Twelve men, old enough to know better, decide
to spend a week riding dual sport motorcycles from Presidio, Texas, to see
Copper Canyon. The Mexico portion of the trip was 1,200 miles and covered in
7 days. The focal points of the trip were Creel and Batopilas, Mexico.
Creel is the staging point for most tourists in the area, because the Copper
Canyon train stops there. The elevation ( 7,600 ft ) is 6,000 feet higher
than Batopilas, which is located in the bottom of the canyon. Batopilas was
settled in 1632 and is famous for its silver mines (1708). In 1880, the
ex-mayor of Washington D.C. came to Batopilas to expand mine production. You
still cross over to the village on the bridge he built in 1880. The village
population is 1653. It is one street wide and follows the contour of the
river for about 2 miles.
None, they would have had a plan. In Mexico, a plan is a
concept, not a reality. The trip was anticipated for 2 years. The addition
of the 12th rider was unknown to 8 of the riders, until they stopped at the
first break of the first day of the trip. He was greatly appreciated, being
the service manager of Ft.Worth BMW.
The parts of Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby were played
by Bob, Tom, and Nace. I guess I was Bruno because I had the original idea
for the trip. The "City Slickers" cast consisted of: four salesmen, three
engineers, two associated with construction, two business owners, and one
insurance agent. The youngest cast rider was 48, the oldest 68. A cast of 12 is about as large as you want. It impresses the natives as you
parade thought the village and entertains them when you criss-cross the
village trying to find your way out. It makes it more difficult to find
places to stay, get started in the morning, and makes the gas stops longer.
On talcum powder roads, it creates a dust cloud miles long. Three to six is
a more manageable size. Three can cause a problem with rooms unless 1 is
willing to sleep on the floor, but it does make it more difficult to pin
point who was snoring.
Copper Canyon is approximately 350 miles due south of
Deming, New Mexico, on the west side of the Continental Divide. It is 5
times as large as the Grand Canyon and 1,000 feet deeper.
The weather was perfect - sunny and warm every
day. We had frost one morning in Creel. There was not even a hint of rain in
the 7 days. Some roads?? had over 4" of talcum powder to negotiate. If it
had rained, those could not have been ridden. This report uses the term "road??" to refer to an area of land containing 2
disturbed rows of soil or rock. There is nothing in the English language to
properly refer to the modified soil conditions in Mexico. You will be better
prepared if you think of non-paved roads as "Paths". All dirt roads??
(except the one from Batopilas to Urique) are used by 4 wheel vehicles. That
doesn't mean you won't find them challenging, but if you break down, someone
will eventually come along. When you ride dirt, take along cotton rags. You
will need them to clean your face shield several times. Paved roads were in
excellent condition and can truly be thought of as highways.
Eleven motorcycles were trailored (544 miles) from the Ft.
Worth, Texas, areas to Presidio on March 18th, then ridden 7 days. One rider
chose to ride the entire trip. The motorcycles were:
7 KLR 650's ranging from 1988 to 2004.
1 1997 Suzuki DR 650,
1 2004 KTM 940,
1 1988 BMW GS 1000,
1 2004 BMW 650 Dakar
1 2004 BMW R1150 GS.
Twelve riders logged a total of 15,488 miles (1,200 miles
in Mexico by 12 riders + one rider covering 1,088 miles to and from Ft.Worth).
Equipment service was limited to: adding brake fluid to one KLR, adjusting
an overflow line clamp, and replacing a headlight fuse. As far as I know,
only one person adjusted his chain (me). There were no flats or tire problems of any kind! There were no significant
crashes. There were 3 slow speed turn tip overs and one rolling tip over.
None did any damage to the motorcycles. On the last day, one KLR blew the
end out of the after market muffler. He went to the back of the line - far
back. We learned that being fully prepared meant having brake fluid in your
saddle bag. Only the BMW service manager knew this, which put him in great
respect by the group. It an't easy finding Dot-4 break fluid in a Mexican
(1) Before you leave, check the chain slackness AFTER the bike is fully
(2) With 0 ring chains, all that is necessary is to carry WD-40 & clean them
after riding dirt roads.
(3) Check your brake pads, they will be abused!!!
(4) Group your tools by use. Don't be forced to unload everything for tools
you need to fix a flat.
(5) Tire Slime, even up to 6 oz. in a tire, does not cause the tire to get
out of balance - use it.
(6) Air Filters - Some riders used 'Filterskins' as a prefilter for the
KLR's. That is a good idea, I did not know about them before the trip. My
filter was completely clogged, & the air box had a thick layer of talcum in
the bottom when I got back.
(7) Carry nuts, bolts, zip ties, duct tape, safety pins, etc. Things will
come loose on their roads??.
(8) I used clear self sticking shelf liner to protect my KLR tank - it
worked. I also used non-slip matting (found under throw rugs on hardwood
floors) under my tail bag. It helps keep things from moving. On their
roads??, things will move.
(9) Be equally concerned about keeping dirt, as well as rain, out of your
(10) Figure out how to access your $$ on the road. You will need to get to
it for tolls and gas.
Health Report One rider sprained his ankle but not enough to interfere with
his trip. He wrapped it, took ibuprofen, and went on. One rider had
intestinal problems one morning. We suspect it was not from what he ate, but
didn't eat and did drink. Bottled water was readily available everywhere and
cheap. It appeared every restaurant uses bottled water for cooking.
Places to eat are not readily available, and everyone took food bars, jerky,
or cans of meat to picnic with.
(1) Travel sites recommend taking 2 Pepto-Bismol tablets at a meal, to
(2) Several riders said in the past, their doctor gave them prescriptions of
ibuprofen (800 mg.) for pain. They were told they could take it up to 4
times a day over an extended period. The over-the-counter dosage is 200 mg,
so it is easy to take the prescribed amount.
(3) I carry 'New Skin' liquid bandage. It works better than to stick on a
bandage, & stays in place if you need protection for a cut, burn, or
(4) Sleep is important to having a good time & riding safe. I carry ear
plugs, some claimed their's was not adequate. One rider carried a walkman &
went to sleep listening to Rock & Roll.
We prepared for the worst (rain & cold) but didn't wear any of it
except extra pants. I substituted an Army coat liner for my riding jacket
liner. ($2 at a flea market.) I think it is better than what comes with the
coat. It is light and insulates you from the outside heat on a warm day.
There was much discussion about footwear before the trip. The conclusion was
that you do not need heavy riding boots. All but one wore comfortable riding
boots. I wore Army jump boots (with soft soles) and found them ideal. Plan
to walk around. You can ride twisty roads in the US. You don't experience
the Mexican culture by speeding down the road?
Something like a camelback water system is recommended. You are riding in
high dry country, and you will need to drink more frequently than at gas
Starting at the border, the trip cost me about $300. Others
ate better, but we all stayed in the same rooms. Rooms, food, and gas, will
cost you about the same as in the States, if you go in a large group. Room
prices varied from $16 to $27. Because of the size of the group, we had to
stay at more expensive, nicer places.
The higher priced rooms included an evening meal and breakfast. I never
could figure out the cost of gas because of spending pesos for liters. At 2
stops, it figured out at $2.17 per gallon. This was the same price we paid
on the American side. The peso exchange rate was 10.9 to 1 and allowed us to
estimate what we were paying for things.
The very last day of the trip, I figured out one of the reasons I stayed
confused about their currency. They have both paper money and coins of the
I grew up working a cash register and know how to combine paper money and
coins to keep the number of coins in the change to a minimum. I tried this
in Mexico - never worked. They just looked at me (crazy gringo), took the
paper money & gave out another handful of coins.
Crossing the Border Entering Mexico should take about 30 minutes, it took us
3 hours. It wasn't crowded at 7:30. It was at 10:30. The story we got was
that the border computer broke down. It could be that they just take a beak
Saturday morning between 8:00 and 10:00. It appeared they run you through 3
checks on the computer, one at a time, and had to wait for each response to
come back. Three times 12 does explain some of the wait time.
Using a Passport is the simplest way to enter Mexico, so that wasn't for me.
I carried the "original" vehicle title and birth certificate, but the wrong
birth certificate. They wanted the hospital certificate. They were
understanding, and let me into Mexico to spend my money. They don't like
Discover cards for the vehicle deposit. Luckily I also carried a Visa card.
I think I paid the government $30 dollars to see Mexico.
Next stop, vehicle liability policy ($19.70 for 7 days). Then the currency
change & you are off.
We encountered one check point about 25 miles into Mexico. All they wanted
to see was our tourist permit. We were waved through one check point later
in the day. We were checked one time on the way out. It was obvious to the
young solders that there was no room on our motorcycle to smuggle anything
out, so they did a symbolic check, which consisted of having us open one
easy to get to piece of luggage and answer the questions of "no weapons?"
Exiting Mexico took 30 minutes. About 2 blocks from the border was a
currency exchange store. I couldn't tell you if the conversion was fair, but
it was easy. At the border, you turn in your tourist papers and window
sticker. Riding out with only US currency, I dropped $1.75 in the box and
said good by to Mexico.
Day One -- 11 motorcycles are trailored to Presidio, Texas (544 miles).
Day Two -- 12 gringos parade through the streets of Hidalgo del Parral,
criss-crossing the town, looking for a way out. We saw a police station and
stop and exchange hand gestures. It eventually occurs to the police that it
would be much better to escort 12 gringos out of town in a police led
motorcade than spend the day rounding up lost gringos. Later in the day, the
group got separated returning from seeing the canyon south of Guachochi, and
8 riders spent the afternoon waiting on 4 riders who were trying hard to
play catch-up before they get to the next town.
Upon arrival at Creel, we were told there was "no rooms at the inn". This is
the big Easter Weekend. We can stay the night but must leave the next
morning. Next stop is an all day ride to Batopilas and the uncertainty of
our accommodations there. It is low in the canyon, and we can camp out if
Summary Escorted out of town by police. Loose 4 of 12 riders. Accommodation
Day Three -- Frost on the seats, just like we like it. We ride from Creel to
Batopilas, on the twisty road everyone has seen photos of.
Spend 2 days in Batopilas. The town is planning for a big weekend, but we
have no problem taking over Hotel Mary for 2 nights, so we are back on
schedule. As much as I had read about Batopilas (read Grant Sheppard's
autobiography 'Silver Magnet' about growing up in Batopilas as the son of
the mine owner), I still did not comprehend that the village is one street,
one lane wide, and about 2 miles long. We got caught up in afternoon traffic
one day and had to wait until the calf dragged the young boy at the other
end of the rope about a block. Another afternoon, we saw an unaccompanied
donkey heading down the street.
If you want to experience Mexican culture, this is a good place to do it.
More that one night should be spent here. Go to the south end of the town
and hang around the village square. Hotel Mary is the place to stay. It has
the charm you came to Mexico for. Next door is an outdoor bar and in the
entrance is a large mural of the town, highlighting where you are and points
One of our goals was to ride from Batopilas to Urique. Some travel stories
include this route (Mark Sampson made it). Some stories say they couldn't
ride it due to the present conditions. (The Rider magazine group could not
make it due to the rain.) The first answer to our inquiry was that it could
not be ridden. Someone else told us there was "NO PROBLEM" riding to Urique.
We went with the "NO PROBLEM" answer, after we were told by the police that
2 supply trucks were going over the road?? the next day, to supply new mines
being (future tense is significant) opened up. We were also told, mines
first, roads second.
Of the 12 riders, three decided to accept the challenge. We got hand written
directions from the police and thought that would be helpful - wrong! Within
2 blocks of the departure point, the point man took the wrong fork in the
road. A very bad omen since he couldn't read the only sign we saw for the
next 4 hours. He was replaced!
We are not sure if we followed the directions given to us. The maps we had
were no help. We thought we would come out in Urique, but we came out on the
road to Urique. It really didn't matter. The ride was worth it. For the
first 16 miles, it was steep runs and tight turns - all negotiable by supply
trucks. (We never saw a supply truck, but we did find evidence of supply
truck parts strewn along the road?? we traveled.) Then there were 8 miles of
very flat roads??. Then back to a mix of easy and tough rides. The river was
about 16" deep, but not difficult to cross. The 10ft. high sandy bank was
another matter. (It doesn't hurt very much to lay a KLR over in deep sand
that is at a 45 degree slope.)
