Mexico 3: Espinazo del Diablo

“El Rosario to Durango”

We rode to El Rosario to visit Neon’s cousin. It was out of the way from our route, but we found a nice back road route from Villa Union. Our plan was to take a curvy mountain road from El Rosario to Mesillas (see map below), then take the little highway over to Concordia that connects Mex-40D to Mex-40. But after asking around in El Rosario we were advised against traveling on the curvy road from El Rosario to Mesillas because it would be too dangerous.

That left us with two other choices, either ride back to Villa Union the way we had come, or take Mex-15D (or Mex-15) to Villa Union to connect to Mex-40D. We chose to take Mex-15D, the Cuota (toll road), since it has a big shoulder.

Riding paved roads is something we usually try to avoid, but it’s often what connects the dots between more awesome parts of a route. The toll road turned out to be a good alternative to get back onto our route. Technically bicycles aren’t allowed on the toll roads (see the sign to Neon’s right), but many cyclists riding in Mexico take it anyway since it has a big shoulder. We saw three locals cycling on the toll road, and one touring cyclist.

When we exited the toll road, the guy in the pay booth walked over to move the orange cone out of the way for us, since it was blocking our way around the pay gate. While pavement may not have that wilderness riding aesthetic that we enjoy most, the kilometers do pass by quickly. We made 65 km in less than 4 hours, from El Rosario to Concordia, on a loaded bike, with A LOT of uphill riding.

From Concordia we took the Libre, (free road), Mex-40, so we could ride the “Espinazo del Diablo”, the spine of the devil. It is a famously curvy and spectacular road that crosses the Sierra Madre.

The highway leaving Concordia started out deceptively gentle, before climbing higher and higher until we reached the turn to the town of Copala.

We passed through small settlements on the way to Copala. Every little village seems to have their own church.

Copala turned out to be my favorite little town so far on the mainland. The streets are all cobblestone and the buildings are beautifully painted. We rode into the center of town where there was a well-stocked tienda next to a stunning church built from local rock.

We lingered over lunch at Alejandro’s Restaurant. We drank three glasses each of agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea), thirsty from the long, hot, climb. The owner of the restaurant offered us a place to stay, but since it was still early in the afternoon we decided to ride further (a few kilometers past the little village of Guyanero) before finding a place to camp.

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Looking across at one of the spectacular bridges on the cuota.

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Sunset from our first wild camp on the mainland…

We decided to cowboy camp, despite the stories we’ve heard about all the critters on the mainland. Though, I’m sure as we continue south we’ll start using our tent more.

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Early morning light glowing on the cliffs…

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Passing through another small settlement…

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There were several of these ovens just off the road through this area…

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Roadside shrine carved into the cliff just before the little town of Capilla…

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The little village of Capilla, complete with its own church…

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Passing under one of the spectacular bridges of the cuota.

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My first tarantula siting on the mainland. It was smaller than the ones I’m familiar with at home in Arizona. Perhaps it was a young one.

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Endless mountain views…

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Another crossing of the Tropic of Cancer. This is the third time we’ve crossed it. Once south of Todos Santos and again at Cabo Pulmo, both on the Baja Divide. And now here on the Espinazo del Diablo.

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After a long day, with 2,940 meters of climbing, we decided to stay in a hotel in El Palmito. Lucky for us it was only 200 pesos. The room was cold, but we stayed cozy in our sleeping bags. There was also a tienda right across the street, and a 24 hour gordita stand next door.

Gorditas have become the popular roadside stand food, instead of tacos like in Baja California. This little gordita stand in El Palmito is open 24 hours. The same ladies were preparing the gorditas the afternoon we arrived and the morning we left. We asked if they got much business in the night, and they said “yes, mostly trailers” (semi-trucks). I think they’re not usually open 24 hours, but the cuota (toll road) is currently closed because a fuel truck crashed and exploded on one of the bridges. This has been a good thing and a bad thing for us. Bad because the traffic that would normally take the cuota is now traveling on the libre (the free highway), though drivers in Mexico are extremely courteous, but good because there have been gordita stands open everywhere.

This particular stand even had great vegan options for me …something “de flor”: some kind of grilled flower, which I think may have been “loroco” …and “rajas”: sliced and roasted (or maybe they were grilled) peppers, probably poblano. They made the gordita dough fresh, from blue corn flour, rolled the dough into a small ball in one hand, then pressed it gently onto a piece of plastic on a tortilla press, then laid a piece of plastic on top of the dough, then pulled the tortilla press down. As they placed the thick tortilla on the wood stove they pinched and pulled up the edges, then carefully placed another tortilla on top of it and pinched the two together about half way around. After both sides were grilled, they popped it open like a pita bread and filled the insides with our fixings of choice, placed it back in the stove for another minute, and then served it to us with fire roasted salsa …all for fifteen pesos each, about US$0.80. They also had peyote salve, for aches and pains, for sale on their counter, as did the tienda and every other restaurant in town.

The next day we crossed into the state of Durango, and continued to climb higher into the Sierra Madre.

We stopped for lunch in the village of Los Angelos, though all I saw were three buildings. There was a small tienda in the green house, so we bought a few supplies and chatted with the locals.

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You can see our road cut below the top of ridge…

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More endless mountain views …ridges and valleys as far as the eye can see.

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There is a little town down there. Can you see it?

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First view of the devil’s spine…

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And we made it … the Espinazo del Diablo.

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More endless views…

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At the highest point on the Espinazo del Diablo, 2,745 meters. But when you take into account all of the downhills, we’d actually climbed over 11,000 meters in the four days we cycled from El Rosario to La Ciudad.

