Creel to Samachique – the back way

I’ve been slacking a bit on the blog front of late… I have a few write-ups in the pipeline, but while I get myself together, here’s some pictures of a dirt road loop around the Copper Canyon, an area that’s as famous for its beauty as it is for its marijuana plantations. Although the junction settlement of Samachique is just a handful of (hilly) miles from Creel, there’s a back way too, via Urique. It’s almost all unpaved, passing through remote villages, and is relentlessly up and down…
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Views from of the canyon rim from the Divisadero. From this point, you can only see about a third of the way down.

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Seen it all before. The local kids were more interested in our bikes than the world's deepest canyon.

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Seeing as Devisadero is also a stop on the scenic trainline (the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico), a thicket of stalls have sprung up selling tourist trinkets and food. Here's my lunchtime snack: blue corn tortillas stuffed with tomato, vegetables, cheese and potato.

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Don't forget the salsa.

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Recently, Jeff and I have been shedding kit with a zeolous fervour. Part of this streamlining includes investing in new home; I've been trying out Jason's TarpTent while my own is on order. The Rainbow is a singleskin tent that will sleep two. The pack size is tiny, and it weighs less than a kilo, compared to my 2.5kg Terra Nova Solar 2. Should be ideal for the warmer climes ahead.

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At grimey, dusty San Rafael, the road turned to dirt. 5 clicks out, it began to descend sharply into the canyon.

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Down and down it went. A lovely way to spend Christmas day...

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A roadside shrine carved out of the rockface.

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Then it began to undulate ever upwards once more. After what felt like a bout of interminable climbing, we were suddenly rewarded with sweeping views into Barranqua de Urique, one of the deepest canyons in the area. It's over 1800m from top to bottom.

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Then began a steep, switchback descent down to a lowly 550m in altitude.

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There's Urique in the distance, via a dirt road that switchbacked for 14 straight kilometres.

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Urique itself is an old mining town. Nowadays it seems quite affluent. I noticed that kids had nice new bikes, and even remote control cars. Crawling along the one way main street in a pickup or jeep seems to be the main pastime in the evening, beer in hand. Shame.

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Up Hill being the operative words. Urique is also famous in ultra endurance circles, for it's home to various races where Tarahumaras and international runners battle it out up and down the steep, rocky terrain of the canyons. Running barefoot or in sandals made from old truck tyre tread, the loincloth wearing Tarahumaras are fabled for being able to run hundreds of miles without stopping, using specialised breathing techniques so effective they can chase down deer. Almost completely injury free throughout their lives, they often run into their 80s and 90s.

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Urique is also home to Entre Amigos, an idyllic campsite set on the outskirts of town, run by American old timer Keith. Pitch your tent, use the facilites (a kitchen, compost loos, wood-powered shower) and forrage to your hearts content in the organic gardens for 10 dollars.

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Urique's sub tropical climate felt a world away from alpine Creel, where it had been snowing just the previous day.

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A wonderful place to recharge on fresh, organic food, hike and relax. Here’s Jeff having a morning read. In fact, the article was on the drugs trade in the border area we'd just passed through. Although I'd never felt threatened in any away, it quoted a sobering fact: 14 000 deaths over the last three years, the vast majority of them unsolved. Many murders take place in Nuevas Casas Grandes, the town we’d ridden through just a few days before…

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We did our best to make a dent into the abundance of grapefruit dangling off the trees.

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Jeff went to work juicing a couple of dozen of them, serving up two generous glasses each of the sweetest, most succulent grapefruit juice I've had.

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And Anna forraged in the gardens for fresh veg, serving them up with potatoes and avocados on a fresh tortilla made in a local lady's kitchen.

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From Urique, the dirt road continued downstream, past old, windscreen-smashed pickups.

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The Urique River, one of the six waterways that created this canyon complex.

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Of course, hills never look as steep as they feel. This one felt almost vertical.

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The road then dropped back down to the river. Ahead, lay the new linking section, via a crossing that was knee deep in places.

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Initially, it climbed steeply for 16 or 17 kilometres, on a loose surface that was so steep I had to push. And scramble for grip. Again, it doesn't look so bad in this picture. But believe me, it was...

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As I didn't leave until after lunch, I barely made it to the top of the first climb, and found a ledge to roll out my mat and sleep on. These birds were my alarm clock the next morning.

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And this was my view.

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At times, it was more of a slab of slickrock than a jeep track. That was when it wasn't rutted and strewn with babyhead rocks.