We thought it curious that in the middle of no where, there was a ranch hand
sitting on the bank just watching. Apparently it is the highlight of his
week; to just sit and watch crazy gringos splash around in the Urique River.
For those up to the challenge, the directions given to us by the police
were: head south out of town. At the sign saying Mission to the left, take
the right fork. The police wrote out the following village names to guide us
to Urique (San Juan de Dios, El Guayacan, Piedras Berdes, Mesa de Artura,
and Urique). We were told to turn before we reached Tubares. (Note, Tubares
is not on the list - important omission. You might assume you will come upon
a sign saying Tubares ___ km and then start looking for a turnoff - wrong.)
We did not know if we should turn at the edge of the village or miles before
the village. We saw no turn until we reached the village, and turned to the
right at the very edge of the village where we got gas from a small store. I
suspect there is a road trail long before you get to Tubares that will bring
you into Urique
Unfortunately, we did not ask how many huts make up a village, so we never
knew where we were until we reached Tubares. You know you are at Tubares
when you see a mile long bridge. You might think a village would have a
sign, a school, or a named mission - wrong. We traveled 161 miles that day
and only 34 were paved. All paths that we took had 2 disturbed rows of soil
or rock. The best advice I can offer is to follow the mufflers and cans. As
long as you see them, you know the road?? is being used at some frequency.
Late in the afternoon, we were riding a very high mountain crest. We had a
number of buzzards circle us, low overhead for several passes. Didn't find
that comforting, but they did not attack.
Creel, Mexico - A fine town that should not be visited on a major holiday.
Rooms were hard to find, and the banks were closed. We stayed one night at
The Lost Valley Hotel and one night at Hotel Kari Creel with "bunk house"
rooms. Both included breakfast and the evening meal with the room. The
bunkhouse motif, at Kari Creel, was more fun and reminiscent of my college
days. Cell phones and phone cards may work in Creel. The ATM machine does
work. That is how you work around the banks being closed & you having
no pesos for food or gas.
The Ride -- None of the stories I read prepared me for the high quality
paved roads. They were great, almost as good as the ones Bill Clinton bought
for his home state of Arkansas. Of the 1,200 miles ridden, all but the run south from Batopilas to Urique
was on roads?? used by trucks & pickups. If your bike can negotiate dirt
roads, you can ride 1,000 miles of our route. Most bikes had knobby tires.
The most common was Kinda 760 & 270. The Dakar had Avon Grippers 24, not a
good choice for dirt roads but fine on the paved roads. The R1150 GS had
Continental Twinduro knobbies and worked fine on all roads.
WE HAD NO TIRE PROBLEMS. I think a factor was that most of us had new tires.
Gas was not a problem. In Batopilas, Tubares, & San Rafael we filled up at a
"private gas store". We did not buy gas out of 55 gallon drums. Everywhere
else, we found Pemex stations. Remember we were riding KLR "6 gallon
Tankers" and getting about 250 miles to the tank. Money was not a problem.
Open your hand, and they will take it.
(1) Any map you take will be incomplete. Have one but don't expect much.
They won't always show the right direction you leave town, and the road
numbers are not always a match.
(2) Carry a cheap compass. Look at your map to confirm which way you should
be heading out of town. Confirm you are heading in the right direction, and
look for fresh coke and beer cans.
(3) Don't expect the "main" road?? to look different from an alley,
driveway, or vacant lot.
(4) Monitor the age of the coke & beer cans, they will suggest how
frequently the roads are used.
(5) Take FRSs. This was my fist exposure to them. I won't ride without them
again. During the Urique ride, we would come to an intersection. Larry would
go one way and Ronnie the other. I stayed put. One would call back to the
other, "this way" and we would follow suit. The lead also broadcast road
conditions, such as bad road, speed bump, road kill, approaching car, route
is to the left, etc. They will allow you to fall farther back in dust
conditions too. They are not expensive.
You can shop around and get one for less that $15, and all brands
communicate with each other. Then you have to find a boom mike and wire a
push to talk switch on the handle bar.
The Memories The scenery is spectacular, but you can see almost the same
thing in the States in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. What you
will not see is the people & their style of living. Do the hard rides, but don't leave out the more traveled back roads through
the villages. Satellite TV dishes were evident in the small villages. Change
can not be far behind. Wave at the kids - you are their parade. Take
pictures of the donkeys. They will be replaced by ATV's.
Stay at Hotel Mary & Hotel Kari (the owner speaks good English) and be "in"
You can get by with a minimum of Spanish. A phrase dictionary is not much
help, because you are so far south and away from the cities. You can do it
without any Spanish, Mark Sampson did. If you know no Spanish, make a
picture book. You can point to pictures of, food, gas, lodging, bank, ATM
machine, phone, the name of villages, etc. That will make do until you run
across someone able to speak a little English.
EVERYONE was friendly, even the gas station attendants. You are so far into
Mexico that they appreciate your commitment to observe their culture. I
walked the streets alone at night in several towns and villages and felt as
comfortable as I do at home.
Left Behind Only 2 people had something stolen. In Batopilas, we stayed
across from the police station and left the bikes cabled together at night.
During the day there, someone liked the electronic compasses attached to the
One bag was not fully zipped up, and they took the compasses, flashlight,
and a can of tuna.
Other things were lost, not stolen. Someone lost a money clip, they think it
fell out. The battery to a VCR fell out on rough roads. A disposable camera
could not be found. A camelback was left on a tail bag during fueling and
Pictures About half of us took digital cameras. I recommend taking a cheap
35 mm. It simplifies things (no battery or storage media problems). One
rider had his digital camera quit, even thought he kept it in his coat to
protect if from shock. One lost the battery to his VCR. When you return, you
can have the film processed (no prints) and transferred to a CD. With this,
you can edit the pictures and choose what you want prints of. More than one
of our riders plan to make a DVD of the trip so that it can be shown on the
TV. The End
Credits Three years ago, the author decided to do something memorable for my
60th birthday. It took 2 years to make it happen. It was worth it!
Scouts - Nace & Rick , they had ridden in Mexico before.
Catering - Walt, he had the coffee pot & opened the coffee shop each
Camera Man - Larry & Chris, Larry did good, dropped his camera many times
but it still worked. Chris lost the battery to his camera on day 3.
Sound - The responsibility of Larry & Ronnie because they brought FRS radios
& could use them. Tom provided the background rumble on the way back to
Presidio, when he lost the guts of his muffler.
Trip Reporter - Bob, no other skills.
Money Manager - Terry, he showed talent in managing money after he lost his
money clip on day 3.
Motivation - Don P., at his age (68), if he could do it everyone else was
shamed into keeping up.
Security - Don W., he rode the most expensive bike (2004 BMW R1150 GS). With
his bike as bait, we knew our old KLRs and DR were safe.
Resources - Dave, he seemed to always know where to get things sold in
groups of 6.
Translator - Tom shared translation responsibilities with Rick, Dave, and
"Memories are made of the things that you overcome, not the trip where
everything went as scripted!
We were not disappointed with the trip in any way! Uncertainties about
having accommodations and being able to get dollars converted to pesos was
part of "the adventure". And, what's a trip without getting lost? The locals
were very warm and friendly and tried to be helpful. Three of us accepted
the challenge from Batopilas to Urique. We have 161 more miles of tall tales
to tell than the rest.
My first college roommate read my story and sent this reply. ".. Now you can
sit back and wait for the movie offers to roll in -- the movie teaser will
be something like, "See a dozen hardened bike hoodlums terrorize entire
villages in Northern Mexico as they ride through marketplaces and churches
at top speed, torturing defenseless communities, and looting what little the
poor families have worked for all their lives. Know as the Dirty Dozen, they
. . .
The original assumption that the most severe injury was a sprained ankle in
error. I learned 2 weeks later that the sprain was actually a minor bone
fracture. One that only required a Velcro walking cast - that he wears
Below are a few photos to give you an ideas of the "fun" roads?? we took.
(1) We started at the very bottom and came over this pass, where the
buzzards checked us out. (2) This shows part of the 6,000 ft. drop down in
to Batopilas. (3) Close up of some of the road?? in photo two. Remember
everything brought to Batopilas comes over this road. (4) Second highest
(812') waterfall in Mexico, and 28th in world.
PUBLISH TRAVEL STORY