National Geographic : 1968 Aug
To visit this spectacular country we would ride the railroad's self-propelled car, called the autovia, which makes the up-and-down trip to Los Mochis in 13 hours (pages 160-61). Somewhat apprehensively, we entrusted our camper to Sefior F. J. Saenz Colomo, traf fic manager at Chihuahua, to be loaded on a flatcar. I asked him to load it backward, since I had heard that rock slides occasionally broke windshields. He laughed at the idea. "Don't worry. We spent so much money on this railroad that we can't afford accidents. In the slide area we run scout cars ahead of the trains as a safety measure." We boarded the autovia early in the morn ing and rolled across the foothill country, enjoying the constantly shifting scene. Stew ards served breakfast just west of Chihuahua. Through the windows, among the gathering hills, we could see white-faced cattle grazing the steep slopes. Silver Brought No Wealth to Creel Mike and Kenny soon discovered the State Geologist of Chihuahua, Sefior Carlos Garcia Gutierrez, aboard our car. He explained that, like them, the Sierra Madre range ahead of us was quite young, having been formed by vol canic action only 11 to 40 million years ago, but also it is very rich. "Chihuahua," he told them, "leads Mexico in the mining of lead, zinc, and iron." He caught Kenny's glance. "But those are un interesting metals, yes? We are also first in silver and second in copper and gold!" We had a glimpse of Mexico's once-vast silver empire when we left the train at Creel for a few days. In years past, silver ore carved from the Sierra Madre came to Creel by mule on its way to Mexico City. Obviously, Creel had profited little from it. Old log cabins and a few rough-planked houses and stores line the un paved street. Though a few prospectors still drift through, Creel today makes its sparse living off timber from the Sierra Madre. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th cen tury, they found many different Indian tribes in this high country. Today only the Tara humaras remain in any number. The invaders brought something far more deadly than pikes or guns. Old World diseases such as smallpox scythed down whole peoples. Often, epidem ics raced ahead of the conquistadors, so that the victims never met their destroyers. In the 130 years that followed, the native population of central Mexico plummeted from an esti mated 11 million to only 3 million souls. Still in the high Sierra, which protected them from the white man's epidemics, live the cave-dwelling Tarahumaras, among the most primitive Indians left in North America. A friend in Chihuahua had radioed ahead, asking a Jesuit missionary working with the Tarahumaras to meet us. The young padre, the Reverend Luis G. Verplancken, a native of Guadalajara, showed us through the clinic he established in 1965 for Tarahumara chil dren. Surveys had shown that 80 percent of the youngsters died before they were five, either from malnutrition or from untreated diseases. Our first look at the Tarahumaras appalled us. In the clinic, infants lay quiet, or cried almost soundlessly, their skin stretched tight over thin bones. A nurse placed one child they called "El Viejito"-the little old man on the scales. He was 18 months old and weighed only 11 pounds. Zest for running spurs Tarahumara women as well as men. Instead of kicking a ball, they fling linked straw hoops. As they dash forward, they scoop them up with a stick and toss them ahead.