travelog 68

Arroyo Chihuahua

Should we really give you this inside tip? Why not, after all most of the people who come to Mexico visit some beach and not the mountains. We too only accidentally found this place after our friend Michael pointed it out to us. But now we're regular visitors for a few days every time we're somewhere near Durango. Who knows, one day we might even meet one of you around here, although we're pretty sure it will only be our old acquaintances, the cattle and their herdsmen.

It was a little bit difficult to find this place the first time around in January. Our friend Michael described a new species of plant from this place, "something herbaceous" as we agave and crassulaceae freaks would say. He gave us an exact GPS location and the name "Arroyo de las Flores". There and then we realized that he had later found that name on a map and had missed the real canyon by a few hundred feet. The Arroyo de las Flores lies further north and has not much to do with a canyon. In fact, it's simply a wide and broad valley with fields and meadows. Fortunately, the people in the nearby little village El Carmen knew exactly where we wanted to go - to the Arroyo Chihuahua. Why else would some tourist stray into their little settlement that has nothing else to offer but a few tiny grocery stores that only stock the absolutely necessary? Now we follow their directions and end up exactly at our friend's GPS position.

The Arroyo Chihuahua lies only about 25 miles north of Durango and for that reason is a popular weekend destination for city dwellers. Amazingly the place is still relatively clean and it seems that the visitors pack their garbage and take it out. The approach is a little arduous and mostly only managable for high-clearance vehicles because the small track that leads to it between pastures is often washed out from the rain and deeply rutted. You have to go through several gates until you reach a wide canyon that gradually becomes narrower. The small dirt road leads to a rounded "tafelberg", a mesa, in the middle of the canyon. It's a beautiful spot to camp under old oak trees. The nearby rocks start to glow red and orange in the setting sun. We are surrounded by bizarre rock formations, boulders one on top of the other, stone battlements and towers.

The tafelberg, rising temptingly before us, attracts our interest first. Cattle have already trampeled many little paths and soon we're on the top. Hidden in moss and selaginella, we find Graptopetalum pusillum. Cacti colonize the crevices that are filled with a little dirt. There are also dasylirion and agaves up here. Soemtimes we stumble over a bonsai-bursera, a species that probably freezes back every winter. We climbed to the highest point and have gorgeous views far into the canyon landscape below us, much of it not visible from the plains below. On our way back we choose a risky descent through the rock towers and pass more shady cliffs with much Graptopetalum pusillum. In the loose soil under pines and oaks we also find terrestrial orchids.

The next morning our vehicle is surrounded by grazing cattle. Again, the sun bathes the nearby cliffs and rocks in a wonderful light. It's still pretty chilly outside in November, our second visit here. Quickly the sun warms the landscape. As soon as we open the door, the whole crowd of cows goggles at us with huge eyes. They seem to enjoy the two-legged and four-wheeled company.

Of course we also want to explore the canyons. We had already made out a path from our airy vantage point. Again it's a cattle path which we follow along a dry river bed towards the west.

Under tall pine trees we find huge colonies of Agave parryi. Slowly the canyon narrows and we see the first cacti on rocky ledges. On a very shady spot along the creek we suddenly come to some brackish puddles of water. On a round rock we find a garden of Graptopetalum pusillum. The beautiful rosettes cover the entire mossy surface of the rock and are in full bloom. From now on we come across more Graptopetalum in humid places all along the creek. The star-like, red-dotted flowers attract our attention. There are also other interesting plants for us, for example a manfreda and blooming Sedum ebracteatum on a sunny ledge. Now we have to climb over big boulders that are strewn over the river bed. The canyon narrows down and soon we have to climb into the towering rocks. Here we enjoy a nice picnic on a broad ledge. Vultures circle far above us in the sky. They probably expect that one of the two-legged creatures will die and become a nice meal. A pair of ravens is not very delighted with our appareance and makes this known with loud caws. Otherwise it's absolutely quiet in this secluded landscape. Only the sun burns mercilessly from a cloudless blue sky.

On our way back we pass some vertical cliffs that are entirely covered with a silvery tillandsia, a sign that there's humidity in the air coming from low clouds or fog. Slowly the shadows creep over the mountains and it gets cooler.

We're looking forward to our PocoLoco, warmed up by the sun. Despite the Mexican wintery temperatures we'll also enjoy a well-deserved cold beer! We stay here for the night although many of the grazing cows scratch their itching shoulders with pleasure on the bullbar of our Unimog. This shakes our truck a little bit but as long-term campers in the wilds of Mexico we're certainly used to this.

November 2005

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen