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Copper Canyon 2 Rain, Rain, and Drinking Along the Way

by Chris Guenzler

While wanting to go back to Copper Canyon was on my mind after that first excellent trip, other things in my life as well as trips took precedent, that it was not until November of 1990 that I decided to go again so after one quick phone call to Sandy of Bananafish Tours, I was set to do a solo tour.

12/26/1999 The day after Christmas, I drove down to Calexico and parked my 64 Chevy in the AA parking lot and taxied to the new Bananafish hotel, the Hotel Lucerna which is the nicest hotel in all of Mexicali. I watched Dallas in Spanish with the voice of JR Ewing sounding way too nice. I had a nice dinner before I met with Bill and Sandy prior to returning to my room for a night of drinking with some of my new friends that are going on the trip. We all called it an early evening with us all wanting to be well rested.

12/27/1999 The next morning our group met outside the north building and were taken down to the train station on an old school bus. As it pulled in I noticed a steam engine on display and used caution when I went to photograph it as the area was inhabited with bums and other low life. I shot a picture of the engine before I returned to the station to get in line to go through customs. I had forgotten my birth certificate so when it was my turn I got the finger motion of: "You have been a naughty boy and do not do it again!" I went out to the train, putting my bags in my room in the Rio Magico which is an all bedroom ex New York Central Car that had been used on the 20th Century Limited before I went out and photographed our train. The sky did not look right to me. It had an extremely thick band of cirrocumulus clouds running across it and I had never seen those clouds in that peculiar way before. I have seen pictures of them in a book but I can not place my finger on where I saw them. It will come to me in time. All I know is that I have a bad feeling at what I am looking at so I went back to my room and had my first of the many drinks of the day.

The train leaves Mexicali on time. We are an eight car train with the three regular Mexico train's coaches and our five Bananafish cars hanging on the rear for the ride to Sufragio very early tomorrow morning. The Geothermal area south of town had been developed more since my last visit. There was a really strong northwest wind blowing as we crossed the Colorado River with the water level being the lowest that I have ever seen it. We headed out into the very windy but peaceful Altar Desert. The wind is keeping the sand down along the ground so this was the most enjoyable crossing of the Altar with me not even having to brush any sand off of me a major difference from the other trips when I have been caked with sand. We arrived at Puerto Penasco under a stranger looking sky and I still cannot remember where I saw those pictures of those clouds before. I took great pictures of the crosses before we reached Puerto Penasco.

We left Puerto Penasco and I retired to my room for a few drinks of Kesseler and seven up. The Rio Magico rides so smooth and when I stretch out on the bed for a few minutes, I concluded that this has to be the smoothest riding car that I have ever been on. I worked on a few word search puzzles which is something that I recently been hooked on and have a couple more drinks. We arrived in Carboca where we met our westbound sister first class train from Guadalajara and I had time to detrain to stretch my legs. I noticed the air felt moist which is something it definitely should not be for this time of the year. On the move again, I was riding out in a vestibule about twenty minutes later when the train passed through a heavy rain shower. I know that this is late December and the dry season here and it should not be raining so now I really wondered what was going on with the weather. We passed out of the shower into a beautiful sunset with various reds and oranges. One word "Spectacular" describes it. It reminds me of the Deep Purple song Burn. "Sky is red, I do not understand". I am sure I will very soon.

We arrived in Benjamin Hill and waited for the train from Nogales. Since I brought my tripod along on this trip, I went outside for some night photography. Once the other train arrived and they made one long train out of the two, we departed south out into the Sonora night. I went to the lounge, talked with several of the other passengers, told the Three Amigos story from my last trip, with Sandy and I having a good laugh about it before I returned to my room for a few nightcaps and sleep.

