CUSARARE CANYON

Cusarare Falls
Cusarare Falls
Surrounded by pine trees, the Cusarare River winds across the high sierra to plummet a hundred feet (30m) over a massive rock ledge that is the first step of its descent to join the Urique River in the Copper Canyon. This tranquil, pretty spot, the Cusarare Falls, is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Sierra Tarahumara. 'Cusarare' meaning 'Place of the Eagles' to the Raramuri, is an apt name for this small, side canyon that abuts the much larger canyon system of La Barranca del Cobre. Once the haunt of the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the majestic bird is now only found in the most isolated areas.

A rugged trail leads down to the base of the waterfall with its little pools that are great swimming holes when the water level is low. Below the waterfall, the Cusarare Canyon narrows considerably with great boulders marking its path and the relatively short distance to the Urique River becomes a grueling 3 day trek. The Basirecota Thermal Springs, located in the lower section of the Cusarare Canyon, is noted among the Tarahumara for its curative powers. Although difficult to access by following the river, it is easily reached by crossing the mesa to the south of the Cusarare Falls trail before dipping down into the canyon (about 3 hrs.hiking). There are nearby caves for those who might want to spend a night beneath the stars. The difficulty of access to the lower Cusarare Canyon is offset by the ease of exploring the upper canyon area that is known to contain a wealth of archaeological sites, mostly in the form of pre-Tarahumara caves.

When exploring these caves, great care should be taken not to disturb them as many have not yet been documented. Some caves are noted for their wall paintings while others have old adobe structures built into the rock to take advantage of the natural stone overhang that forms a roof. Ceramic pots and flat stones for forming tortillas are the most usual implements found in these old, abandoned caves. A hundred years ago, the explorer, Carl Lumholtz, described Cusarare as being the only place where lances were seen and one day, somewhere in this beautiful, little canyon, it is hoped that one of these lances will be found.

Cusarare Trails
Interesting Side Trails
Some of the best places to explore are perhaps those that are so obvious that they go unnoticed. Typically, most visitors arrive at the Cusarare Falls trail in a tour vehicle with an hour allocated to see the falls. Beyond the cloud of dust that they spew, nondescript side trails climb through the forest to a wonderland of secluded cave dwellings and lookout points that boast exquisite mesa views. Here, amid the tall pines where eagles once soared, the rhythms of Tarahumara life play out below. Smoke curls from a humble hut where a baby's cry interrupts his mother who is preparing the family's midday meal. Girls toting intricately carved picture frames smile shyly at the tourists and little boys, screaming raucously, learn the Tarahumara art of running.

Best Times to Go:
Exploring the Upper Cusarare Canyon is comfortable year-round but the mesas are particularly lovely from the end of September to October following the summer rains.

Getting There:
Fourteen miles (22 kms.) south of Creel along the Creel to Guachochi road, there is a sign that marks the turnoff to the Cusarare Falls. This 2 mile (3km.) dirt road gives way to a trail that leads to the top of the waterfall and continues down to the bottom of the waterfall.

Clothing/Gear:
Season appropriate clothing, good walking shoes, and sunscreen are adequate for walking around the Upper Cusarare Canyon. Exploring the Lower Cusarare Canyon requires hiking boots, canvas shoes (for river crossings), backpacking gear, an emergency first aid kit, snake bite kit, compass, flashlight and water filter.

General Information:
Creel is the best base for exploring the Cusarare Canyon. The Sierra Lodge is located by the Cusarare Falls turnoff but it can only be visited as part of a prearranged package. Rather than taking a tour, we recommend renting a mountain bike for the day or hiring a taxi with arrangements to be picked up later. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch.

To explore the Lower Cusarare Canyon, arrangements may be made for a 5 day trek from the Cusarare Falls to Divisadero. This is a strenuous backcountry trek with river crossings that can be dangerous in the rainy season.

Planning Tips:

Important Resources:

  • Expediciones Umarike
    Apartado Postal #61, Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico C.P. 33200
    Tel: 52-635-456-0632
    Mobile: 52-614-406 5464
    Email: contact@umarike.com.mx

    Expediciones Umarike offers mountain bike and rock climbing excursions in the Sierra Tarahumara. Arturo can provide information and maps for those who want to explore the more remote trails of the region. Customized treks with a guide may be arranged for a minimum of two people. Expediciones Umarike is located on Avenida Ferrocarril where visitors can buy a cup of cappuccino, access the Internet or rent climbing and camping gear and mountain bikes.
Related Books:
  • Mexico's Copper Canyon Country, A Hiking and Backpacking Guide to Tarahumara-land by M. John Fayhee (revised 1994) describes his personal experiences in one of the most extraordinary canyon systems in the world. Details about several hiking trails in the Cusarare Canyon, helpful information and maps are provided.
  • Mexico's Copper Canyon 2000 by Richard Fisher, Kit Williams et al. is an informational guide to the region that is filled with beautiful photographs, detailed descriptions and recommendations for favorite backpacking and hiking trails. This book is published by Sunracer Publications, PO Box 86492, Tucson, AZ 85754, Tel. 520-882-5341.
  • Northern Mexico Handbook by Joe Cummings is a Moon Publication. Of all the general travel guides to Mexico, this is one of the best guides to the Sierra Tarahumara region. It is well-written, thoroughly researched and includes information about the Cusarare area.


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