The many faces of Mexico
A journey to find the 'real Mexico.'
Chihuahua City, Mexico
When we first got to Chihuahua City, my husband said it reminded him, more than any city we'd visited in Mexico, of the United States. The streets were broad; cars whizzed by. Fast-food outlets were at every turn.Skip to next paragraph
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I protested. After all, this is a seat of Mexico's history, boasting the home of Pancho Villa, where much of the Mexican Revolution was strategized. But after browsing the rows of cowboy boots in shops downtown, you could be forgiven for mistaking this city for any similar-size metropolis in Texas.
The comparison didn't really strike me at the time. But it was something I'd come back to 10 days later, at the end of our trip in Mazatlan, which seemed the most "Mexican" town we'd seen.
The highlight of our vacation was supposed to be the Copper Canyon railway, the 400-mile trip that takes passengers through some of the most awesome canyon scenery in the world. Chihuahua and Mazatlan were just the starting and ending points, mere bookends.
But by the time we finished, we realized that, inadvertently, we'd gotten such a broad sampling of Mexico – cowboy country, the highlands and indigenous culture that flourish there, and beach life – that the Copper Canyon railway became just another mode of transportation on this journey past Mexico's many faces.
We spent only a few days in Chihuahua City, but that is more than most do. Tourists typically breeze through. But it's worth some time, if only to absorb traditional Mexican society. Men in cowboy hats stand in the central plaza all day, chatting and watching others pass by. Virtually everything is closed on Sundays. Chihuahua City has been a trading post for the cattle industry throughout much of its history. As foreign factories have come to dominate its economy, it has grown, and urban blight has followed. But it still exudes an aura of colonial provinciality that is hard to sense in other such cities dominated by tourism.
One tourist site that is a definite highlight, especially for history enthusiasts, is the Revolution Museum, the former estate of Pancho Villa. It traces the history of this turbulent period of Mexico's history. The most popular exhibit is a 1922 Dodge limousine, complete with bullet holes, in which Villa was assassinated in 1923.
Within hours of leaving the hot desert city of Chihuahua for Copper Canyon, we were on snow-slicked roads in the middle of the mountains. Our first stop was Creel, a logging town at the top of Copper Canyon, about halfway along the rail line. It's also the largest town in this isolated range. Our tour was too rushed, but allowed us to see all the major sites, including the Cusárare Waterfalls and a cluster of rock formations that at various points look like groups of mushrooms or frogs.