We arrived in La Ciudad cold, and feeling a bit desperate. We stopped by a couple of stores for supplies, and asked around about a hotel. There’s was one right on the corner that we were told to ask about in the restaurant across the street. In the restaurant they told us someone would come out to help us. We waited for a bit, then went to check out some other nearby cabañas. Our jaw dropped when they lady quoted us 1600 pesos for a room. We were just about to ride out of town to find camping when we noticed the gate was open at the first place we’d asked about.

The place was not charming, but it was 250 pesos. It was ice cold, and in a state of various old construction projects, but it had hot water and got us out of the weather in this very populated area. I drank entirely too much Tres Coronas, a port-like, sweet, fortified wine, trying to warm up. All in all, I had a great evening, and bonus, there was a restaurant right across the street for hot coffee (albeit instant) in the morning.

This side of the Sierra Madre is different. The towns are more gritty. It’s cold and it’s logging country.

It’s like cycling through central Idaho or maybe Montana. Chainsaws buzzing through the woods, logging trucks rumbling by on the highway, cowboy hats and boots everywhere. The towns are small. And anything different (like us) stands out like a spectacle. Some towns are very friendly, while others are like the first day of junior high in a new school, taking a while to break through the cold stares and into people’s warm hearts.

We arrived in El Salto a little stressed from all the traffic, noise, and long cold stares from the locals. We checked into the first hotel we saw, and bonus, it had a heater! We took a long, hot, shower, and then went out in search of food.

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I even had to break out my Seirus wind socks for the first time since the Jacumba Mountains in southern California.

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Cold, wet, street in El Salto…

Tired from all the climbing, we decided to take a day off in El Salto, which turned into taking a second day off. Our room had a heater, the shower had very hot water, and there was a market and restaurant nearby. And in the end, we did have several nice interactions with a few locals. In some strange way, the cold, gray, rain, wet on this gritty little town, had a charm all its own

One night in El Salto turned into three nights. I think we were reluctant to leave the heater. But we finally packed up on the third morning and rode out into the cold, wet, day. When the sun came out it lit up the grass and the trees to a golden perfection.

As we continued east, away from the Sierra Madre, the terrain began to level out. we passed deep river valleys with almost hoodoo-like rock features, before descending even further down to big open grasslands, and eventually desert vegetation.

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There are bicycles everywhere. Do you see it?

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After a couple of hours into our day we pulled into this highway minimart where I discovered I had lost my puffy jacket. Somehow I had forgotten to buckle my bag and my puffy escaped somewhere on the highway after our morning break. I rode back seven kilometers to where we took our first break, checking every ditch along the way, but I never found it.

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After leaving the minimart it started raining. We’re still rocking the ultrasil rain jackets I made for our 2012 thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. They work great on the bike. Other than the cold shards of water hitting my face, it really wasn’t that bad.

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The landscape changed to grasslands and eventually more mixed desert vegetation the closer we got to Durango.

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As we rode into Durango, a local stopped us to ask if he could help us find anything. We told him we were looking for a cheap hotel near the Centro of Durango. He said, “follow me”. He led us to the cathedral and then walked with us for several blocks to the hotel (since it was on a pedestrian only street).

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…our home for the three days we spent in Durango.

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Durango te quiero feliz

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The end of our first night in Durango I sat with this margarita and mourned the loss of my favorite puffy jacket, noting that this was the first time I’d ever lost a piece of gear on an adventure.

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Each night people gather in the Centro for food, drinks, and street performances. As we stepped out onto a lively Saturday night street scene, we moved through the crowds, passing jugglers, young kids break dancing, and these women spinning like butterflies over the walkway as they preformed traditional Mexican dances.

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There are few people out early in the morning in Mexico.

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Visiting the local tianguis (Sunday market). The place was huge. There was clothing, outdoor gear, furniture, shoes, car parts, and produce. I found a nice hoody at a very good price that hopefully will keep me warm until I get a new puffy, and Neon bought a sweet rain jacket.

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Several different mezcals (its like tequila but the agave is roasted first) are made locally so later in the evening we visited a nearby bar to sample a few.

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They served the mezcal to us with orange wedges sprinkled with tajin (Tajin is a mixed spice of chili powder, lime, and sea salt).

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There’s even a fresa (strawberry) mezcal

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Mural, inside the bar …digging up agave to roast and then make mezcal.

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Sunset on the pedestrian only street in Durango’s “Centro Historica”.

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The cathedral lit at night…

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There was a huge screen set up across from the cathedral showing the Super Bowl. It was such an interesting mix of modern and historic all in one space.

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Young males and their bicycles gathered outside the cathedral

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A street near the Centro. There are so many little shops here, selling clothing, cell phone cases, food, trinkets, so much stuff…

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Celebrating good coffee …because on the bike, all I have is instant Nescafé Classico …and this Seattle girl loves good coffee.

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3 Comments

  1. Awesome pics. What an adventure! I especially like the one of Neon riding by the sign that clearly says ‘No Bike Riding’.

    And I remember those ultrasil rain jackets from the PCT. Quality gear!

    Love you both!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In 1973 my girlfriend and I drove my 67 chevy over that road from Mazatlan to Durango. It was the only road in those days. I remember the endless curves and mountain ranges. Thanks for the pictures and story. Mexico lives!

    Lee

    On Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 5:11 AM, The Redheaded Nomad wrote:

    > The Redheaded Nomad posted: “”El Rosario to Durango” We rode to El Rosario > to visit Neon’s cousin. It was out of the way from our route, but we found > a nice back road route from Villa Union. Our plan was to take a curvy > mountain road from El Rosario to Mesillas (see map below), th” >

    Liked by 1 person

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