Message from Paul Streeter
I just got back today from a 10 day motorcycle trip to
Copper Canyon (Baranca Del Cobre). It really was quite an adventure!
Originally I had tried to go on an organized tour in December but never
quite worked out all the details. At the last minute, I met up with a
local group who was planning on going on their own, and I was able to go
We had a fairly large group, 12 people and 11 motorcycles. It was quite an
assortment of people and motorcycles. One BMW, two Kawasaki's, two Hondas,
3 Yamaha's and 3 Suzuki's. The oldest motorcycles were 1978 models and the
newest a '99. The oldest person was 63 and the youngest 29. One woman and
11 men! I rode my 1988 Kawasaki KLR 650.
I had only met one other person on the trip beforehand, so one interesting
part was to meet and get to know the other 10 people. 5 of us drove down
to Texas together and stayed for only one week, the other 7 stayed for two
We used a diesel cargo van to haul the 5 of us plus a tandem axle car
trailer with our 5 bikes and an old Triumph with a sidecar to Texas. The
others knew a friend who had moved to Marathon, Texas about 115 miles from
the border. He let us park our trucks and trailers at his house, and we
delivered the Triumph and sidecar to him. The van had two front seats and
windows only in the front doors and windshield. We drove straight through
and made it to Marathon in 22 hours (about 1400 miles, over 2200
kilometers). We made ourselves comfortable with folding chairs and
sleeping pads. We took turns driving and sleeping. The fuel gauge didn't
work, but we only ran out of fuel once! We unloaded one of the motorcycles
and drove it to the next town and brought back a can of diesel fuel.
On Sunday morning we loaded up the bikes and set out. We rode some dirt
back roads through Big Bend National Park in Texas before we got to the
border towns of Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Mexico. One guy had trouble
with his bike, but after numerous stops and work they replaced his
condenser and after that his bike ran fine.
I ended up going through Customs and Immigration first. The personal part
was easy, about 5 minutes. The Temporary Importation of the motorcycle
took about an hour. It cost about $22 if I remember right to import the
bike, but they take an imprint of a major credit card and charge you $200
to $400 if you don't bring the bike back over the border when you leave.
It was another $23 or so for a personal tax, but that had to be paid later
at a bank. ( One of the guys didn't realize this had to be done, and
wasn't allowed to leave Mexico until he went back into town and paid at a
bank. Luckily for him, the banks were open. We left on Saturday night and
Sunday morning, so we would have been out of luck because the banks were
Less than a block from Customs is an insurance agency. I bought $50,000
worth of liability only coverage for 8 days for about $25. Again, took
almost an hour.
By this time, it was starting to get dark, and not everyone had made it
through customs yet, much less buying insurance. So, with a description of
a hotel that some had used a few years before, I set out to find the hotel.
I found the Hotel Diana which has a court yard to park the bikes in. Not
fancy, but good enough. Rooms with 2 beds were $29, one bed for $20. Hot
water and showers, what more could you ask for? I reserved 6 rooms, took a
shower and walked across the street to buy some beer. I'm far from fluent
in Spanish, but I'm sure glad I know enough to get by. Eventually the rest
of the group rolled in and we ended up eating at a little roadside stand
next to the hotel (in between the hotel and the money changer, how
convenient!). The food was delicious and cheap, just the way I like it!
The larger the group, the longer it always seems to take to get organized
and get going. This goes for gas stops, meals and rest room breaks.
Eventually, we got going the next morning. We rode on the pavement to
Chihuahua through the desert and rolling hills. Nice twisty pavement in
some spots, straight roads that you can see straight ahead for miles in
other spots. We stopped at a bank in Chihuahua to pay our tax. One of the
guys had intermittent trouble with his bike on the way. We ended up towing
him to the nearest cafe, and he and his bike got a ride in a pickup truck
to Chihuahua to a motorcycle shop. The only guy we had along who was
fluent in Spanish stayed with him to try to get his bike fixed. We looked
for them in Chihuahaua, but they went to an independent shop, and we only
found the dealerships. (2 Yamaha dealerships, one each Suzuki and Honda,
no Kawasaki dealerships in Chihuahua).