12/28/1990The next morning, I awoke to the sound a heavy raindrops hitting off of the roof of the Rio Magico. I walked back to the rear door and saw that the open car had a lake in it. I put on my new all weather long MacArthur jacket on as this trip would be the test of how good of a jacket it was. Thank you Mary Ann Glenn for always taking good care of me. I walked off the train and took my usual hike around the Sufragio train yard. The rain started to come down really hard so I took refuge in the Sufragio train station. This was my first time being in that building and with the smell inside I decided that it would be my last. I waited under cover for a break in the storm and when one arrived I high tailed it back to the Rio Magico. The first class Chihuahua al Pacifico {CHP} train pulled into Sufragio, it did it is station work then high balled out of town during an extremely heavy shower. I went and had a breakfast of a bagel with tea before I wandered out in the open car standing out in the rain. Suddenly my memory flashed back to where I had seen that picture of the clouds I saw yesterday. It was in a textbook from my days at Cal State Fullerton dealing with severe weather which I still own because of my geography degree. This is one of those times my degree might come in handy.

CHP train number seven arrived with the caboose being cut off and the train pulling forward to do his station work. Once done he backed onto our cars, picked up his caboose before we headed out of Sufragio into the rain. The rain cascaded off of the Rio Magico into the open car but left an area of fifteen feet were no water was hitting so I went out there and stood in that dry area. Minutes later a couple came out and were amazed by my location in such a wet environment. The caboose crew were having a good laugh at our expense so I had the couple wait there telling them I would be right back. I went to my room, got a couple of railroad post cards put them inside my jacket and went back outside. Upon my return, I said "Watch this trick!" I pulled out the post cards, pointed to the cards, then to the crew before I pointed to us, with that the crew waved to us to come join them in the caboose.

We made our way across the lake of the open car and entered the shelter of the caboose. I presented each of our new friends with a post card and received a nice firm handshake from each one of them. Our new railroad friends cooked us breakfast on the stove of the caboose which was chicken in tortillas. I had just the chicken and for my first caboose meal it was very good. We took turns riding up in the cupola but soon found our favorite vantage point was the rear platform of the caboose because we could see things through the extremely heavy rains. We passed by a deserted station at El Fuerte, the quiet cement plant before we made our first scheduled stop at Loreta but due to the rain all begging by the locals was canceled. Other than the few passengers who boarded and our train crew, there is no sign of human life in the intensely pouring rain. We are soon joined by a few more adventurous members of our group with none of them ever having been in a caboose before in their lives so now I had three totally wet people to be tour guide for. The train was closing in on the crossing of the El Fuerte River and I could not wait to see this. We rolled out onto the bridge and looked down. The water was the entire width of the channel and with this being the longest bridge on the railroad it was running about twenty feet deep and wild. The river's color of chocolate brown definitely meant it was at flood stage. As the train made its way across the bridge you could have heard a pin drop in this caboose had it not been pouring down rain outside as everyone was standing in silent amazement at the movement of the wild water below.

We stopped at the station at Aquacaliente which should just be called Aqua in honor of today's rainfall. We headed into the foothills as the rain continued before we got a reprieve by entering the El Descanso Tunnel. As we exited the tunnel the train came to a stop. I listened to the Spanish being said on the crew's radio and realize that there is a large rock on the track. The engine crew spent twenty minutes to remove it as I went inside to have a quick couple of drinks before I returned to the caboose and the train proceeded onward into the storm. Down in the farmlands below, the whole area was flooded and we all prayed that everyone got out safely before the rising waters had hit. We crossed the Chinipas River Bridge, the highest one on the railroad and way down below the water is running high and wild. If a person was a waterfall fan then this trip was for you as there were waterfalls by the hundreds to be seen. Every place where water could flow off the canyon walls there were falls. It was an incredible scene of the sight of so many waterfalls all at once.

It is hard to believe that it is raining harder now than any other time of the day, so hard that I cannot see the canyon wall on the other side of the torrent Rio Serpentine. We crossed over the shorter bridge just east of Jesus Cruz with the water really running down fast moving some rather large boulders. We passed through a short tunnel and a rock fell onto the roof of the caboose with us glad it was not the open car with us in it. We exited the next tunnel with the train going through a waterfall. It hit off the roofs of the coaches about a third of the way across, landed in the middle of the open car before it drenched the caboose but luckily we saw it coming and got everyone inside the caboose with us all staying dry. Looking back the water was landing in the middle of the track but is finding its way off the right away. I have been on a few water rides in my time and I would like to reproduce that one and make some money. It was totally awesome! The train continued to climb and we entered a tunnel only to come to a stop while we are still inside of it. About five minutes later the rear brakeman steps off and walks out into the rain to put a torpedo on the rails behind us to warn any other train that we are stopped here. If another train would run over the torpedo then a loud bang alerts that crew that a train is stopped or that someone is working ahead. We then pulled ahead out of the tunnel and around a curve at a walking pace before we came to a stop. Word comes back that there is another rock on the track and that we would be here a while as the rain continued to fall.

