Albritton is a former trail guide in the Sierra Madre. He can be
reached at email@example.com
Once cited by Aldo Leopold as one of
the most intact ecosystems left in North America, the Copper Canyon area, in
Mexico’s western Sierra Madre, has fallen victim to massive timbering, road
building, and random unregulated development.
“Ecotourists who once visited here
every year simply aren’t returning anymore,” says one hotelier who is
still trying to hang on. “They are experienced world travelers. They have
options, they simply go to where it is most natural, most rustic, most
Another hotel, the Copper Canyon
Riverside Lodge, has already closed, and a third hotelier, who asks not to be
quoted, is looking for a buyer as customer bases dwindle in the face of what
some call an ecological disaster.
The picturesque road to the canyon
bottom has been blasted to double width and thousands of tons of debris poured
over lush green cliffs. In the canyon bottom’s remote historical oasis of
Batopilas, cobbled streets were recently cemented over, four ancient buildings
replaced with cement block, and the car and truck traffic is destroying 17th
century sidewalks. Satellite
dishes now peer from roofs, streetlights block out once magnificent night
skies, and air conditioners hum incessantly into the streetlight-filled night.
“It’s basically a drug money town
now,” says one long-time visitor. “The burro trains don’t come here
anymore. The hiking trails have been blasted into roads to move the drugs
At Creel, just ten years ago a
picturesque lumber town, unregulated development sees 40-foot billboards, loud
music from restaurants sporting luminous “Cold Beer” signs and city-style
steel curtains for security. Plans are in place to cap the nearby Recohuata
hot springs, a major hiker’s attraction, to supply water to encourage
Creel’s growth. Plans have been announced to build a jetport in the center
of the Sierra.
Electricity and mercury vapor lights on
posts are erasing the Milky Way in more pueblos each year, and power and waste
treatment plants are left exposed by the roadside. High voltage transmission
towers line miles of highway.
Timbering, illegal and otherwise, has
changed the face of the landscape. More cement buildings pop up each month
along country roads, and hotels at Divisadero dump raw sewage from rooms
directly over the canyon rim. Road paving operations last year dug open pit
mines for material along the road to Creel.
The hotel at El Tejaban has driven away
Indian neighbors by shooting near their feet with long distance rifles, and
Indian ceremonies are often surrounded by more clicking cameras than
The Tarahumara Indians, unwilling to accept foreign concepts of management and property and unable to run hotels, stand by silently, as their fields, forests, water, and sacred hot springs slowly evaporate in the name of modernism.
Many maps show the area as a National
Park. It is not. For promotional purposes, it is designated a Natural
Park, with no restrictions on mining, timber or development. There’s talk of a
true, well-regulated National Park, limiting accommodations to home-stays in
Tarahumara ranchos, giving control and income directly to the Tarahumara, while
preserving the ecosystems and marketability of the area. “It is a promising
alternative for preserving this unique Mexican heritage”, says Alejandro
Lopez, of the Grupo Verde, the Mexican ecology association.
For more information on the National Park issue, contact Keith Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org