Chihuahua City to Creel - December 27, 1986
We were at awake at the first knock on the room door and soon packed away our sleeping bags and were checked out. I hit the sidewalk nervous about getting a cab but a fellow showed in no time and we were off to the proper train station. This trip was back in the days when there were two rail stations in Chihuahua, one that serviced the trains running north and south between Mexico City and Juarez and the other that serviced the Ferrocarille Chihuahua Pacifico, the other railroad that crossed the Sierra Madre and was our ride to Copper Canyon.
I had arranged to reserve tickets by mail for this portion of the trip while still in the States, so I knew there were two seats on the train in our names and they were on the earlier train, the first class run that handled the tourist traffic and any locals who could afford the luxury of a dining car and reserved seating. I did not care so much about class as long as the cars were Pullman stock with open vestibules for one to hang out as the train made its way through the mountains. I acquired our tickets and within a few minutes, the other two fellows arrived by cab and were pleased to see that we not only made it to the right station but that we had tickets in hand. I was starting to think that we might survive this trip after all.
The train left on time and soon we were crossing the last plains before slowly starting to climb through he foothills. As we gained elevation, the train crossed first through high Chihuahuan desert and then into the scrub pine foothills marking the transition to the Sierra Madre proper. We continued to climb and the tracks started taking a more sinuous route as we headed into taller trees and eventually onto the frontier logging town of Creel. En route we did breakfast in the dining car and hung out those vestibules just taking in the sights. We were both doing what we we loved, riding a train in rail fan style without even so much as a cursory safety glance from the crew. I am an attorney today, but to this day, there is something to be said about just letting you accept risk to your own comfort level. Stick your head out upper part of door and if you don't pull back when the tree goes by, well . . . I like the idea that such things are the stuff from which "personal problems" are made.
We arrived in Creel at around noon and got off to find a map for the hike and some kerosene. Our plan was to cover these two minor issues and if possible, catch the 2nd class train that would follow an hour later. It just didn't go that way . . . we found the mission shop and they knew of maps but did not have any to sell. They talked of xerox copies being available somewhere in Creel but we had no idea where to even start looking. Our next failure was the search for kerosene to fuel our stove. The second train came and went, we were not on it, so we needed to find a place to stay for the night. Believe it or not, Creel had a Best Western of sorts and it was the best place in town . . . it was also very filled up for the night. There were a few hospedjes here and there, but they too had no rooms. We wandered back to the train station and started debating just how far out of town, think blocks, not miles, before we could set up our tent and not be molested too much that night.
As we debated our quandary, a fellow walked up and asked if we were staying the night. We said that we were and he asked if we had a place, to which we answered that we did not. He suggested that we stay in one of the rooms he had just across the tracks, the price was right, a couple bucks at the most, and the accommodations were of the dirt floor variety, something between hovel and stable. But, there was a lock on the door and he promised to throw two quarts of dirty kerosene into the deal. I was learning to negotiate . . . we paid up, got our key and our kerosene and had a place to stay that night. Now all we had to do was get some dinner and catch the train the next day at about noon, Mexican manana time. We planned dinner from our packs as I was beat from the day of Spanish and neither of us were quite up to the trauma of a real restaurant.
The rest of the afternoon was spent watching life go on in Creel as we sat in the sun of the rail platform and watched a freight train or two lumber through late in the afternoon. By the close of the day, we were tired and frustrated by our inability to find a map but were were not going to let the chance to lose 8 oz of pack weight go by. A freeze dried backpacking dinner never taste so good as the one I ate that night in Creel. In the end, we'd arranged a taxi, to the right station, gotten to Creel, flubbed finding a map but found a good shack to spend the night in.