Durango was a popular town back in the 60s to film western movies. Stars like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, Audrey Hepburn, and Jack Nicholson have walked the streets of the city. John Wayne purchased a ranch in the region and there’s a walk of fame in town where stars with names from the movie industry are showcases just like in Hollywood. We went to visit Villas de Oeste, a movie set where over 160 movies were filmed, which was pretty fun.
Leaving Durango on the quiet highway 45, we reached the edge of town in a blink of an eye. A car came by and slowed to our speed, windows rolled down, asking questions. The man showed a microphone and wanted an interview. They were journalists from Televisa, a news network in Mexico and wanted to interview us there, on the side of the road. So we stopped, they pulled the camera out and started asking us questions. View the interview here.
North of Highway 45, Parque Nacional Sierra de Órganos is a location where some western movies were filmed back in the days. This seemed like a good place to cycle on quiet roads with nice scenery. So we took a left turn on a secondary road leaving the highway behind. The plan was to take backcountry roads to Zacatecas and not use the highway. The only question mark was a small section going over a pass which road wasn’t marked on Google maps but maps.me showed there was a track. Since it was a short distance we decided to risk it and check it out. At the end of the day, we passed by a gate we could open and come upon an abandoned building, perfect to pitch our tent.
There was a village nearby where we stocked up on water the next morning before tacking the question mark section. Still, in the village, the pavement quickly transformed into a rocky road. We asked a man if the next village was in the direction we were heading to; he replied positively. So off we went. Passed the village there were many farming fields and the road was used by farmers and their tractors. With time, this made a tough, compacted, rocky road where dirt and gravel were inexistent. Some sections were in extremely bad condition, slowing us down to 10km/h. We like dirt and gravel tracks and can handle rocky sections, but this was getting tough for our loaded touring bikes. It would have been perfect for bike packing setup with larger tires. The landscape wasn’t as good as we expected, disappointing us. Then, the climb started. On that rocky road, we couldn’t manage to keep our balance so we unmounted and had no choice but to push our rigs. The slope was getting steeper and steeper, reaching 16-18%. This was really tough going. We were pushing for a few meters and were out of breath. At 2100 meters high, it wasn’t the altitude. Once at the top, we had covered 12 kilometers and it was already midday. Going down the short but steep descent on the other side was tough going, trying to navigate between rock, sometimes sharp enough to slice through our tires. To our relief, the road changed to a dirt track once the descent over with. We hoped it stayed that way until the next village and it did for most of the way. We passed a small abarrotes – small convenience store – in the village, sat down and gulped down a liter of cold juice each. It felt like we cycled 100 kilometers.
The landscape was disappointing, missing on the tall cliffs and mountains showcased in western movies. On tarmac once again, we passed vast farming fields and quiet villages until we got to an intersection where we had a choice to make; either keep going straight or back toward the highway, another 70 kilometers away. Going straight meant another section of track, only this time it was much longer. We didn’t want to gamble on that so we decided on the highway. There were only 60 or so kilometers to do before Zacatecas. It was a long false flat before gaining the highway and with the tough morning in our legs, the 125kms that day was really tough. We cycled on the highway until we found a track that led to an open space beside a farming field. Not great, but it served its purpose.
We were visited by a man on a motorbike the next morning and told us we shouldn’t be there. After explaining we were packing up and going within the next 30 minutes, he turned around without saying much. Another day on the highway, but given we had a nice wide shoulder for most of the day it wasn’t too bad of a decision. Only the entrance into town was dodgy, the shoulder disappearing with increasing traffic. Zacatecas must be the hilliest city in Mexico. Everywhere the street had a gradient. Once, we rolled our bikes on the pedestrian overpass so we didn’t have to cross a busy intersection at 15% gradient. We arrived at our hostel and were told our room was on the second floor. Luckily, the owner told us we could leave our bikes downstairs so we didn’t have to squeeze them in the narrow staircase.
Zacatecas Centro area is UNESCO protected. There are many old buildings, cathedrals, and churches dating from the conquistadors. Despite its hills, we liked it and was worth going to. We left Zacatecas on secondary roads once again, heading north to join Dulce Grande, the last we could stuck-up on food and water for the next couple of days. We cycled on quiet roads going through a desert-like landscape, not too hilly, flying on bitumen. One early morning we surprised a wild pig who took off running in a field about 50 meters from us, many rabbits and northern crested caracara, also called Mexican eagle. One aspect we like about cycle-touring is seeing wildlife from close and this occurs often on quiet roads.
All good things come to an end. We joined the highway before San Luis Potosi. Wide shoulder and quiet traffic though. About 20 kilometers before town we were surprised by a cycling path! The catch was that it was in the middle of the road, right between the highway lanes, separated by a curb on each side. We cut through the highway and cycled on a cycle path until it abruptly ended after a few kilometers. We passed through the highway lanes once again only to join the cycle path a little further along the way. This time, it went deep into the city. Contrary to Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi was flat and easy to navigate.
More photos in Durango Gallery or in the Mexico Photo Album