We headed for Cuauhtemoc. We took the libre (free) road instead of the
toll road. Nice scenery, nice curvy roads. We stayed the night at Hotel
Victoria, again with a courtyard to park in, nice enough for $20 for a room
with 2 beds.
We left in the morning and headed for Creel. We did take the road to
Carichi and a nice dirt road part of the rest of the way to Creel. Nice
roads, nice scenery. Creel is at a pretty high elevation, so it gets a
little chilly in February. There was frost on the motorcycle seats in the
morning. We stayed at the Hotel Los Valles. Nice place, almost new. $10
per person. We got 3 double rooms and their "grande" room that had a
living room, kitchenette, 3 double beds and 3 bunk beds. It worked out
great, we used the "grande" room as our clubhouse! Again, a courtyard to
So far, I've been doing most of the talking for the group. Arranging hotel
rooms, negotiating the prices, reading the menus for the other guys.
Later that night, the fluent Spanish speaker showed up. They thought they
got the other bike running, but after 100 miles, it broke down again. The
CDI ignition box was acting up. He got another truck ride to Creel, and
eventually drained the gas tank on his bike, slid it sideways into the
luggage compartment of a bus, and he and his bike rode back to the border
in air conditioned comfort for about $50. Good thing to know about.
Next day we rode to Batopilas, at the bottom of the canyon. Pavement part
way, beautiful views, mountain switchbacks, great riding road. The rest of
the way is on a fairly well maintained dirt road. It is do-able on a
street bike, if you go slow and are careful. Much more fun on a dual sport
bike. Fantastic scenery, great roads, and it kept getting warmer as we
went down into the canyon. We checked into the Hotel Mary, about $7.50 per
person per night. Nice little town, dirt streets, about 3 restaurants, a
couple of hotels, a couple of small general stores.
Next day, we got a late start, about 11 or noon. The four of us "one
week" people wanted to try to get to Urique. There is a walking and burro
path, but we were persuaded that it was not passable by motorcycle, but
there was a "new" road only about 7 years old that wasn't on the maps. So,
we headed out in the right direction. We stopped and asked directions
(good thing I know a little Spanish!) of almost everyone we saw on the
road. We eventually got to a small pueblo called Rodeo. A church, a
school and a handful of house, but they had a small store where we could
buy soda pop and chips. We were surrounded by about 25 little kids looking
at us and our bikes. They acted like we were aliens or something, which
probably isn't too far off. We started out again, got lost, doubled back,
ended up at a rancho, doubled back again, kept going and asking directions.
These roads were pretty rough in places.
I noticed the guy behind me wasn't keeping up. I waited a while, then
headed back. His bike had broken down, apparently trashed the
transmission. We tried to push start it, but it just skidded the rear
wheel. It took a while to decide what to do. An older woman told us there
was a town only about a half hour away by foot. By this time, the other
guys had finally come back to see what was up. We re-distributed all his
gear, and put him on the back of my bike, riding two-up. We set out for
the little town. The woman hadn't mentioned that we had to cross a river
to get there! It was about 100 yards wide, and turned out to be a little
over knee deep in the center. We gave it a try, but with the big rocks and
all the weight, we went swimming in about the middle! It started right
back up, and we walked and pushed it out to the other side. About this
time, a pickup truck showed up. They told us there wasn't really any
reason to go to that town, it was too small, had no hotel. It was about 4
PM by this time, and we knew we only had a couple of hours of daylight
left. I knew I definately didn't want to be riding on these roads with
steep climbs, loose rocks, and switchbacks in the dark! They were nice
enough to haul me and my bike back across the river in the truck. We
decided to head back to Rodeo to see about a truck to get my buddy and his
bike back to Batopilas, and maybe rent a bed for the night.
