travelog 108

Travels without Maggie - Going Home

What does one do in Creel with three different types of tires on the truck and about 1000 km (600 miles) to go, many of those of course on dirt roads through unknown territory? One leaves Creel as fast as possible because there's not much else to buy than tons of souvenirs. And that's why we took the main highway back to Guachochi where we actually found new tires for our green monster truck in a supermarket between chips, tomato sauce and wrinkled vegetables. With new tires under our behinds we felt a lot better and were ready for new adventures.

South of Hidalgo del Parral we came to Villa Ocampo where we slipped away from the big highway to drive towards San Bernardo, Coscomate and finally to Guanacevi. The landscape was dominated by low, rolling hills and we found several populations of huge Agave parryi that had something of A. durangensis mixed in them. Unfortunately the dirt road never reached the mountains, they just looked very tempting on the horizon. Curving at ease through the hills thinking of nothing bad, we came across a local police pickup truck followed by two military vehicles. Instantly the warning lights of the police car went on, it came to a stop at an angle blocking our way and heavily armed, masked men jumped from the back. Driver, copilot and a third person crammed into the cabin were also masked and armed to their teeth, but they apparently started to study our truck a little closer and must have seen the many UNAM stickers, especially the huge one on the hood which was absolutely not to overlook, and as quickly as the men had jumped from the back as quickly they were up there again. The police officers greeted us in a friendly manner and drove on to find real villains. In the late afternoon we reached San Bernardo where we asked for the road to Guanacevi. People knew the road up to the El Colorado mine and guessed that we probably needed two to three hours for the trip to Guanacevi. At a nice creek we had our picnic under huge cottonwood trees and decided very intelligently to turn around and spend the night in Santa Maria del Oro. The next day this turned out to have been a very wise decision!

The next morning we passed more of the strange mix between Agave parryi and A. durangensis past San Bernardo. Today the dirt road aimed straight at the tall and wild mountain ranges, exactly what we had in mind. But first we spent some time at the El Colorado mine looking for rocks. It had rained a little bit and all the rocks glistened in beautiful colors. Soon we got cardboard boxes out to store the rocks, stayed for an improvised lunch and finally had an impressive rock collection together. The road led around the mining operation and at a few houses we asked for the road to Guanacevi. The man looked surprised and showed us the overgrown road that they take for only a few kilometers to look for their cattle. On some weekends, though, he had seen cars coming through from the other side and so his guess was that the road must somehow be passable. We drove along a beautiful small canyon which became narrower and ever more enchanted. It drizzled on and off. Thick gray clouds hung low in the sky and we hoped that we would not be surprised by a real downpour along this unknown road. The oak trees were covered with Tillandsia usneoides. We saw Agave schidigera, A. parryi, a tree-like Nolina, Yucca madrensis and cacti. The temperatures felt like deep winter and the drizzling rain didn't help either, but wrapped in fleece and rain jackets we climbed around the mossy rocks and also discovered Graptopetalum pusillum. At the mine we had been at about 2000 m (6550 feet) altitude. Now we were driving up and up through the canyon and far in front and above we saw the road clinging to the mountain. It now looked a lot less travelled. The Agave parryi had pitchblack teeth from the rain and looked extremely attractive. The last three kilometers until we reached the pass at 2400 m (7870 feet) were an adventure and we just hoped that we did not have to turn around and go back on the same road. Without the fourwheel drive and a good ground clearance it would have been impossible to manage the washed out parts and the rocky spots. Finally on top we thought that it could only get better, after all we only had to go downhill. Far from it! The road looked even less travelled than on the other side of the pass, but at least we saw new barbed wire fences and assumed that it was somehow possible to get down. Slowly we got down from the high mountains into hilly country and finally reached a river with a somewhat damaged bridge at El Potrero at 1920 m (6300 feet). Obviously the bridge held. The sky was still overcast but on and off rays of sun pushed through the thick clouds and lightened up the yellow, mowed fields and the cottonwood trees with their golden and orange leaves. The scenes looked fantastic and with a little rain we also enjoyed many rainbows.

