt quite productive and rewarding to get some 60-70 mile days in again, looking at the map after the days’ ends and seeing big chunks accomplished toward our next destinations.

The electric colors of things mixed with chipping paint gets me every time...

Time for some pedal maintenance...

Sprinkle pancakes never get old. So heady, I know...

The Sierra Madre. A beauty you pay for with your calves and thighs...

You may be wondering what kind of things would puncture a Schwable Marathon Extreme tire and tube loaded with slime. I will inform you it is spikes such as these...

We needed some electrical tape. They had it. Case closed...

A military check point as we enter the state of Durango. I snuck this one photo in before they caught me. The military is not very photogenic...

I love riding through farmland. 1) it's beautiful and 2) the tractors make everything nice and flat...

He was going to whiten his teeth, but he just got a tan instead. (RIP Mitch H.)...

"Anywhere but here, please. I've been in this field my whole life. I'm ready for a change. Please take me with you."...

Not as good as my friend Dave's, but spoon smushed humus is made with lots of dedication and love and provides an excellent change of tortilla filling...

I will start this one by saying oooooooooh boy, this one really pressed my buttons.  Granted this was our second time climbing up and out of this 8,000 ft deep canyon, you’d think the whole experience was already signed, sealed and delivered. And it was in a way.  There was a bit of the up thing, then a whole lot of the up thing and when I thought I had just about had it, some more of the up thing, paired with similar grunting, pushing and swearing as I had the first trek out.

We began just after visiting (or pretty much coincidentally passing by) the Mission De Satevo, a great big gaudy renovated church positioned smack in the middle of this desert canyon.  Built in 1760, it was probably beautiful back in its day, however newly renovated and pink stucco-ed to the max, it agreeably looks like the smuggler’s bar on Tatuine in Star Trek.  It was here that we ran into an area guide who spoke English very well.  We hit him up for some directions and suggestions for ways out and he highly recommended we go back to Batopilas and take the well traveled road from there.  Then he let on to the fact there was a new road just across the river that climbs quicker faster and which would put us up on top in a matter of 6k.  The mention of a new road and both our eyes lit up.  Decidedly we’d be taking that one.  We thanked him for the info and rode off towards the bank of the river, only to find it too deep and moving too swiftly to get across.  Our next option was to backtrack a bit and cross the small swinging bridge we had seen earlier.

On our way we ran into some kids who took the pleasure in shouting “monies” “monies” “monies” “dinero” at us, not something we have encountered very often thankfully.  It was already hot and sunny and I was hurling my bike over mini boulders yet again and was not in the mood for the heckling.  So I decided to try something new and started shouting back at them in the same tone “monies” “monies” “dinero” “pesos” “yen” “baat”, any form of currency I could think of.  It worked like a charm.  My pestering them was followed only by some very confused looks and silence.

After crossing the bridge we started once again up the canyon, via the nueva carretera.  They were not kidding.  This was certainly a new one.  So new I don’t think anyone has really even attempted to drive it yet.  Downed trees, rock slides and chunks of missing road were a few of the obstacles we encountered over the next few days.  Again, the going was slow.  On the second day I took off my bike shoes and switched hiking shoes, resolving to get better traction as I pushed up the scree path.  The following day I completely removed my pedals for a few sections, having grown tired of jabbing myself in the calves.  It was once again a battle for the top.  After another three days, we finally began to wind up through more trees, leaving the site of the abyss behind.

And just when I thought my legs might completely commit mutiny, we turned a corner and started to go down….yes down!…through wooded apple orchards, filled with red and green apples, children and chickens.  I quickly hopped over the fence and shoved as many in my pockets as I could, craving some natural sugar after so many days of pasta and lentils.  The little kids watched me curiously from the edge of their yards, giggling and squeaking out shy “holas” when I  said hello.  All of a sudden I felt completely rejuvenated and remembered exactly why all of the fumbling, pushing and cursing under my breath is necessary sometimes.  Being out there and then returning from that place to appreciate what is around all the time.

It was another day and a half before we reached the town of Guachochi  and all the comforts it had to offer.  Here we splurged on a $20 motel room, made a mud room of the bathroom and kicked back comfortably while we watched the rain continue to pour down outside.

And up around this bend we have...a big pink church plopped right in the middle of a canyon...

Things were pretty desolate for the holy day of Domingo...

Each switch back is just as exciting as the last, believe me...

Clearly much more rain water traverses this road than the weight of either cars or trucks...

...and sometimes there is hardly a road at all...

.The camp saw comes in handy once again...

Who says biking isn't an upper body workout? (Photo: Kurt)...

One look around quickly rewards you for all your efforts...

...but don't forget to look down, you never know who you might miss...

A day in the canyon on a new road would not be complete without some pannier shuttling...

Camp where you wish, even in the middle of the road, no one will be by to tell you not to...

Having run out of fuel, all of our meals were cooked over fire...

Who can really complain when every turn of a corner reveals sites such as this...

