The “Barranca del Cobre” or “Copper Canyon” is one of the great cuts in the earth’s crust, larger than the Grand Canyon or the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. A friend visiting us in Monterrey, Mexico for the Christmas holidays suggested we take the well known, but little used, train that descends the canyon to “Sea of Cortez” or “Gulf of California.”

We began our trip in Chihuahua, the strong hold of the legendary Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa, whose real name was “Dorothy.” Imagine, that most macho of macho Mexicans had a girl’s name. The town is also known for the Mexican expletive, “Ay Chihuahua,” which is short for “Ay Chihuahua, cuonto Apache sin huarache” (Oh Chihuahua, how many shoeless Apaches), and refers to the several times the town was laid waste by the Apaches and other Native American tribes.

After touring Villa’s home and museum, we boarded the train with our van in a box car. I do not suggest boarding a car you really like since it is a tight fit and subject to mishaps.

The first day was a pleasant ride along a cold desert plateau until we came right to the edge of the amazing canyon. Think of the Grand Canyon and add some. We stopped overnight at a marvelous inn perched on the edge of the canyon. It was New Year’s Eve and after dinner we all went to the main sitting room where the assembled group sang Mexican folk tunes in front of a massive fire place with a blazing fire. Even more impressive, the whole front of the room was a huge picture window with a view over the main part of the canyon. We watched the sun set over this stunning vista.

We awoke the next morning to find that it had snowed that night and my two young children took me out to build a snowman. It was that cold at the top of the canyon.

Later we began our descent into the canyon with the train literally hugging the side of a cliff overlooking an abyss. Definitely not a trip for the faint of heart.

The canyon is also known as being the home of the Tarahumara Indians who are famous for their long distance running abilities gained by running up and down the canyon. We actually saw some of them and their simple settlements as we descended.

What a trip! We actually descended some 8000 ft on a hair raising ride. In the process we watched the land change before our eyes from bare desert to oak and pine forests, to tropical jungle, with the temperature changing from freezing temperatures to 90 degree heat. And all the time catching glimpses of a people little removed from the stone age.

You can, of course, take the train up the canyon and see the reverse. However, I don’t believe going up the cliff would be a nail biter like the trip down. Your choice.