Creel to Los Mochis, Mexico

The Barrancas del Cobre & the CHEPE Iron Horse

AS Rail
Graphics illustrate CHEPE EXPRESS in three-dimensional letters that identify Barrancas del Cobre.
the iron horse
Composition of the CHEPE Express enters the station of El Divisadero.
light in the dark
Passengers illuminate the passage of the CHEPE EXPRESS in one of the many tunnels on the way to Los Mochis.
tight view
Passenger films the CHEPE Express rail journey.
View of the Past
Passengers enjoy the landscape of the Mexican state of Chihuahua from the background of the CHEPE EXPRESS composition.
trot crossing
Horses cross the railway line shortly after the CHEPE Express passes.
desert view
Passenger enjoys a drink in CHEPE EXPRESS's only open-window carriage.
Iron Horse II
CHEPE EXPRESS compounding machine, arriving in El Divisadero.
on the way to the pacific
Railway line traveled by CHEPE EXPRESS, passing between proud cacti.
Septentrion Canyon
CHEPE EXPRESS meanders halfway up the vast canyon of the Septentrión River.
Level up
One of the rare level crossings in the parched wilderness of Sinaloa state.
parallel travel
Motorcyclists accompany the CHEPE EXPRESS march along the Fuerte River.
Santa Barbara Bridge
The long composition of the CHEPE EXPRESS crossing the Santa Bárbara bridge, in the Septentrión canyon.
End of the line
Sunset in the state of Sinaloa, close to El Fuerte station.
The Sierra Madre Occidental's relief turned the dream into a construction nightmare that lasted six decades. In 1961, at last, the prodigious Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad was opened. Its 643km cross some of the most dramatic scenery in Mexico.

Mexicans have always sympathized with diminutives and the suffix ito.

When faced with the CHP code, from Chihuahua – Pacific and with the impossibility of treating such a convoy by trenzite, they ended up surrendering to the affectionate nickname of El Chepe.

As planned at the end of the XNUMXth century, Chepe has its internal departure (or arrival) station in Chihuahua. Although we spent two days in the capital of the homonymous state, strategic questions for exploring the region dictated that we board the El Chepe, in the Express version, and two stations to the southwest, in the one of El Divisadero.

We left the Hotel Mirador there at 8:15 in the morning. Before 9 am, we are once again on the threshold of Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon), examining the three-dimensional, gaudy and iconic letters with which it became fashionable, the places in Latin America identify themselves.

At El Divisadero station, over the abyss of the great Mexican canyon, the letters were decorated with an intermittent panorama of what most characterized the area.

From the B to the second R, from Barranca, the deep grooves of the ravine and its cable car. From R to C, characters and the Rarámuri indigenous life. From C to the right, images of a composition by Chepe.

For some time, the passengers of the day were entertained by riding the letters and celebrating their visit. As the train's arrival time approached, they exchanged the hobby for an anxious, somewhat frantic alignment on the platform.

Finally, boarding the Chepe – Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico

Chepe showed up a little before ten, from a meander of double-rails flanked by pine trees.

We board in Business Class. As we also belong to the travel reporters, we are granted exceptional but providential access to the so-called terraza wagon, the only one with unglazed windows, open to the scenery and the wind.

Enthusiastic about this benefit, pressured by the urgency of finding a place that would allow us to photograph, we barely heard the dissertation by Maurício Navarro, the PR on board.

We sat down to our satisfaction, in one of the last side seats, with access to the rear window of the composition. Installed there, we adjust to its roaring flow and the panoramas of pine forest that we quickly feel changing from verdant to constant.

The pine forest that surrounded El Divisadero seemed to go on forever.

To break up its monotony, we focused on the track the train left behind, at a certain point, with darkened passages, with a ghostly touch, through the successive tunnels that allowed us to make our way through the rugged terrain of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

A couple wrapped up in the frigid wind, sweetens the landscape with Irish cream liqueur.

From time to time, the employees of the carriage, also a bar, bring other drinks to the other passengers.

An Urbanized Scale in the Pino-Vastness of the Sierra de Tarahumara

Around San Rafael, for a moment, Chepe leaves the tunnels and the endless mountain range. It enters an inhabited plain where, before and after the passage of the composition, several residents use the railway as their path.

At San Rafael station, the rails multiply. Standing there, we see Rarámuri women approaching over the gravel. Two of them, laden with baskets and other newly produced artefacts.

All approach the last carriage in pink dresses or shirts that contrast with the dusty blackness of the ground. One of the sellers is still trying her luck on the final carriages. Unsuccessfully.

