Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon is a group of canyons consisting of six distinct canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, the 15th national park in the United States...

 in neighboring Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

The canyons were formed by six river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

s which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental
Sierra Madre Occidental
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a mountain range in western Mexico.-Setting:The range runs north to south, from just south of the Sonora–Arizona border southeast through eastern Sonora, western Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Jalisco, Aguascalientes to Guanajuato, where it joins...

). All six rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Sea of Cortez. The walls of the canyon are a copper/green color which is where the name originates.


The Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 arrived in the Copper Canyon area in the 17th century and encountered the indigenous locals throughout Chihuahua. For the Spanish, Mexico was a new land to explore for gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 and also to spread Christianity. The Spanish named the people they encountered "Tarahumara
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability...

", derived from the word Raramuri, which is what the indigenous people call themselves. Some scholars theorize that this word may mean ‘The running people'.
During the 17th century, silver was discovered by the Spaniards in the land of the Tarahumara tribe. Some were enslaved for mining efforts. There were small uprisings by the Tarahumara, but to little avail. They were eventually forced off of the more desirable lands and up into the canyon cliffs.


The alpine climate of the mountainous regions of Copper Canyon has moderate temperatures from October to November and March to April. The bottom of the canyons is humid and warm and remains that way throughout the year. During the warmest months, April through June, drought is a chronic problem with little rainfall until July when the rainy season begins.

Flora and Fauna

The Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region contains some twenty-three different species of pine
Pines are trees in the genus Pinus ,in the family Pinaceae. They make up the monotypic subfamily Pinoideae. There are about 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species.-Etymology:...

 and two hundred different species of oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

Mexican Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga
Douglas-fir is one of the English common names for evergreen coniferous trees of the genus Pseudotsuga in the family Pinaceae. Other common names include Douglas tree, and Oregon pine. There are five species, two in western North America, one in Mexico, and two in eastern Asia...

) trees cover the high plateaus in altitudes over 8000 feet (2,438.4 m), but due to deforestation in the area, many species of wildlife are endangered. Cougars live in the remotest of regions and are rarely seen. After the summer rainy season these upper regions blossom with wildflowers until October.
From 4000–8000 ft (1,219.2–2,438.4 m), oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

 trees grow in the huge forests as well as the more shade-tolerant types of trees. In the fall the forests become brilliant with color from Andean Alder (Alnus acuminata
Alnus acuminata
Alnus acuminata Alnus acuminata Alnus acuminata (also called Alder is a species of tree in the Betulaceae family. It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.-References:...

) and poplar (Populus spp.) trees. Brushwood and scrubby trees grow on the canyon slopes, which can accommodate the dry season. Huge fig (Ficus
Ficus is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, epiphytes, and hemiepiphyte in the family Moraceae. Collectively known as fig trees or figs, they are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. The Common Fig Ficus is a genus of...

spp.) and palm trees
Arecaceae or Palmae , are a family of flowering plants, the only family in the monocot order Arecales. There are roughly 202 currently known genera with around 2600 species, most of which are restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates...

 thrive at the bottom where water is plentiful and the climate is tropical.

Threats to the Ecosystem

Due to increases in human population, there are many threats to the ecosystems of the Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region. The government funding to build a “tourist friendly” atmosphere poses threats to the environment and indigenous cultures. Roads have been built in the former isolated mountainous zones. Agriculture and grazing as well as the cutting of hardwoods and other trees for firewood
Firewood is any wood-like material that is gathered and used for fuel. Generally, firewood is not highly processed and is in some sort of recognizable log or branch form....

 has accelerated a soil erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 problem. Mesquite
Mesquite is a leguminous plant of the Prosopis genus found in northern Mexico through the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Deserts, and up into the Southwestern United States as far north as southern Kansas, west to the Colorado Desert in California,and east to the eastern fifth of Texas, where...

 (Prosopis spp.) and Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota
Olneya tesota
Olneya tesota is a perennial flowering tree of the Fabaceae family, legumes , which is commonly known as Ironwood or Desert Ironwood. It is the only species in the monotypic genus Olneya...

) trees are cut and exported primarily to the U.S. for charcoal. Amapa (Tabebuia chrysantha
Tabebuia chrysantha
Tabebuia chrysantha , known as cañaguate in northern Colombia , as tajibo in Bolivia, and as ipê-amarelo in Brazil, is a native tree of the intertropical broadleaf deciduous forests of South America above the Tropic of Capricorn...

) trees yield highly prized lumber for building and furniture making. Other trees are also cut and sold for their high-priced lumber. Over harvesting of the forests in the area has caused the extinction of the Imperial Woodpecker
Imperial Woodpecker
The Imperial Woodpecker is – or was – a member of the woodpecker family Picidae. If it is not extinct, it is the world's largest woodpecker species at 56-60 cm long...

 and Mexican Wolf
Mexican Wolf
The Mexican Wolf is a subspecies of the Gray Wolf. It is native to North America, where it is the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies.- Physical features :...

. Approximately, 2 percent of the original old-growth forest remains. However, a massive forest-harvesting project in the region has been abandoned, for now, by the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

. The Mexican forestry department deemed these species of trees “legally protected,” but enforcement is difficult.

The government has taken measures to halt or slow down the cultivation of opium poppies
Opium poppy
Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the species of plant from which opium and poppy seeds are extracted. Opium is the source of many opiates, including morphine , thebaine, codeine, papaverine, and noscapine...

 and cannabis
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that includes three putative species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These three taxa are indigenous to Central Asia, and South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for fibre , for seed and seed oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a...

 by spraying crops with herbicide
Herbicides, also commonly known as weedkillers, are pesticides used to kill unwanted plants. Selective herbicides kill specific targets while leaving the desired crop relatively unharmed. Some of these act by interfering with the growth of the weed and are often synthetic "imitations" of plant...

s, which threaten the populations of many different species. A large saturnid moth
The Saturniinae or saturniines are a subfamily of the Family Saturniidae. These are medium to very large-sized moths, with adult wingspans ranging from 7.5 to 15 cm, in some cases even more....

, Rothschildia
Rothschildia is a genus of moths in the Saturniidae family.Species are found in North America and South America from Canada to Argentina.-Species:* Rothschildia affinis * Rothschildia amacurensis Lemaire, 1972...

, are one of the species that are threatened by the spraying. Their cocoons are used by the Indian population for ceremonial purposes.

Open-pit mining
Open-pit mining
Open-pit mining or opencast mining refers to a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow....

 for copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and other metals not only produces air pollution
Air pollution
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere....

 from smelters
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy; its main use is to produce a metal from its ore. This includes iron extraction from iron ore, and copper extraction and other base metals from their ores...

, but has been linked to the serious decline of the Tarahumara Frog (Rana tarahumarae
Rana tarahumarae
Rana tarahumarae is a species of frog in the Ranidae family.It is found in Mexico and the United States.Its natural habitats are temperate forests, rivers, and intermittent rivers.It is threatened by habitat loss....

). Every river system has been dammed causing fresh water shortages in nearby desert communities. An enormous dam is being constructed on the Rio Fuerte, which poses major environmental problems and may lead to massive losses of tropical forest and habitats.

Conservation is underway, but remains informal and slow. Mexico has excellent environmental laws, but severely suffers from lack of financial support. Enforcement has been lax or non-existent. Agencies are actively trying to increase the protection for natural preserves.

Indigenous People

Copper Canyon traditional inhabitants are the Tarahumara
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability...

 or Rarámuri. With no official census, the population of the Tarahumara people probably ranges between 35,000 to 70,000.
Many Tarahumara reside in the cooler, mountainous regions during the hot summer months and migrate deeper into the canyons in the cooler winter months, where the climate is more temperate. Their survival strategies have been to occupy areas that are too remote for city people, way off-the-beaten-path, to remain isolated and independent, so as to avoid losing their culture.
Their diet is largely domestic agrarian, but does consist of meat from domesticated cows, chickens and goats, wild game, and freshwater fish. Corn (maize) is the most important staple of the Tarahumara’s diet.
The Tarahumara people are known for their endurance running. Living in the canyons, they travel great vertical distances, which they often do by running nonstop for hours.
A popular Tarahumara community race called “rarahipa,” is played by kicking a wooden ball along the paths of the steep canyons. Tourism is a growing industry for Copper Canyon, but the acceptance of it is debated in the local communities. Some communities accept government funding for building roads, restaurants and lodging to make the area attractive for tourists. Many other groups of Tarahumarans maintain their independence by living in areas that are as far away from city life as possible. Their way of life is protected by the mountainous landscape.


There are many other ways to explore Copper Canyon such as hiking, biking, driving or horseback riding. The most popular way is by train, as the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico or ChePe, runs along the main canyon called Canyon Urique, between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, on the Gulf of California.

The Chihuahua al Pacifico began in the late 19th century. The revolution
Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz. The Revolution was characterized by several socialist, liberal, anarchist, populist, and agrarianist movements. Over time the Revolution...

, lack of funding, and the overall difficulty of building a railroad over such terrain hindered its completion until 1961. The railroad comprises 405 miles of rails with 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. The total trip takes approximately 15 hours and passes through towns, as well as the towering cliffs of the canyons. Along the railway, many Tarahumarans lay out their food, crafts and other wares for sale.

Mexico established the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon National Park) to showcase this remote area. The park is located in the municipalities of Batopilas, Bocoyna, Guachochi, and Urique.