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The descents were just as bad, and my rack sheared half way through, requiring an on the fly repair. Good old hose clamps.

Settlements were few and far between.

The parched white church at Corareachi, standing against the blue sky like a set from a Sam Peckinpah movie. Later that day, when I eventually reached the junction, I met a Mennonite family, wearing old fashioned plain, modest prairie clothing. Shane and Cindy had brought along their 5 kids, aged 2-10, to help friends of theirs working at the Mission Hospital. The family would be based out of this tiny, scruffy settlement for a couple of months - the kids were home schooled. And how long would their friends be there? 'As long as the Lord needs them to stay here,' came the answer.

The Need to Know Section:

Distance – 242km. Creel to Urique is 160km, then it’s roughly 82km to Samachique. That’s only a guide, as I was riding (or pushing) too slowly for my cycle computer to function all the time…

Road conditions – paved to San Rafael, then dirt. It’s up and down pretty much all the time, and the road from Urique to Samachique is particularly rough and steep. Altitudes fluctuate between 2450m to 550m… Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any decent maps of the area. On the ones we found, either these roads either aren’t shown, or are completely inaccurate. Likewise, there is a dirt road that goes all the way to Las Mochis which I have yet to see marked on a map.

Food – Plenty on the way to Urique (Devisadero, San Rafael, Babochivo). Very little between Urique and Samachique, though there is a well stocked shop in Corareachi (a tough 54km from Urique) and a friendly restaurant at Samachique.

Cheap digs – Plenty of places to camp in pine woods on the way to Urique. In Urique, don’t miss the wonderful Entre Amigos. After the first big climb back out again, no shortage of spots on the way to Samachique. A storm had swept in by the time I made it to Samachique, so I camped in the yard of the new restaurant there, not far from the grocery store – the friendly owner also had a cheap room for rent too.

Internet – Patchy but available in Urique. Entre Amigos has a satellite connection with wifi, as long as there’s electricity.

Recommended Reading – Bandit Roads: Into the lawless heart of Mexico by Richard Grant (best read after you’ve passed through the area), and Born to Run: A hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen, by Christopher McDougall.

Kit Links – Rainbow Tarp Tent, an ultralight, 1-2 man singleskin tent.

7 thoughts on “Creel to Samachique – the back way

  1. Zane Selvans

    I just rode this in the opposite direction, as a loop out of Creel, part of a 3 week tour from Chihuahua. I can’t imagine riding *up* the road out of Corareachi. Just coming down it was enough to rattle me into a zombified state. I do wonder how the new road will alter the area. Especially after they’ve gotten the connection between Urique and Batopilas done (it’s only months away from being finished apparently). Have been thinking about going back next year to do a different loop, using that road, and maybe passing through (or leaving via) Hidalgo de Parral. I kind of just wanted to keep riding south and not come home. Ah well.

    Reply
    1. otbiking Post author

      cool. I think there’s a lot of riding potential. a local guy showed me some great singletrack in creel, and there must be loads more. not sure how soon the road to batopilas will be done, some friends trecked it and said it was pretty full on…

      Reply
  2. Vincent

    Hello Cass,

    First thank you for all the inspiration you gave us since the beginning of our journey in Alaska (mostly gear choice)!!

    We are right now in Baja California and try to find a way from Los Mochis to Copper Canyon, but I’m not used to plan without a good map, so I’m comming here for help :)

    Do someone knows a way from Los Mochis / El Fuerte to Urique by bike?
    I could trust Google maps finding route, but I’m not very confident :) :)

    Thank you very much
    Vincent and Melanie from France

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hey guys,

      I’m afraid I don’t have much advice to offer as I didn’t make it down to Baja – I came across from the Great Divide route, via Casas Grandes. But I heard there’s definitely a way up from Los Mochis (in fact, I think I met someone who rode it once) – but it’s a route that doesn’t feature on most paper maps. I’d check out Google Earth rather than Google Maps – the world is your oyster with that program! Others have managed to put their bikes on the train, despite some saying they don’t officially take them.

      It’s worth making the effort to get there. The Copper Canyon is a fantastic place. Let me know how you get on!

      Cass

      Reply
      1. Vincent

        Yeah, I read the same about the train…

        Since we will come from the south, we may want to go to Urique, then Samachique on your route, and then Creel by the road.
        But we would miss the Urique-Creel junction then.

        Thank you for your reply!

        Reply

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