Into the Outback of Chihuahua, Mexico

After days of partying at our niece’s Quinceañera (keen-seen-YER-ah) in Chihuahua, Mexico we decided to take a day exploring the towns and high desert outside of town (see post, A Girl’s Coming of Age – La Quinceañera). I borrowed my brother-in-law’s Chevy Suburban, loaded it up with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, mother-in-law, . . . thirteen people in all, and trundled off towards the Mennonite city of Cuahtemoc (Kwah-TAY-muk), 100 kilometers away (63 miles). But before we reach Cuahtemoc, we have a couple stops to make.

Expedition Crew

Expedition Crew

First stop, the small town of Santa Isabel about 35 kilometers from Chihuahua. The old adobe houses in this pleasant little ranching town are being renovated into gracious second homes by affluent business people from nearby Chihuahua. But it still has its rural character and we enjoyed our avocado-flavored ice cream bars in the small, neat central plaza while talking to a shy Tarahuamara Indian girl in her brightly colored skirts, curious why we were in her town.

Next stop; the smaller and more remote town of San Francisco de Borja in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. The goal of this stop is to explore the nearby canyon of Namurachi (na-mur-AH-chee). We set off along the dirt roads out of town following a handwritten sign dangling off of a barbed wire fence saying simply, “Namurachi.” After a couple miles of bouncing along dirt ranch roads we arrived at the parking area for this natural area preserve.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but Namurachi surprised me. It’s a ¾ mile-long slot canyon with large caves extending out from either side along the level, sandy canyon floor. The canyon deepens and narrows until it ends abruptly in a large, sandy-floored natural room formed by the vertical canyon walls that arch in towards each other 150 feet above to form a roof with a narrow slot where sun and water trickle in. A simple altar has been built out of the rock at the head of the room and I later discovered that mass is given there on occasion and the canyon hosts classical music concerts from time to time. We slowly walked back to the trusty Suburban and boarded in orderly fashion now that everyone had their seats staked out and headed off to Cuahtemoc.

Cuahtemoc is the center of a large Mennonite agricultural community in northern Mexico where they grow apples, nectarines, vegetables and above all, dairy cows for their famous queso menonita (Mennonite cheese – a mild, fresh Chester-style cheese). It seems odd to see the blue-eyed, blond-haired Mennonite women in their white bonnets and prairie skirts, men in their suspenders and flat-brimmed hats, here in the high deserts of northern Mexico. Signs in town are written in Spanish and old German dialect.

We drove straight to the Mennonite museum where we enjoyed seeing the displays of agricultural history of the area and explanation of the Mennonite diaspora (I had no idea Mennonites were distributed so widely across the world). After that, its lunch time and where else would you go except the Mennonite pizza parlor in town featuring pizzas made from fresh Mennonite cheese. It wasn’t New York thin crust, but good just the same.

After our pizzas we drove into the farmlands surrounding Cuahtemoc to buy cheese to take home (many farms around Cuahtemoc have shops that sell the products made on their farm). Mennonite farms are neat and well tended, but the buildings and houses are purposely plain; plain adobe or plank houses with no paint or adornments. We turned into a tidy farm that advertised cheese at their driveway and entered their store set up inside their barn. The salesgirl spoke only the German dialect of the region, so she called her Spanish-speaking husband over and we bought a few kilos of fresh queso menonita.

It was getting late and everyone was tired, so we loaded up the crew one last time and turned the Suburban towards Chihuahua and home enjoying the sunset falling across the rolling desert hills of central Chihuahua.

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