A powerful whistle announces the resumption of the journey. Once again, Chepe continues along the mountain full of pine forests and through the tunnels that cut through it.

The Alpine Forest Pass, to the Septentrion Sub-Tropical Gorges

It fits in with the meanders of the Septentrion River that we follow until, without warning, we enter canyons with tropical rather than alpine views, whose unexpected lush depths give back a drama comparable to that of the Barrancas del Cobre from which we had departed.

Bahuichivo station is similarly behind. The river flows through a stony valley and bed, dotted with crystalline lakes where we even catch a glimpse of fish.

This translucency is followed by a new tunnel, La Pera, the 49th and one of the longest on the route, with 937m under the mountain, in a 180º loop that, depending on the direction, goes up or down thirty or a few meters.

When we left it, we ran into the ravine Deep from the Septentrion, 1600 meters of rounded gorge, measured from the riverbed to the top of the supreme cliffs.

The line we follow gains the company of others, a set classified as "retrogression Temóris".

One of them crosses the wide river by a horseshoe bridge, long to match (237m), baptized as Puente Santa Bárbara.

The name will make double sense during the rainy season, short but fulminating in these parts.

Usual in August and September, at intervals, aggravated by gales, bouts, lightning and thunder generated by hurricanes coming from the Pacific.

With each storm that ventures into the Sierra Madre Occidental, the Chepe railway line suffers the damage and service interruptions necessary for the restoration work.

Soon, he returns to the grandiose and providential service that was destined for him.

The Necessity and Ingenuity of Albert Kimsey Owen

Since the beginning of the century. In the XNUMXth century, merchants and businessmen from the northwestern Mexican coast, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the highlands to the east suffered the damages of not being able to sell their products in the opposite directions, especially to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean, from where they could ship to international ports.

At a time when the iron horse was confirmed as a revolutionary means of transport, Albert Kimsey Owen, an adventurer and engineer with political preponderance, presented, in the United States Senate, a project for a railway line that would link Texas to the coast of Topolobampo.

It was a bay that had dazzled him and in which he would found the first of several Utopia Socialist Colonies, abroad, organized in cooperative mode, in the image of New Harmony, formerly incorporated in the state of Indiana.

We reached 1880. The support of Generals Grant and Butler and other US political-military figures facilitated the granting of the then President of Mexico, General Manuel González, of 3220 km of rail and of 16 million dollars. The work began in February 1885.

In Owen's mind, the railroad would spur trade between the two nations and create a prodigious trading post, which he would call the Pacific City.

The project was soon hampered by an assortment of difficulties.

The relief proved to be much more difficult to win than estimated. The costs extrapolated the Mexican subsidy.

When he requested additional funds from the US government, Owen was faced with the destructive and costly US Civil War.

In just a year, his project collapsed.

The Dragged Realization of the Chihuahua al Pacific Railroad Project

It was recovered in 1897 by a fellow citizen of Owen. Foster Higgins - that's what it was called - mentor of Companhia del Ferrocarril del Rio Grande, Sierra Madre and Pacifico.

Over the years, other companies followed, each responsible for complementary stretches of the initial route, including the emblematic Chihuahua – Creel.

In 1940, the Mexican government purchased the rights to two companies managing complementary segments. It injected astronomical funds and employed the best Mexican and foreign engineers.

As a late result, in 1961, he inaugurated a good part of the (Mexican) section of the original railway, between Ojinaga (Chihuahua) and Topolobampo (Sinaloa), the same one on which we continued to travel.

Across the Warm Plains of Sinaloa, Towards the Pacific

From the majestic and lush ravine of the Temóris area, the Chepe Express proceeds through lower, flatter lands and, as it approached the coast, dry and muggy.

We started to advance along endless straights, flanked by teasels arms in the air and thorny bushes.

By that time, the terraza wagon it was almost exclusive to us. From its deserted windows, we follow the parallel marches of motorcyclists and pick-up drivers.

The Fuerte river joins us, thickened by the junction of the Verde and Urique rivers, both arriving from the already distant Barrancas del Cobre.

Chepe stops once again in the historic city of El Fuerte, where countless passengers begin their journeys in the opposite direction every year. A few days later, we would conquer it.

In this late afternoon, almost night, we landed in Los Mochis, a mere 24 miles from Topolobampo, the utopian inspiration of Albert Kimsey Owen.

The reason for your Mexican dream on rails.


Where to stay in Barrancas del Cobre and El Fuerte  

+52 (668) 812 1613                      +52 (668) 893 11 94

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