It was lunch time back in Bananafish reality so when I got to the lounge car to get mine, Sandy asked me to take the rear crew their meal which I of course do to help her out in any way that I could. I find two of the crew back in the caboose where I had left them and learned that our rear brakeman is still out in the rain so I climbed down and went out to find him. I walked back around the curve through the tunnel and found him at the far portal staying dry. I pulled the meal out of my jacket and when he sees it he got a big smile on his face and said "Thank you!" in English to me with me completing another good deed for the day.

As I walked back through the tunnel I stopped and I am amazed how quiet it is inside as I enjoy the first silence of the day. A relaxing peace came over me which was an enjoyable feeling. I could have stayed there all day but I did have to get back to the train. As I exited the tunnel I bust out into song singing "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" which seemed to be the perfect song for this situation that I was in. Thank God that I am so musically diverse. I stopped and took a long hard look around my new environment. The river below would be a perfect class ten rafting river if there was such a thing. Waterfalls everywhere in sight and the sound of raindrops echoing loudly off anything they hit. I walked back to the caboose stopping at a nice waterfall by the tracks to wash my hands. I named this fall "Handwashing Falls."

I returned to the lounge car and decided to go out a see what kind of rock it was that stopped us in our tracks. I walked out of the Bananafish cars, through the regular train with its smells and I climbed out a vestibule past the express cars and locomotives finding the offending boulder which was the size of a VW Bug.

The crew had wedged railroad ties underneath it in an attempt to move it. I clicked off a few pictures then returned to the lounge car to report what I had seen. Realizing that we would not be going anyplace soon, I returned to my room for a couple of drinks and then took a nap while the rain continued to fall. After being asleep for a couple of hours, I woke up to find that we have not moved an inch which did not surprise me at all. I walked into the lounge car finding a group of very unhappy passengers who have been complaining about everything and did not think that they are getting their money's worth. Sandy approaches me and we walked to the vestibule of the car. She explained how on this trip we have a group of negative people, a group of adventure seeking people and of course me who she would like to have on every trip. We look out at the rainy scenery and Sandy said, "This has been quite an adventure!" and I responded with "Yeah, and it is not over yet!" We both have a long hard laugh at that one which I think was just what Sandy needed at that point of the trip. I stopped off at my room for another pair of drinks then strolled out through the open car to the caboose where I find the five happy passengers who have been riding in the caboose with me today. We talked and had a good time as the afternoon continued on as did the rain. As it began to get dark, the rain turned into a mist as the clouds were lowering and darkness took hold.

Off in the distance we started hearing the rumble of a freight train slowly moving its way up the grade and then heard the sound of the torpedo exploding. I got off the caboose and walked back around the corner and flagged down the freight train letting them know that they were closing in on us. They came to within forty feet of our rear where the entire crew dismounted and headed through our train to help with the rock. They left their headlight on so I got the idea of shooting a picture with the caboose silhouetted against the headlight. I then shot one looking through the caboose's hall and then detrained for one of the caboose's rear. I went and put the camera away and poured another drink. I returned to the caboose where me and another guy decided to go sit in the freight train's locomotive. We climbed in and sat there for about twenty minutes when we noticed our train started to move, so we made a mad dash and both jumped on the caboose leaving the freight train behind. We are on the move again but for how long. I went and found Bill who told me that the plan was to go to Santa Nino for the night and that we will try to get back out the way we came tomorrow. I went to the open car to enjoy the last few miles of the evening and believe it or not it had stopped raining. We pulled into Santa Nino where the train stopped and I went back to my room, had a few rounds of drinks before I went to bed thinking about the wildest railroad adventure of my life and I looked forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.

12/29/1990 The next morning I woke up but since we were not moving I decided just to stretch out in my bed. I mean that I have been here and done that so what else is there to do that I have not done. It is absolutely quiet here with not a sound of a single raindrop hitting off anything. My knees on the other hand are really stiff and in great pain which only happens when the air pressure gets really low. With all that rain I would not at all be surprised if I was at the lowest air pressure of my life. After I stretched out for about twenty minutes, I decided to go out and see what Santa Nino is like. I detrained on the riverside of the tracks and walked to the edge of the cliff where looking down I saw the Rio Serpentine still running wild and fast. I began to wonder just how much rainfall that we had received during the storm. It must have been a staggering amount, most likely a new personal record. I reboarded the train and headed for the lounge car for breakfast. I talked with Bill to learn the plan which is to take us to Los Mochis and put us up for at least one night at the Hotel Santa Anita then decide what to do the rest of the trip not knowing how much damage that the railroad sustained from the storm. We think that we can at least get out and escape the mountains. I am happy with the plan. No Creel but I will get the new mileage into Los Mochis and see what is there.

The locomotive had run around the train so it is in front of the open car but there is a flat car with a school bus on it between us and the engines. It looked like there might be someone sitting in the driver's seat but I am not really sure. Suddenly there were four blasts of the horn and we were slowly off heading downgrade but at a much slower pace than normal so we can stop short of any object on the tracks. We proceeded through each of the tunnels with me inspecting the rocks above each of the portals occasionally noting fresh breakage with the fallen pieces along the tracks. I realized that we are coming back to my waterfall ride so I warn everyone and everyone heeded my warning staying dry. They wanted me to stay out in the open car and then make an escape at the last second. One guy said that he would buy me two drinks if I performed this feat. I have them close the door in order to keep the water out of the car. We came around the corner and there the engines get washed followed by the bus and then it starts to land in the open car. I noticed how it was hitting so at the right moment I made a dash to the right along the mountain side of the car and remained totally dry. I turned back just in time to watch the stream of water leave the open car and pour down onto the coaches. Everyone came back into the open car clapping and saying what a wonderful experience it was to see me in action. The guy who lost the bet asked me what kind of drinks would I like and I said " Two rum and cokes please!" A few minutes later he returns with my prize which I downed the first one quickly and savored the second one as the train crossed back over the Chinipas River Bridge with the river running wild below.

We came off the bridge looking down at the farmlands that were still flooded making wonder if the river will crest higher from the rain that fell higher up in the mountains. We headed into tunnel 85 and have only one more to go. We suddenly came to a stop with a chorus of "What is it now!" echoing throughout the open car. We lean out but can not see around the curve. The engines then cut off and run ahead which means that there is something on the tracks and they will use the engines to try and knock it off. We heard the engines working and then silence. I climbed off deciding to take a look for myself to see what stopped us this time. I walked down the tracks past the engines where I found our three man crew looking at a boulder that is sitting on top of the inside rail. It was too bad that I did not bring the camera.

When I got there I found a group of twenty men standing there for support while one man with a sledge hammer works on the rock. He takes a long deep breath, swings the hammer, hits the rock and then rests before he starts the cycle over again. I took a few pictures then head back to the car knowing that we will be here a while and I returned to my room to pass the time with more drinking.

Later, as I was in my room, Bill came by to see how the knees were. We talked for quite a while mainly about that group of negative passengers with me responding, " At least the other half are happy and you know that no matter what happens that I will always be happy. You know that every trip is an adventure with the good thrown in right with the bad but that is what makes traveling so much fun!" He leaves and as I poured another drink now Sandy arrives saying, "Making the best of a bad situation?" with my answer being, "No. Just living through another adventure!" She filled me in on all the details of the rest of the trip and then out of the blue asks "How are your knees?" I just smile in the amazement that she knows with me thinking small train with news traveling fast. I then said, "Ask me no questions and I can give no answers but in this case thanks for caring!" and with that she just smiles and goes on her way to take care of more important business and I think just how special Bill and Sandy are becoming to me. I polished off the last drink, then pour another before putting on my headphones and listening to the Rolling Stones "Love You Live" tape and when the last song was over, the train began to move forward and we were on the move once more.

I headed out into the open car just as the train entered the El Descanso Tunnel and upon exiting I am pretty sure that we will have clear sailing from here to Los Mochis. The train is rapidly descending down through the foothills twisting and turning as we went with the sun finally completely breaking through the clouds. Looking back towards the mountains a few rainbows could be seen. It is absolutely beautiful and I am thankful that we were able to make our escape with a very few problems. We stopped at Aquacaliente to drop back off a few passengers who would not be making their trip east anytime soon before we crossed the El Fuerte River still running wild and at flood stage. I cannot believe how it looked. It will be something that I will never forget along with most of this trip.

As the train climbed away from the El Fuerte River, I decided to go ride up in the engine. I looked at the bus on that flat car and I know now that someone is up in it because I see a bottle being raised and drunk. The front wheels are moving back and forth like the person thinks that he is driving. I watched the wheels for a few minutes then realized that I could get by safely. I went back to my room for some more railroad post cards to give to the crew. I walked back through the open car, stepped onto the flat car, made my way around the bus with its crazy driver onto the rear unit before reaching the cab of the head unit. The crew looked surprised to see me but after I passed out the post cards, I had made three new friends. I rode in the cab through Loreta, El Fuerte and to San Blas where we meet the Pacifico's main line. I thanked all my new friends and went back to the open car for the rest of the trip to Los Mochis.

We are running alongside the FCP mainline back into Sufragio where a large group of the regular train's passengers detrained. Now I am getting excited with the new trackage with its miles being so close. We passed the interchange track where we normally get picked up and dropped off then pick up speed and go up and over the FCP's track on a flyover. The sun has officially gone down so we made our way through this semi tropical part of Sinaloa in twilight. I ride the open car all the way into Los Mochis because I had the forethought to pack my bags up during the last delay. The city lights appeared on the horizon and the train headed straight for them. The closer we got the brighter the lights became before we stopped at the Los Mochis Station on the edge of town. Welcome to Los Mochis! I went inside grabbed my bag, detrained to board a bus to the Hotel Santa Anita, got my room and called it a night. What a rail adventure that I lived through the last two days. Totally incredible. One that I will never forget.

12/30/1999 The next morning, my knees can hardly move so I managed to struggle out of bed and into the shower. I got dressed and managed to get downstairs to the cafe to have a breakfast of hot cakes and bacon which hit the spot. I went out into the lobby and met Bill and Sandy learning that the plan is to have the bags in the lobby by ten and meet to take a bus to the town of El Fuerte to spend the afternoon there. Our luggage will go back to the train with Bill and Sandy leading the bus trip. I went back to my room to watch a little TV and learned that the storm was the worst one in Sinaloa's history with record rains taking place but they never said how much.

I went downstairs to the bar but there was no bartender. The manager came by and found someone to serve me. I ordered a couple of drinks as I struggled up to the bar to get them a baseball team came in and when the players noticed that I was walking strangely they all came over to see what was wrong with me. The players were all talking to me in Spanish but I can not get my point across in their language. Not to be stopped, I point to my knees and then made a horrible face. With me doing that, they now knew what the problem was and smiled with understanding. Three of the players left and moments later they returned with their team trainer who bought his bag and spoke English. I told him what the problem was with my knees and he opened his bag, took a towel out and mixed a homemade compound on it then applied it over both of my knees. It smelled horrible but then he wrapped both of my knees telling me not to take it off for two days and then wash it off. I told him that I would be back in Mexicali in two days and he said that in three days I would be back to my normal self. I pulled out a US five dollar bill but he refused it saying that he was happy to help out a new friend.

I finished my drinks keeping an eye on the watch before I went upstairs to the room, back to the lobby to deliver my bags to go back on the train and to the front desk to check out. My knees were beginning to feel better as I boarded the bus for the town of El Fuerte. We left Los Mochis with our first stop being the cemetery on the edge of town with some very old and unique headstones. We traveled northwest crossing the FCP and CHP tracks just north of Sufragio before we passed to the east of San Blas and stayed some distance away from the CHP line driving through the Sinaloa countryside. We crossed the CHP tracks a short distance from the El Fuerte station before we drove the last few kilometers into town. Our tour group is now half the size it was as the negative group have had enough so Bill arranged for them to be put on the first class train back to Mexicali late last night. If they did not like the Bananafish cars just wait till they get on a real Mexican train with the dust, half a toilet seat and no toilet paper. I wished them luck having a good hard laugh at them at the same time. What a difference when negativity is removed from a group. Our happy smaller group now went off to explore El Fuerte on their own.

