México: Nuevo Casas Grandes to Creel

We were intending to write something in Madera a few days ago, but events conspired against us. Here’s what happened…

The days out from NCG were the first test of my route planning method, so it was not without trepidation (on my part) that we set out that morning. We took some time off the bikes shortly into the first day to look round Paquimé (just south of Casas Grandes). Paquimé is a collection of adobe dwellings that formed the hub of a pre-hispanic culture and is a world human heritage site.

Paquimé - next to Casas Grandes. A complex adobe town originally with multi-level houses and a water storage and irrigation system from pre-hispanic Mexico
If only the Federal Highway 2 had shoulders like this, and as little traffic. The new road passing Colonio Juarez 20km from NCG

After following the gloriously empty and ridiculously wide highway past Colonio Juarez we set out on the off-road adventure. This involved looking puzzled as the obvious dirt road we wanted to go along had a barbed wire fence across the junction from the asphalt. Not to be deterred (and without sufficient information to go another way) we duly took a deep breath, jumped the fence and set off along the road.

Back on dirt roads in glorious sunshine heading for the Sierra - only one fence jumped so far and our road heading up the hill ahead, or so we thought...

It was great to get away from pavement (American for tarmac’d road), so our enthusiasm was only slightly cooled by a further 2 quite high barbed wire fences in the next 15km towards the Sierra awaiting us. At about camp o’clock that evening having made a fair bit less progress than planned we spotted a very swish new paved road a few metres below us heading where we wanted to go.. It turns out that they’ve built a new road from Mata Ortiz (of pottery fame) up into the Sierra making the old road redundant. It takes an unusual stubborn streak to ignore a total of 4 barbed wire fences and a gate to go the way you’ve planned on going.

Who'd put a barbed wire fence across a perfectly good road? Sarah's trailer set-up was infinitely superior for this predicament.
A perfectly good tarmac road just happened to be going our way. Google earth can't have recent images from here or we'd have taken it from Mata Ortiz in the first place. Cass Gilbert found 12km completed last year - now there are more than 25km (beyond the top of the hill at least, with a plan to extend it to Mesa del Huracan)

The new road took us nice and smoothly up the rest of the hill the next morning where we were able to relocate our planned route and head down an un-barbed dirt road. The next section to Ejido El Largo was fantastic rolling rocky dirt road along the top of the Mesa and our directions were plenty good enough to keep us on route. Water-carved rock formations in conglomerate lined valleys we passed through. The road crossed stream beds, some even with water in them before heading back into the hills to Colonio Hernandez and on to El Largo.

Winding dirt roads passed through river beds and lots of ups and downs. Similar to the best of the US part of our journey.

On from El Largo we were back on pavement, passing through yet more river gorges to Madera (via lunch at Cuaranta Casas, a set of cliff dwellings linked to Paquimé).

The paved road south of El Largo was no less windy than the dirt. At least the steep uphill sections weren't strewn with fist sized rocks adding balance challenging spice.

Our arrival in Madera coincided with a public holiday celebrating the Mexican Revolution in 1910. So our lap round the town was confounded by police stringing cordons across our path.

The head of the parade celebrating the centenary of the 1910 Mexican revolution in Madera. They were still coming past an hour later

We eventually stopped near the end of town to buy food, and spent a couple of hours shelling peanuts and watching the parade go past before heading out of town.

What can you do when the road's blocked by a parade? Sarah shelling peanuts...

It did mean that the road out of town was deserted. The road to Guerrero has a number of towns/villages along it providing lots of tortillas, avocados, cheese and tomatoes along with easily obtainable water from frequent petrol stations.

I had planned another stretch of dirt roads out of Guerrero to head south towards the main paved road to Creel. We started out on this at 4pm thinking to find a patch of woods to camp in. At about the time we were wondering about sneaking into an apple orchard to put up our tent we were stopped by a man in a large ute. He turned out to the be the owner of the orchards surrounding us and was horrified by the route I’d chosen. Some time later in near darkness after a lot of mangled Spanish and mud-maps drawn in the dirt of the road he offered a bed at his house and we happily accepted.

Alvaro Mendez and his family looked after us royally. It turned out that some of the roads we’d planned on were more than a bit sketchy. After a fantastic evening where they questioned our sanity at bicycling all the way from Canada and sleeping in a tent even when it was cold at night we were dropped at the junction of the Creel road we’d been aiming for. Alvaro decided to have a go on my bike. We’re not sure what he thought though.

Alvaro pondering a quick escape from apples and cattle on my bike before leaving us to continue our journey to Creel.

We were minding our own business shortly afterwards when 2 journos from the Chihuahuan El Heraldo stopped their car and started taking photos. I even managed to be interviewed in Spanish! Later on in the day, on their way back from Bocoyna they stopped again to fill out the story.

The El Heraldo boys found us again and closed in for the in depth interview. my spanish was up to the basics, but possibly not what they had in mind.

End result – we’re on the front page today, and someone said “¡Hola! Sarah” to us on our way into Creel. Fame indeed….

El Heraldo de Chihuahua with us on the front page...
The traffic on the road to Creel varies from Federal Police to many mechanically dubious lorries precariously laden with timber. They grind up and down the hills not much faster than we do.
The traffic on the road to Creel varies from Federal Police to many mechanically dubious lorries precariously laden with timber. They grind up and down the hills not much faster than we do.
Some of the traffic doesn't move quite as slowly as the rickety logging trucks. At key points the Virgin Mary and a little shrine is there to remind people to slow down...

The newspaper article has garnered us the very helpful attention of the local mountain bike community – thanks to Cesar Yañez Muñoz of the PERROS MTB Club in Chihuahua.

Update: 26th November. We’re about to leave Creel. Plan is to head to Urique via El Devisadorio-San Rafael, then back up the other side of the canyon to Samachique. From there to Guachochi-Balleza and onto a back road short cut to the road to El Vergel. From there we’ll head via back roads over 3+ days to Guanacevi and the tarmac road to Tepehuanes. There may be enough internet in Urique to post there, but it may be a couple of weeks before there’s an update if we don’t.


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