Just what every off-road, calorie depleted, sweat shedding bike tourist wants...some Villa Viva. Armed with his really, really cheap tequila, this dude saw us as a great excuse to start an impromptu party in the middle of the road, blasting mariachi music from his truck and handing out snacks. Him and his compadre were sure to warn us of the "dangerous folk" in the area. The only danger we really considered was riding on roads these guys were driving...

And like that, after days of dirt, the road turns to pavement...

...and our epic canyon adventure distinctly ends here. Ten points to whomever can name that episode...

There certainly is a “stuck in time” feel to the town of Batopilas.  Stretched out narrowly along the riverside, the town is an array of big stucco buildings, an impressive and popular el centro and many hotels and guest homes.  Being that it was the off-season, we did not get the regular tourist vibe that I am sure emanates through the streets during other times.  Interestingly enough, after Mexico City Batopilas was the next city to receive electricity in Mexico.

Besides us gringos, there were the very colorful and present Tarahumara, Raramuri and cowboys pacing the streets.  We arrived late in the day, and after inquiring about homestay prices, decided to ride back out of town a bit and camp at an abandoned hacienda we had seen on the way in.  It may have been the best spot in town too, because the porch we set up on looked down right onto the river.  As always, there was some curious onlookers who came to visit us in the morning and we learned the hacienda was still in slow process of being built.  It was hard to tell that from all of the broken glass and shattered wood furniture inside, but whenever the family does start to move in, they are going to have the best spot in town.

Welfare checks were handed out that day and the lines for the Tienda Communitaria (Government subsidized grocery stores, different from the regular tiendas, supers, mini supers, or abborotes) and the lines were out the door, with people picking up the food necessities, as well as new sandals, Tupperware and I saw one man with a brand new calculator.

We spent most of the day on the search for the cheapest food we could find.  Without a bank in town and with no one accepting any form of credit, we had 200 pesos to our names.  Unsure of how long it would take us to get back out of the canyon again and to a town sizeable enough for a bank, we stocked up on the usual staples of rice, pancakes, beans, pasta, potatoes and my new favorite mood brightener…peanuts.  We leisurely left after hanging out in the plaza for a while, watching another impending thunderstorm and guessing its direction.

Our priceless accommodations. Why pay to stay when there are always abandoned places just waiting for you to warm...

A bit of the riverside sprawl...

Homes on the main street...

How mechanics do it on the banks of Batopilas...

The Tarahumara women on line to pick up their subsidies...

Inside the walls of the fortified and very official,though crumbling, Hacienda. This was quite the spot back in its day...

...but now it's just beautifully overgrown and haunting...

To begin, we can confirm that indeed there is a road that goes from Urique to Batopilas…almost completely.  Our overly optimistic 2010 map denotes it is there, we will just tell you that the journey will involve some grunting, pushing, pulling, heeing, hawing, scurrying, scampering, slipping, sliding, shuttling and…maybe some riding.  Here’s a brief outline of the experience:

Day 1- Leave late afternoon and ride enchantingly down alongside the river into Guapalina where you will ford a river quite deep and swift after discovering the swinging bridge you were told about is not actually there.

Day 2- Rise early and start the half riding/half pushing day.   Break to rest arms.  Push more.  Break to rest legs.  Push again.  Hop on your bike, but don’t clip in because falling off while struggling to climb a steep grade covered in loose scree is a likely scenario.  By nightfall you reach what you think is the top, and gleefully begin to look for camping.  Luckily run into a young cowboy who, when answering his “a donde va” with Batopilas, instructs you that the road to Batopilas is back the way we had just come.  Flop down on your sleeping pad and decide to figure it out in the morning.

Day 3- Ride back in the direction you just clawed your way out of.  View what looks to be some sort of end to a road about 1000 feet above, with only a faint outlines of smattering of goat trails in between where you stand and said road end.  Investigate the situation,  which reveals that indeed the road you need is quite a ways up there and even walking along those trails with nothing on your back or in your arms proves to be an unbalanced endeavor given the very narrow and ever crumbling path.  Make some tea, eat some noodles, procrastinate a bit.  Bite the bullet and start the 3 hour endeavor of shuttling the bikes and all the panniers up these goat tracks over the course of multiple trips.  Get to the top, enjoy a sweet descent for a bit, before getting caught in torrential downpour.  Rest your tired muscles wondering what the next day will bring.

Day 4- Spend a morning pushing and riding along several ridges, with no real view of the deep canyon you are anticipating to be seen.  (Highlight of my day (and maybe in the top 5 of my life thus far): while riding through a little town (two houses) a family stopped to ask where we were coming from.  When they found out we’d come from Urique (which feels like another world at this point, kind of like you stepped through the looking-glass when shuttling up and over that mountain) the elderly lady in the bunch steps forward and gave me the biggest toothless smile I’d ever seen, while reaching out and grabbing my hand to shake it, continuously shaking her head and smiling in disbelief.)

Later on, feeling like a true sucker and glutton for punishment, you descend yet again into the second deepest part of the deepest canyon in North America, with another 6k spent riding alongside the river, plopping you in the town of Batopilas.

So in the end, to confirm…you can get a loaded touring bike from Urique to Batopilas.  If you are reading this and planning to go in that direction, they may even have the road completed by now.  Who knows.  Either way it is, as always, well worth the effort.

Well, I just think that is a great name for a restaurant!...

After witnessing my quick photo snap of the restaurant across the street, these enthusiastic kids insisted they get in on the action...

With no bridge to be found, we wade across...

...and begin the push up the loose and crumbly road...

Laying on the ground and photographing the small details is a great way to take a break...

Kurt waiting for me at the top after day 1. Based on the size of that peanut shell pile, it took me a bit longer to get up there...

But of course. Up there is the road we need to continue on...

Pannier removal...

One of the many goat track shuttles...

Narrow, narrow paths to traverse...

The grand finale at the top. After this section we were free to put our panniers back on and continue the riding/pushing on some fairly level dirt...

...but the road still wasn't easy-going...

...but it did have its blissful sections, including these orchards...

Prickly pear cacti in bloom, a sure sign we were again dropping in elevation...

Sometimes its hard for me to enjoy the surrounding scenery, as I have to keep my eyes glued to the road and constantly ready to navigate through loose rock...

The grandness of it all...

The happy ending...

Knuckling down with hands full of brakes, we descended the 14k down into Urique, dropping 2000 ft in one swift motion.  My hands cramped from braking so much as I realized the canyon was going to make even descending hard work.  When I reached the bottom, Kurt was already being put to work helping some local kids fix their bmx bike, a task that proved way more trouble than it was worth.  More on that later…

We found our way to Entres Amigos, an eco-friendly hostal of sorts, which offers both private rooms and dorm style rooms, as well as camping.  We chose the latter of the three naturally and paid the 90 pesos, a pretty steep price for camping (normally free to us).  It does however come with the privilege of picking anything from the grounds we felt fit to eat, as well as use of the big communal kitchen on site.  And let me tell you…the grounds we’re ripe in all sorts of ways….so many mangoes were falling off the trees you could listen to them drop onto the corrugated tin roofs every few minutes.  In addition to the mangoes, there were limes, lemons, grapefruit, an abundance or basil, some random kale and an assortment of various things I had never seen before but continuously asked the grounds keeper Tomas “what is this for?” and “can I eat this?”  We spent the afternoon exploring downtown, drinking some highly anticipated cold cervezas and plundering the local market for things to create our highly thought out dinner.  Then we went to town in the kitchen, hand chopping a great big bowl of salsa, making pesto for pasta, baking a great big chocolate cake and squeezing fresh grapefruit juice, all intermixed with sporadic swims in the very slimy but very refreshing swimming pool.  It was agreeably, if not over, 100 degrees in Urique and even sitting completely still would find you drenched in sweat.  It felt like a few back to back Bikram yoga classes.  We spent a good amount of time with Luis too, the summer caretaker, who normally resides in Batopilas where he runs an art studio and sells his paintings in various forms.

Urique, like many of the canyon towns, is mostly known for its fairly thriving marijuana cultivation.  Unfortunately for the local growers, the government has taken more and more of an interest in the budding area and the daily presence of helicopters overhead made for some wary town folk.  There was definitely a semi nervous energy in the air.

With our bellies full and a day of rested legs, we cobbled together our plans of how to get to Batopilas.  After talking with quite a few people and scouring the internet for information (they do have WiFi there), we consulted a local as to if there really was a road that went directly from Urique to Batopilas, as it indicated on our 2010 Guia Roji map.  It was confirmed that indeed there was a road that went all the way through, just 3 kilometers were not finished yet, but Tomas assured us we would be fine on our bikes.  With this information and a hand drawn map listing some key towns to ask for along the way we set off late in the afternoon heading for Batopilas.

The dizzying, squiggly worm of a descent down to Urique (Photo: Kurt)...

Hello desert cacti and warmer temperatures...

Up around the canyon bend...

This bmx was in need of some serious work and Kurt graciously offered up all the help he could on the spot...

The entrance for Entre Amigos, a beautifully crafted and cared for eco grounds...

These flowers are everywhere in the canyon and remind me of popsicles we used to eat as kids...

With ample space, sun, care and love, things down here grow overwhelmingly ripe...

The cake! Double layered chocolate with an inventive icing of granulate sugar, butter and... ground-up cereal. No powdered sugar could be found so some cereal was the best thing I could come up with to tone it down a bit. It was super sweet to say the least, but went great as a slice in a bowl of milk...

Laborious as it is, a glass of fresh squeezed juice can not be beat...

The Urique police station. We regret to post that the kids we helped with the bike came by later and swiped a few articles of Kurt's, things they had been completely enthralled with upon first laying eyes on. All of the important things were found and returned after a loooooong morning of some interrogating and searching. Unfortunately, some not as important items are quite possibly still floating down the Urique river...

Historic center of Urique. The town has been in existence since the 1600's, though the road to it was only built in the 1970's...

The local tortilleria...

Boiling some grapefruit seeds in hopes of extracting some oil to gulp down. One of the most longed after of the stolen articles is a bottle of GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) we had, the cure-all Kurt and I were using to kill any bad bacteria that started fiestas in our stomachs. This process did the trick, but we are continuously on the hunt to find a replacement bottle in Mexico...