I headed off to a restaurant that Sandy had told me about in order to get a nice meal before everyone else got the same idea. I had a very nicely prepared steak along with a couple of margaritas. The waitress who notices that I am not walking to well suggested that I go sit out by the fountain and that she would serve me whatever I wanted out there. It was a lovely location in the middle of the courtyard with ample palm trees for shade so I spent my afternoon there sipping margaritas in the shade. The sun was in the process of setting so I started to head back to the bus. I was walking almost normal when I heard the sound of a basketball being dribbled. I followed the sound which led me down a hallway between buildings out into a courtyard with a basketball court with a group of ten men with a basketball. When they saw me they tossed me the ball and I sank a twenty footer. One of the guys gets the rebound and passed me back the ball with me nailing an eighteen footer. Rebound, pass and shot with me hitting ten in a row. One guy says in English "What else can you do?" I forgot about my knees, take a few dribbles on the move then I did my ball around the back then shot under my right leg shot which went in. Everyone cheered and I heard "Show us how to do that!" so I demonstrated the shot in slow motion and let them try it. There was a lot of laughter as they try it over the next hour but by the time that I left, seven of my students had mastered my shot. It was a shot that they never would have thought of doing in their wildest dreams. I walked out of that courtyard feeling very good about myself. I must be the international basketball ambassador to El Fuerte.

I returned to the bus and Sandy gives me Isaac the dog to be in charge of. Isaac is a very nice and loving creature being one animal that I have come to really love. He sat on the seat next to me and put his head on my lap as we drove back to Sufragio where I walked into the lounge car and had a drink while waiting for Sandy to return. Bill stopped by to say hello and was surprised that I did not ride over on the cars with him from Los Mochis. I told him that I wanted to see El Fuerte and that my knees were feeling better. I did not tell him of my basketball adventure. Bill then leaves to work on getting us on the next train heading north. Sandy arrives thanking me for taking such good care of Issac and then I headed for my room in the Rio Magico where I had a few more nightcaps before I retired for a night of sleep.

12/31/90 The next morning, I woke up lazy and decided to stay in bed. It is December 31, 1990 which just happened to be my thirty-third birthday. I looked out the window into the desert to try to figure out just where we are realizing that we are on the Pacifico north of Empalme. Before Hermosillo, I took a picture of the lake out the vestibule.

With the bed in the Rio Magico so comfortable and with smooth ride of the car, I had no desire to get out of bed. It is a little sad that this trip is nearing the end as is the year, the same year that saw me make my first cross country Amtrak trip. I lay there reflecting about my life and just how lucky I am to be doing this. I fell back into a deep relaxing sleep that lasted until we almost arrived in Benjamin Hill, where I detrained for a few pictures.

The trip across the SBC was quick as I spent most of it in my room. I did go out at Puerto Penasco where we met the eastbound first class train and a work extra. While crossing the Altar Desert, I went to the lounge car to settle my tab and was greeted with a nice version of Happy Birthday along with a tuna fish cake with candles on it which I had no trouble blowing out. We arrived in Mexicali at 6:30 PM and we taxied back to the Hotel Lucerna. I watched some football and at half time I took a long shower after removing my knee wrappings. At ten PM, I went downstairs to a New Year's Eve party and stayed until right after midnight when I called it a night.

1/1/1991 The next morning I met Bill and Sandy who had arranged with a couple to drive me back across the border to AA parking and my car. Bill offered an apology for the not perfect trip and I said, "No need for an apology as I loved every minute of it. It was a great adventure and now I have a really good story to tell!" Bill then offered me a future trip at three hundred dollars which I accepted and then I suggested Easter of this year. We shook hands on it then I said my goodbyes to Bill and Sandy. I crossed the border in the back seat of a car never even being asked anything and then I was dropped off at AA Parking to claim my Chevy which was covered with a thick coating of mud. I managed to get the front and rear windows clean enough so I could drive home. I stopped in Brawley at a coin operated car wash and eliminated the Chevy's coat of mud which was thick and heavy. I drove home via the east side of the Salton Sea and arrived at home in time for the Rose Bowl game on the television thus ending this Mexican Adventure.