Copper Canyon is a group of canyons consisting of six distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon in neighboring Arizona. The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental). 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 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 and two hundred different species of oak trees. Mexican Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga lindleyana) trees cover the high plateaus in altitudes over 8,000 feet (2,400 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 4,000-8,000 feet (1,200-2,400 m), oak 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) and poplar (Populus spp.) trees. Brushwood and scrubby trees grow on the canyon slopes, which can accommodate the dry season. Huge fig (Ficus spp.) and palm trees thrive at the bottom where water is plentiful and the climate is tropical.
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, 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.