DAY 12 – Chinipas to Alamos (11/16/11)
After packing up, the first thing we had to deal with was the mighty Chinipas River. It was about 100 feet wide, flowing fast, and deeper than I wanted.
From our campsite, we saw where a dirt path ended into the river on our bank and reemerged on the other. I guessed that meant it could be done. Since we’ve never had to cross anything flowing nearly that fast or greater than about a foot in depth, we choose to seek another option.
Driving back towards town, we came upon another group of people. We asked the way to Alamos. They said to follow one of them in their truck. We were glad when they set out away from the river crossing near our campsite. In only about a mile, we came up to a view of this huge, tall bridge that crossed the Chinipas!
For the first half hour, we followed the lowland river valley. This meant mud, puddles, and ground fog through the farming area. The suspension noise started up again. The evidence of a correlation with mud increased.
Next, we encountered the toughest road conditions of our trip. The rugged climb ultimately took us up to 6000 feet from about 1000 feet. The steepest stretch involved a 4000 foot elevation gain in several miles (about a half hour). These were the views going up:
In the picture above, a view of the town of Chinipas through the trees shows the Chinipas River running to the left and below the town; that is where we camped.
This portion of the road was the only part that I consider “off roading” due to the steepness and loose surface. It didn’t require lockers. I bet 2WD with a low gear would be capable of making it in the right hands.
I’ll post some video of us tackling the road conditions in a later post…
At the top of he climb, the suspension noise seemed to be getting worse. Instead of a creaking sound, we thought we started to hear a metallic clunk/ping. I checked out the front end again and found nothing. Then it subsided. It came back after a half hour. At this point, I wanted Adam to drive it to see what he thought. So, we swapped vehicles for a while.
[4Runner vs. Land Cruiser aside: It had been a while since I had been in Adam’s 4Runner (my old vehicle). It definitely felt much smaller, more nimble but less stable, and less solid. Similarly equipped, I think the 4Runner would probably be more capable due it it’s smaller size and weight on very technical terrain. But, for extended, multi-country overlanding, I’m glad we went with the larger (hence more comfortable), more stout Land Cruiser (LX450). When we swapped back, Adam commented on the greater low-end torque and much larger physical size and feel of the LX450.]
After driving for 15 minutes, Adam observed the noise sounded like that which was made by his M3’s polyurethane bushings. I was like, “I got poly bushings.” They were the ARB, caster correction, eccentric bushings that came with the 2.5″ ARB lift. I had them pressed in at TLC4X4 when they did the axle service. We checked the bushings. They did not seem to be moving within the leading arm, or disintegrating, or caking with mud, or anything else bad. We went back to our own vehicles to continue on…
After leaving the Chinipas town area to this point, we had seen virtually no one on the road. We had stopped for a couple of minutes for LeeWhay to adjust something in the cargo area and I was checking the MotionX map on the iPad. When I looked up, I saw three soldiers with M16’s walking by my window and behind me towards Adam. LeeWhay noticed them about the same time. I looked forward and saw about 20 guys in total exiting with a bit of haste from their Humvee.
What seemed to be the second in command was talking to LeeWhay trying to figure out what we were doing here, where we were coming from, and where we were going. LeeWhay did a good job with where we were coming and going. I was trying to listen and figure out what else he wanted to know. It seemed as if he wanted to know why we were here so I said the word “vacaciones”. That seemed to appease him somewhat.
At this point I notice more soldiers were around Adam and his vehicle than LeeWhay and I – curious.
The situation continued with them searching both our trucks. Not super thoroughly but enough to see if we were running large quantities of guns, drugs, or whatever they cared about. After about ten minutes, we were allowed to continue on.
Another 10 – 20 minutes down the road, we came across the military’s camp/checkpoint at a small stream crossing. We were flagged down, told to get out of our trucks, and turn them off. I was thinking, “This is going to be a long search.” So, I tried to preemptively explain we just came across their comrades on the road and that we were searched. Who knows if that had any effect but, about five or so minutes later, we were told we could go.
During this check, we talked to Adam. It turns out that the reason the Humvee patrol soldiers were more interested in Adam is that as soon as he saw them coming around the switchback, he tried to reverse to let them have room to get around. I had stopped on the outside of a pretty tight switchback. I’m not sure if the Humvee or any other large truck could have made the turn without Adam and I backing up. Adam’s actions probably made sense if it were just another local guy in his truck. But, Adam thinks the soldiers thought he might have been trying to flee. Adam knows the least amount of Spanish of the three of us. But, he thinks they told him to get out of his 4Runner and put his hands on the hood.
I am not an excitable person. I do know that the Mexican military is one of the last organizations you need to worry about in Mexico. So, I was not very concerned during this episode. Had this been a technical (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_(vehicle)) with masked gunmen, I would have been sh!tting myself! Even if they had been the Federales, I would have been much more concerned (from an economic shakedown standpoint).
I guess my advice (in hindsight) should a similar situation happen to you, just sit there with your hands on the steering wheel and wait for directions. Just like you should do if pulled over by the cops in the US.
We continued on for a while. Until, I couldn’t stand the mysterious suspension noise anymore. Since it seemed to be getting worse, I stopped, determined to get to the bottom of this. I called an “all hands on deck” to figure this out. The plan was to take the right front wheel off and investigate that area since we were pretty sure it was coming from that side. Got the tool roll out, both bottle jacks (one for lifting and one as a safety stand), and some trash cardboard to lie on. It was on!
Well, it took about five minutes after the wheel was off to figure out it was one of the poly bushing’s bolts that was loose. I tightened it field spec torque , marked the new bolt position with a white paint marker, put the wheel back on, lowered the truck with the jack, and put everything away. No more noises for the rest of the trip!
I fully intended to check all of the bolt torques of everything that was touched during the axle rebuild and other service/modifications before we left. Due to circumstances beyond my control, we did not get the LX back until several days before we had to leave. (It should have been a couple of months.) At that late point, I had to trust that the work was done properly and attended to more pressing concerns.
The next leg of the journey we were deviating from the GPS tracks we had been using the last two days. It was not by choice. The mountain road simply did not follow them anymore. But, it was obvious we were going in the right direction. We soon figured out the reason. We were entering into a huge mining area – this was a new road.
Soon we began seeing huge earth moving vehicles, large pickup trucks, and industrial/mining buildings and shacks. I was just waiting to get squished. Or, more likely, stopped and told we couldn’t be here and that the turn-off for the public road was five miles behind us. None of this occurred; we were on the right path.
After driving in the mining area for about an hour, we had exited the mountains. It now felt like we were in Baja. Nice, soft, flat, sandy tracks were the new road surface. We were able to drive faster than 30mph for the first time in over a week, 50mph felt like 70-80mph.
Our Copper Canyon adventure was over!
You can see the last of the mountains that contained the Copper Canyon area behind the dilapidated building in the picture above…
I could end it here… but I won’t. There are still a few more interesting stories to tell…
After another half hour or so, we came upon a four lane interstate looking road that was being constructed. We were able to drive on this for a short while into Alamos.
We headed for the city center and asked around for directions to any of the few RV/campgrounds that we heard about from a few sources within the US. We were told by a few locals that only one was still operational (no surprise at this point in our trip). After gassing up at one of the many Pemex’s in town, we headed to the RV/campground. The reason it seems that this RV/campground was still operational is that they were mostly a higher-end bed and breakfast.
We think the name of this place was called Ocostco and that it was ran by a Maria. The campsites were 10USD each; we got two. Each site had picnic tables and electricity. Water was available within the bathroom facility building (maybe elsewhere on site for RV’s as well?). The showers were not very warm but the toilets did flush!
At the campground, we had only our second contact with Americans since we entered the canyons. A couple from Alaska had a winter “residence” at the RV site. We swapped stories with them for a couple of hours over a sundowner.
Since the town center was within walking distance, we strolled into town to eat a late dinner near the Zocalo. More on Alamos next…