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Conquest of the Barranca de Cobre: Abstract
The Barranca de Cobre (Copper Canyon) is located in the Sierra Madre Occidental about 200 miles southwest of the city of Chihuahua, Mexico. Copper Canyon was cut by the Urique River in a thick series of volcanic flows of ryolite, trachyte, basalt, tuff, and diorite. The canyon is heavily mineralized with copper and commercial quantities of gold, silver, and optical calcite.
Copper Canyon is part of a system of canyons approximately four times larger in areal extent and up to twice as deep as Grand Canyon. First recorded attempt to explore the Barranca de Cobre was by Robert T. Moore in 1950. His party succeeded in only getting to the bottom of the Barranca de Urique about 15 miles from Copper Canyon before being forced to climb out because of extremely hot weather and heavy rainfall. In 1952, a man named Griffith is believed to have explored about five or six miles of the Cobre before climbing out.
The most recent unsuccessful attempt to conquer the canyon was in October of 1963 when John Cross, a professional river runner from Orem, Utah, led a party of 14 into the head waters of the canyon. Cross's party progressed only about six miles when their heavy rubber boats became trapped between a 50-foot waterfall and a mass of tremendous boulders. This ill-fated attempt received nationwide attention and resulted in a massive rescue operation when two members of the Cross party succeeded in climbing out of the canyon, after having gone five days without food, and reported their companions lost and starving.
The writer, along with Rex Moore, Jr., of Oklahoma City and Bill Wetzel of Duncan, Oklahoma, joined with Cross and seven others in a second try at the canyon in November-December of 1963. By using two-man rubber kayaks, this expedition succeeded in conquering the Barranca de Cobre in its entirety, a distance of about 30 or 40 miles. However, the party was then forced to enter a second unexplored canyon, the Barranca de Urique, in order to find a way out of the maze of deep gorges. After three days of hunger and hardship in trying to climb out, Cross's group finally reached the small hamlet of Franciscan Antonio on the rim, exhausted but elated to be the first to conquer the Barranca de Cobre.
Acknowledgments and Associated Footnotes
1 Geologist, Oklahoma City
Copyright © 2006 by the Tulsa Geological Society