One of the guys didn't stop in Rodeo (I won't go into all the details) so
another guy went to catch him. That left the two of us on my bike. After
long negotiations, my buddy agreed to sell his broken bike to one guy for
$100 (it was a '78 Suzuki) and pay another guy $100 for a 3 hour ride back
to Batopilas. So, they left in a truck to go back to get the motorcycle.
My buddy asked me to stay and look after some of his stuff while he was
gone. It took almost two hours for them to go pick up the bike and get
back to Rodeo. Meanwhile, I'm sitting there surrounded by about 10 little
kids, looking at this goofy gringo with a motorcycle. I talked to the kids
when I could think of something I knew how to say, and it wasn't at all
The other two guys never did come back. By the time the second guy caught
up with the first, they were halfway to Batopilas, and instead of turning
back, just continued on to town.
Finally, my buddy returns with the truck and broken motorcycle, he has a
ride to town lined up, and it's dark. I ask about renting a bed for the
night in someone's home. They tell me that since my buddy has paid for a
ride back to town, that they will load up my bike in the truck, and my bike
and I can ride to town for free. So that's what we did. Took about 3
hours in a four wheel drive truck in granny gear most of the way. In the
dark, clawing up the loose rocky hills, going around lots of switchbacks.
I was glad the driver knew the way. We talked to the driver a little bit,
but eventually he popped a rancho music cassette into his cassette player,
and we figured this meant he'd had enough talking with these gringos! It's
too bad it was too dark to see the scenery. We finally got back to
Batopilas about 10 PM. The restaurants were closed, but we did manage to
find our buddies at a bar, and I was able to get a beer before going to
bed. Long day! It took me a long time to go to sleep, I was pretty keyed
We decided to try one more time to get to Urique. We got up early, and set
out before the restaurants opened. Five people on 4 bikes this time. One
guy decided the roads were too rough, and took the good road back to Creel.
We made good time back to Rodeo, and on to where the bike had broken down
the day before. The roads got steadily worse. No street bikes could make
it through here! Steeper climbs, looser surfaces. The passenger on the
two-up bike had to get off and walk up some of the climbs. Great scenery!
Some cactus, deep canyons. We had to ford another river. This one was
almost hip deep. We carried all of our gear across, and three of us pushed
each bike across. Very pretty. Had to start asking directions again. We
finally made it to the nice gravel road that runs between Urique and
Cerocahui. The two bikes with the "two week" people turned right to go to
Urique and stay the night there, the other two of us "one-week" people had
to get back to Creel tonight! We were under the impression that the road
would stay good. Not so. After we left Cerocahui, the road deteriorated
again. But the canyons on this side were full of pine trees. Very pretty.
After another couple of hours of bad road and stopping to ask directions
(did I mention I was glad I knew a little Spanish?) we finally got to the
pavement in San Rafael. Fun road! Curvy, with switchbacks, we made it 35
miles in about 35 minutes. Made it back to Creel a little bit before dark!
Finally had a restaurant meal. I went from breakfast on Thursday until
supper on Friday with no real meals in between. Just soda, some peanuts
and some fruit I brought along. If you've seen my physique, you can tell I
don't usually miss any meals!
Our buddy with the broken bike was lucky enough to catch (at 5:00 AM) the
once a week bus out of Batopilas and made it to Chihuahua, transferred to
another bus and we met him in Ojinaga at the border. I guess that was a
pretty wild bus ride!
We got up early Saturday morning and started heading back. We took the
pavement all the way, and the toll road, and made it all the way back from
Creel to Ojinaga in one day. We found the one buddy at the bus terminal.
We took care of the border paperwork that night, but spent the night at the
Hotel Diana again. Next morning, we headed out two up again for Marathon,
Texas. Our buddy who's bike rode in the belly of the bus met us there, and
he ended up selling his bike to a guy in Marathon. So, we only had three
out of five bikes to haul home. We made it home in about 22 hours again,
about 2:00 PM to Minneapolis. Cold and snowy.
We ended up riding our bikes about 1000 miles on pavement and 400 miles or
so on dirt roads (mostly in first and second gear).
It was a great trip, and quite an adventure. I'm already thinking about
going back next year!