Monday, January 21, 2013

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

As far as we know, the only place the Imperial Woodpecker has ever existed is in the high-country pine forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental—a vast mountain range a couple of hundred miles wide and nearly a thousand miles long, stretching southward from just below the U.S. border—and a small section of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt at the southern end of this range. It is rugged, remote, and dangerous, and it always has been. Everyone from the Aztecs and Spaniards to the modern Mexican government has found it impossible to maintain order there. The mountains are high and cut through with deep barrancas or canyons—one of which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

It is there that the last wild Apaches held on well into the 1930s, in roving bands, still attacking settlers who encroached on their land. And there that the Tarahumara (or Raramuri)—those magnificent long-distance runners who think nothing of racing 150 miles nonstop through the mountains—resisted all Spanish efforts to colonize them and maintained their stone-age existence for centuries. It has always been a land of dreamers and desperados, many of whom fled south on the Old Outlaw Trail after robbing banks or committing various other acts of mayhem in the United States. 

    (Photo by Tim Gallagher)

The current desperados are mostly drug traffickers, who grow and transport opium and marijuana, supported by well-armed thugs. They're the ones who make it so dangerous to travel through remote areas of the Sierra. In the photo above, the Tepehuane man is warning us not to cross to the other side of the canyon, which is controlled by Los Zetas, a drug cartel made up of trained paramilitaries who left the Mexican military to engage in the lucrative drug trade. 

                            (Photo by Tim Gallagher)

The dreamers are the ones who come to the Sierra Madre in search of treasure, be it lost caches of Spanish gold, long-forgotten mines, lost tribes, or, in my case, the mighty Imperial Woodpecker. But these are not the only treasures the Sierra Madre holds. It is one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen, with endless spectacular vistas of pine-clad mountains cut through with magnificent canyons. And it also has fascinating people, most of whom live without electricity, telephones, plumbing, or any of the other things we all take for granted. It's a valuable experience to step back from the urban world once in a while and see how the majority of humanity lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment