Mexico: Copper Canyon, A Ride Back in Time

Text: E. Don Witt • Photography: E. Don Witt

Most people visit Copper Canyon by rail, a spectacular ride on the Chihuahua Pacifico Railroad, crossing 39 bridges and 86 tunnels along a rift bigger than the Grand Canyon! Quite an adventure if you're partial to traveling in boxes, but the rugged scenery and cultural gems of the Tarahumara Indian homeland are even more accessible to a motorcyclist - and for the sporting rider the roads are to die for. And since this is Mexico, the latter is always a real possibility.

Tucson, Arizona, El Paso, Texas, or even San Antonio could be jumping off spots for this trip. My wife Jane and I live in Tucson and our good friends and unofficial guides on the trip, Rich and Cheryl Osburn, live southeast of Tucson in Sierra Vista. Our trip began bright and early on May 24 with a border crossing at the sleepy little town of Naco. Naco is a pleasant alternative to Juarez, Nogales or Tijuana because there are no crowds or long waits and it's easy to find your way.

At Naco, the customs inspection area (Area de Revision) and the offices where you get your visa and your bike's Permiso de Importacion Temporales are all next to each other just beyond the border portal. You need the permiso to ride further than 25 miles into Mexico.

Earlier Rich had steered us to Copper State Insurance Agency in nearby Douglas, Arizona, for our Mexican insurance ($ 28 for 5 days.) Even if your regular insurance policy covers you for trips into Mexico you must also have Mexican insurance written by a Mexican company. Don't ride without it. Mexican jails aren't a recommended "tourist experience."

Filling our tanks at Bisbee, Arizona, just before our crossing, allowed us to ride all the way to Nuevo Casas Grandes, our first overnight stop in Mexico, and a town that has premium gas pumps. We packed bottles of octane enhancer, too, because it's tough to find premium south of Nuevo Casas Grandes.

South of Naco, Mexico's Route 2 took us to Agua Prieta, a dusty, dirty Mexican town. In Mexico a highway's pavement is often elevated quite a bit above the general grade with no shoulders at all. For stretches in Agua Prieta, the drop off the pavement's edge is too steep to leave the road on anything but a motocrosser. You'll find the same situation on open highways in Mexico where a flat at cruising speeds could buy you an E-ticket ride!

Between Agua Prieta and Janos, our route made its first mountain crossing in a fun set of twisties going up one side of a small range and down the other.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2004 back issue.