Durango, Zacatecas & San Luis Potosi
We wanted to see some more of mainland Mexico before our flights to Canada over Christmas out of Puerto Vallarta so upon leaving Mazatlán, we drove out of the state of Sinaloa eastward to Durango in the state of Durango. The day was a perfect one: blue sky and warm. We decided not to take the toll road as the free highway didn’t look much longer and there would be plenty of opportunities to get on the toll road should the free road turn out to be crappy. So far our experience with toll roads, when we couldn’t avoid them, is that the road is in worse shape than the free road and you have to wait in line to pay the toll so you are not seemingly saving much time. We did note in Sinaloa that the free road did pass through small towns, so all the “topes” do slow you down.
Speaking of “topes”, these are speed bumps that they may or may not warn you about. You can be driving along at 6o or 80 kmph and suddenly, if you are lucky, there is a sign slowing you to 40 kmph and some stripes along the road warning you topes are ahead. Sometimes there is even warning sign showing the distance ahead the tope is, and less frequently there’s a sign right at the tope. Now these can be asphalt humps, bumps, lumps, or metal “bumps” about six inches across attached to the road and going all the way cross, or rubber topes or really wicked concrete ones. Often times coming into a town they’ll be a series of smallish ones before a large one.
This free highway to Durango was MX 40 and it was in great shape; a huge portion of it was fresh asphalt with no pot holes and there was hardly any traffic. There were shoulders before we got to the mountains and in the mountains, there were actually guard rails! We began to climb in elevation along this road and the scenery began to be quite impressive with mountains, canyons, lookouts and small villages. We passed by Los Angeles, Mesa Verde and Buenos Aires along the way. We crossed a hogs back in the mountain called the neck of the devil where we could look down on both sides. We climbed up to over 9000 feet and although it was sunny we could feel it cooling off and we loved the lack of humidity. Mazatlán had been quite humid, especially in the mornings for some reason.
Due to the winding highway and the climb, we did not make great time but were in no hurry. We travelled from about 9:45 am to 5:pm with a time change into the central time zone and went less then 300km (200m). This drive was an unexpected pleasure and we did stop often to enjoy the view.
We spent Thursday night at Parque El Tecuan – found it on the iOverlander app. We took a walk in the park but did not see much although there was a large corral for elk. As we were so high up, it did get quite cold overnight. Fran is usually quite warm at night but her sheet, flannel sheet and quilt were not near enough. She opened up our warmest sleeping bag in the middle of night and gave her blankets to Doug to add to his warmish sleeping bag. We awoke to frost on the grass outside and a reading of -5C / 23F on our thermometer! Huge change from 28C in Mazatlán!
Friday morning we drove the rest of the way into the City of Durango (60 km) where we stopped at Wal-Mart and then went into the downtown to walk around a huge park there called Parque Guadiana which was quite nice with lots and lots of playgrounds, benches, ponds, a jogging track, exercise machines, a water park and a small area with rides for kids.
Parking at the Wal-Mart was an adventure. It is actually a pay parking lot and the main entrance we went to had an overhang so there was no way we were going to fit under it so we went around the corner and found another entrance that was actually two lanes of traffic zigzagging into the lot stopping to get tickets at a machine. It took quite a while. Then we had to drive out across the front of the entire store as all the parking rows had covers over them for shade which Tigger could not fit under. Luckily, there was a huge mall parking lot next to it with no shade cover but still part of the pay lot. We parked and then went to shop. Unbeknownst to us, you were supposed to pay for the parking BEFORE you return to your vehicle because when we tried to leave, again we could not fit under the barrier and when the parking attendant showed us where we could pass, he wanted our validated ticket, which of course we had not taken care of. So now we have to back up and park again to find the machines. Yes, this was Wal-Mart!
We got back on the highway and made it 300 km to the city of Zacatecas in the state of the same name on much faster roads that the previous day although not tolled. The drive did not go down much in elevation and reminded us of Alberta, coming out of the mountains and seeing agricultural fields, however, they are still up around 7000ft.
Fun fact: we have now crossed the Tropic of Cancer six times! Three times in Baja, twice in Sinaloa and once in Zacatecas.
Here we used our app to find a virtually free camping spot once again and spent the night in a parking lot with a view over the city. There is a church up here, a museum, some monuments and a “teleferico” (cable car) that takes you to another hill passing over part of the city. There is a police “office” here and the policeman said we could park here and he’d watch over us. We tipped him 50 pesos and had a quiet night once the visitors left the parking lot.
Being up high again, we were prepared for the cold but perhaps being in the city tempered the cold somewhat and we had no frost Saturday morning. We figured it stayed around 40F/4C last night.
Today we took the Teleferico down to the base of the other hill and toured the city. First stop was El Eden which is a closed silver mine. This town was known for silver, gold, copper and zinc mining since the 1500’s and this mine was only closed about 40 years ago as it was too close to the city and there was fear of collapse. It still contains a lot of minerals but is no longer mined; just a tourist attraction. We’d been told the tour was in both Spanish and English but it turned out our guide did not do an English tour but luckily, there was an Aussie gentleman with us, Cam, who lives in Guadalajara, and kindly translated when we couldn’t catch what she was saying. The natives of this land knew there were minerals here and when Spanish came, they began real mining operations and used slaves and many boys began working in the mines at age eight! At the end of the tour you are in a rock museum which contains rocks samples from around the world. Then you take a little train out of the mine that is further into the main city.
We then walked around the city looking at buildings, parks, plazas, churches and shops for a few hours. Many of the streets are one way, narrow and cobbled. We were glad we did not have to park Tigger downtown! We enjoyed some goodies from a bakery around lunchtime and wandered some more. This town it quite interesting and has small alleys and weird corners, fountains and pathways to explore. There is a section of aqueduct that has been restored as well. It has an old Colonial European feel with many of the buildings made from pink sandstone. We really enjoyed our walking day here. We took the Teleferico back up to “La Bufa” where Tigger was parked, stopped at the bar while it rained and had some drinks watching the lightning and then the sun setting. We spent a second night here. It was Saturday night now and not quite as quiet; there a few instances of parties in the parking lot throughout the night – until 4:30 AM!. We are getting old.
We are now heading southeast to San Miguel de Allende in Guanajauto but decided to detour slightly enroute and check out San Louis Potosi. This city is not on the normal tourist path but sounded delightful when we read about it and it would give us another Mexican state to add to our map! We were more than pleasantly surprised with this stop. This city is clean, well organized and had a lovely pedestrian mall, the largest in Latin America, about 3km (2m) long! It was a sunny day and our walk of a couple of hours around the “el centro” was most enjoyable. Many locals were out Christmas shopping and enjoying their day as well.