The rugged mountains of the Sierra Tarahumara rise from the Sinaloa coast and crumple into the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua, encompassing the beautiful region known as the Copper Canyon. Confusingly, the area actually contains six rivers and over eleven major canyons – the actual Barranca del Cobre usually refers to the northern valley of the Río Urique. The main gorges boast depths of more than 2000m, and if you include the whole area the Grand Canyon is tiny in comparison.
Scenically, however, it’s very hard to compare this region with the great canyons of the southwestern US. Part of the difficulty is in getting a true sense of its size and beauty: though the Copper Canyon railway cuts across some spectacular valleys, you only get a glimpse of the actual Barranca del Cobre once, at Divisadero. The train only brushes the northern edge of the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre, which is hard to access: there are no well-marked hiking tracks and official campsites, and serious hikers need to devote the best part of a week to their endeavours. Creel makes a sensible base from which to organize further exploration.