I am not exactly sure how old I was when I learned about the existence of the Grand Canyon. Probably much older than I should have been. And I did not have the opportunity to see it for myself until I was almost 50! So it is really no surprise, I suppose, that I was as equally unfamiliar with the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico. Here I was again feeling completely overwhelmed by all I did not know in the world.
When I heard that my good friend, Ruth, had a trip to the canyon planned for early spring, I begged and pleaded with Steve to go. The begging and pleading was necessary because of his status as the only male in the group the last time… and the shopping. In fact, the strongest argument I made was that since we were traveling by train, small suitcases were recommended. And small suitcases seriously limit your shopping load. It did not even occur to me to point out that the Copper Canyon is four times bigger and ten times deeper than the Grand Canyon or that it is home to the Rarámuri Indians, known for their long distance running abilities.
Ruth has a passion for the history of Mexico, and I knew we would learn a lot from her. In addition to being a historian, Ruth and her husband Rudy own and operate one of the best bakeries in San Carlos. Steve knew he had made the right decision in joining the trip when minutes into our van ride to El Fuerte, Sinaloa, Ruth showed us how the Sierra Madre Occidental were formed using her delicious banana bread to demonstrate the shifting of the plates.
The town of El Fuerte was once the capital city of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Arizona. It is named for the Spanish fortress, El Fuerte, built in the early 1600’s after Mayo Indians destroyed the first Spanish settlement. General Diego Martínez de Hurdaide was responsible for its construction after being sent to the area to quell further uprisings. Hurdaide was cruel and ruthless. He believed that Indians had no souls. And he actually had them baptized… before he killed them. After silver was discovered in the Copper Canyon, the fort served to protect Spanish mining interests. The Camino Real runs through El Fuerte to Alamos in Sonora.
Our hotel, La Posada de Hidalgo, was a combination of several old homes, including the mansion of former mayor and trader, Rafael Almada. The Almadas spent five years building their home at a cost of 100,000 gold pesos. It was considered the finest home in El Fuerte at the time. Pine wood used for ceiling beams was shipped from Seattle, Washington, and Rafael’s wife, Rafaela, originally planned to cover steel columns in the center courtyard with gold. The government refused her design, as it was a blatant abuse of wealth. I was glad to hear the government was against some abuses after all.
It is also believed that Don Diego de la Vega, El Zorro, was born in a small home that is now part of the hotel. In fact, Steve and I actually stayed in the very room where he may have been born. Never mind “believed” and “may have been”. I was certain I was standing in another spot where history was made. And even though Don Diego moved to California long before he became El Zorro, I still zipped around the room making Z’s with my pretend sword and basically annoying the hell out of Steve. And when Ruth mentioned we would be seeing a Zorro show… Whew! You cannot buy that kind of excitement and take it home in your suitcase!
Beautiful, brightly painted, colonial buildings surround the main plaza. The walkway to the gazebo is lined with palm trees, gifts from Cuba and California. The church and municipal palace are also located on the main square. Visitors can ride a small train throughout town checking out the sites.
Wait. A little train? It took me a minute to figure that one out. Yes, it most definitely should have been obvious. El Fuerte is the first stop on the El Chepe railroad line running east into the Copper Canyon. And the reason we were there to begin with!