Cities and towns

Among the villages located in or on the Copper Canyon are:
  • Bahuichivo, ChePe train stop for Cerocahui, Urique, Piedras Verdes, Tubares
  • Basaseachi, located near the pouroff of 840m Cascada Basaseachi in the Barranca Candameña. The towns and ranchos of San Lorenzo, Cahuisori, and Huahumar encircle the rim of the canyon, also home to Mexico's highest waterfall Piedra Volada (1200m). It is on the main Federal Highway 16 between Chihuahua, Chihuahua, and Hermosillo, Sonora.
  • Batopilas
    Batopilas, Chihuahua
    Batopilas is a small town, and seat of the surrounding municipality of the same name, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, located along the Batopilas River at the bottom of one of the canyons that make up the Copper Canyon. It has a population of fewer than 2,000 people.- History :Batopilas was...

    , elevation 600m, a town on the Batopilas River at the bottom of a canyon; first established by the Spanish around 1632 to mine silver. It is located 30 km southeast of Urique.
  • Bocoyna, 30 km east of Creel, and on the eastern escarpment of the continental divide. The nearby Rio Conchos flows into the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). All other "Copper Canyon" rivers flow into the Sea of Cortez/Pacific Ocean.
  • Cerocahui, 14 km S. of the train stop at Bahuichivo.
  • Creel
    Creel, Chihuahua
    Creel is a town in the Sierra Tarahumara of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is the second-largest town in the municipality of Bocoyna. It is located some to the southwest of the state capital, Chihuahua, Chih...

    , atop the canyon and, at 2340m 8000 feet (2,438.4 m) altitude, marking the highest point on the ChePe railroad route; a central point for commerce and tourism.
  • Divisadero, situated between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean watersheds on the ChePe railroad route; a key vista point with amazing views down into three of the canyons (del Cobre, Urique, Tararecua). The ChePe train allows a 15-20 minute stop for visitors to enjoy the view.
  • Temoris, a dual town located 400m apart in elevation. The ChePe train traverses the valley 3 times including a mile long tunnel to gain elevation. Located on the Rio Septentrion, lower Temoris is at 1000m.
  • Urique
    Urique is a town and seat of the municipality of Urique, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. As of 2005, the town had a total population of 984 Located in the southwest corner of the entity in the region of the cliffs, the town is at the bottom of the call Barranca de Urique , formed by...

    , 560m. Located at the bottom of the canyon rim below Bahuichivo, on the Urique River. It is 30 km NW of Batopilas, now connected by a rough road.

Popular culture

Copper Canyon was featured on Season 2 Episode 3, of Man vs. Wild
Man vs. Wild
Man vs. Wild, also called Born Survivor: Bear Grylls, Ultimate Survival, or Survival Game, is a survival television series hosted by Bear Grylls on the Discovery Channel. In the United Kingdom, the series was originally shown on Channel 4, but later series were broadcast on Discovery Channel UK...

on the Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel is an American satellite and cable specialty channel , founded by John Hendricks and distributed by Discovery Communications. It is a publicly traded company run by CEO David Zaslav...

. It is also featured in Raramuri Tale, a short film about a Raramuri boy, his mother and the timeless teachings of the Tarahumaras. Copper Canyon was also featured in the Film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a 2005 American drama film directed by Tommy Lee Jones and written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo, and Dwight Yoakam....

. Copper Canyon was also a destination in Motorcycle Mania 3, a feature that aired on the Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel is an American satellite and cable specialty channel , founded by John Hendricks and distributed by Discovery Communications. It is a publicly traded company run by CEO David Zaslav...

, which featured Jesse James
Jesse G. James
Jesse Gregory James is an American television personality and CEO of West Coast Choppers, a manufacturer of custom-made motorcycles. James was the host of the reality TV shows Jesse James is a Dead Man on Spike TV and Monster Garage, on the Discovery Channel, and the focus of the documentary...

 of West Coast Choppers
West Coast Choppers
West Coast Choppers is a lifestyle brand that began selling screen-printed t-shirts and stickers with the company's Iron cross/Maltese cross logo while founder and "master marketer" Jesse G. James was finishing high school, packaging the accoutrements of the chopper lifestyle long before any...

 riding with singer Kid Rock
Kid Rock
Robert James "Bob" Ritchie , known by his stage name Kid Rock, is an American singer-songwriter, musician and rapper with five Grammy Awards nominations...

, on two custom-built motorcycles. In the Sierra Madre, a book by Jeff Biggers, looks at a Tarahumara village in the Copper Canyon. Much of the nonfiction book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall is an American author and journalist best known for his 2009 best-selling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen....

 takes place in Copper Canyon.

See also

  • Piedra Volada Falls
    Piedra Volada
    Piedra Volada Falls is located in Cañon Candameña of the Copper Canyon in Ocampo Municipality in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico. At a height of 1,486 feet , it is the tallest waterfall in Mexico. Piedra Volada is only known to flow during the wet season. It may be viewed from a moderate distance...

    , Mexico's highest waterfall.
  • Basaseachic Falls
    Basaseachic Falls
    Basaseachic Falls on the Basaseachic River is the second-highest waterfall in Mexico, located in the Parque Nacional Basaseachic at Cañon Basaseachic in the Copper Canyon region of northwest Mexico, near Creel, Chihuahua...

    , Mexico’s second-highest waterfall.
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