Back on a paved road we made fast progress and soon reached Guanacevi where we were hoping to find a hotel. The narrow streets were passable for cars in both directions and together with the parked cars this produced an incredible traffic chaos. The Hotel Concordia in the center of town was unfortunately already fully booked but the officers at the local police station were very helpful and even called at another hotel to find out if they had rooms available. If they had a phone it must be a decent place, we thought. We miraculously found a parking space along the river and walked to the hotel which was a lot faster than trying to fight our way through a one-lane road with oncoming traffic. The hotel didn't really inspire a lot of confidence. The damp rooms smelled from bad drainage and one had to share the bathroom with the other guests. For all this the young man wanted to charge us 200 Pesos. On the other side of the river we saw yet another hotel but just looking at the entrance let us shy away quickly. Besides, we would have had to park the truck down in the river bed hoping that there was no flash flood coming from further upriver. In the evening traffic we fought our way back out of Guanacevi. It took forever because at a particularly narrow spot our line of vehicles encountered a bus and a lot of millimeter maneuvering was necessary to manage the ensuing traffic jam. The 80 kms (50 miles) to Tepehuanes were paved but very winding. At night and with rain we finally reached Tepehuanes where there were enough available hotel rooms. We even got a warm meal at our favorite family restaurant. The "alambre", a plate with grilled meat, onions, mushrooms and chiles tasted excellent. Even better was the green salsa but unfortunately the owner didn't want to share its recipe.

Although we had had much success collecting rocks, there was still plenty of room in the truck and we remembered a river near Rodeo where we once had collected only a few rocks for want of time and space. The only problem was now that Rodeo lay a lot more east than Tepehuanes and we would have needed to take many detours to reach it quickly on paved roads. Soon we found an attractive looking alternative on the map. Past Santiago Papasquiaro the narrow and winding road over the pass was being widened. Near Morelos we left the main highway and drove through Mennonite country on pretty decent dirt roads. The maze of roads was confusing and time and again we ended up on a dead-end at a large, well-kept Mennonite farm. The people we asked for the road to Castillo del Valle all said that we should have gone through Nuevo Ideal where the entire stretch would have been paved. When we finally reached the pavement again we soon noticed that we had made far better progress on the dirt road than on this extremely distroyed and potholed road. Since we were driving only with the help of the Guia Roji maps, we never really knew exactly where we were. At least there were a few wooden signs for places nailed to trees and some of them were mentioned in the map. There were no other cars around. The dirt road went up the mountain with many curves and was pretty new. At another confusing intersection we fortunately met a police truck. The officers were pretty distrusting but mentioned a brand new connection between San Jose and El Porvenir that was passable if we absolutely wanted to reach Rodeo from the northwestern side. To be on the safe side we asked about this road again in San Jose and a young man said that it didn't look very passable to him when he was up there last. We trusted the police officers more and drove up the mountain on the brand new road. On top the view down to El Porvenir opened up, but we also saw a dirt road covered with piles of red earth and some construction machinery and high clearance pickups further down on the slope. The machines were just now working on pushing a huge rock down the mountain. All our shouting, whistling and honking the horn didn't help. Finally Julia walked down to the workers. The road was really being scraped out of the mountain just now but one of the engineers was so kind to send one of the machines to more or less flatten the last few meters for us. After about half an hour that last part looked more or less passable and Martin slowly came down the mountain. Three times the Dodge almost got stuck but in the end was digging its way through the loose dirt and down to the base of the mountain. We now hoped for better road conditions because it was already late in the afternoon again. Past Porvenir the road got better and here the really beautiful landscape with interesting cliffs and canyons with many plants began. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time for stops because we didn't feel like driving through the night again. At dusk we finally reached Rodeo where we found dinner and a hotel along the main highway.

The next day was dedicated to collecting rocks. We found a beautiful purple cristal rock but even with a heavy crowbar we could only move it a few inches. It was absolutely impossible to get it all the way to the truck, less heave it up on the back. Instead we found tons of other beautiful rocks that filled up the truck pretty quickly. It was now so heavy and loaded that we didn't want to try more dirt roads. Besides, it was time for us to drive back south into home pastures.

January 2012

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen