Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Out Lifestyle Adventures: Durango, the Land of Pancho Villa and John Wayne

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Out Lifestyle Adventures: Durango, the Land of Pancho Villa and John Wayne

Cultural and Convention Center Bicentennial
Of the many discounted tours available, Bill and I chose the Durango tour even if we had to wake up early at daybreak and return long before sundown, the driving distance between the two cities being about two and a half hours. After all, it is the home of the Mexican legendary hero Pancho Villa. The capital and the largest metropolis in the Mexican state of Durango, the city stands at an altitude of 6,168 feet above sea level and is, therefore, a fresh haven when Mazatlan sizzles. Founded in 1563 by Spanish Basque explorer Francisco de Ibarra, the city’s population is now almost 600,000.


Interoceanic Federal Highway 40
The drive through the New Mexican Federal Highway 40, also called the Carretera Interoceánica (Interoceanic Highway), was spectacular at sunrise. Highway 40 is a road which begins at Reynosa, just west of the Port of Brownsville, Texas, and ends at Mexican Federal Highway 15 near Mazatlán and the Pacific coast. It is Interoceanic because it connects the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. This new highway shortened the time between Durango and Mazatlan by as much as 6 hours, passing under and over the Sierra Madre Occidental through 63 new tunnels and 115 new bridges.

one of 63 tunnels
The most significant of the bridges is Baluarte Bridge, officially the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge, is a cable-stayed bridge along the Durango–Mazatlán highway. The total length of the bridge is 3,688 ft with a cable-stayed span of 1,710 ft. at the center. With the road deck at 1,322 ft. above the valley below, the Baluarte Bridge is the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world, the third-highest bridge overall and the highest bridge in the Americas. It was quite a sight to see, another reason we wanted to take the tour. Construction of the bridge began in 2008, and it was opened to traffic in late 2013.

most significant of the 115 bridges

Our first stop in the city was Telerifico de Durango, or the Cable Car Durango is a cableway (only one of four in Mexico) located in the city’s historic center, connecting the Cerro del Calvario with the viewpoint of the Cerro de Los Remedios. It has a capacity to carry five thousand people a day on a tour of 750 meters at a height of 82 meters. The entry to the boarding platform, the first Cerro, was still under construction and we approached it from an old street at the rear. A large painting greeted us at this first Cerro, alluding to the many movies that were filmed in Durango.

large mural depicting the many movies made in Durango
At the second Cerro, the view of the former mining city was spectacular, especially the view of the mountains. The state of Durango is a vast and mountainous terrain known for its forests of timber and its gold and silver mines (also rock aggregates and resizables). Its most famous symbol is the scorpion because many species are found in the state. An added bonus atop the hill was the Nuestra Sonora de Los Remedios. Unfortunately, the little church was closed when we visited.

view from the Cerro del Calvario

This fascinating building was designed in 1899 to be the most prestigious hospital in northern Mexico but was left unfinished due to the Mexican Revolution. Later it hosted the Institute of Culture State of Durango and the National Institute of Anthropology and History.  A couple of years ago the building was restored and transformed into what is now the complex to accommodate trade shows and conventions.  In 2010, over twenty artists and craftsmen created a series of murals depicting moments in the history of Durango carved in stone. The extensive grounds and gardens make for great family picnics on weekends.

the history of Durango in murals
John Wayne, a Durango folk hero
At the entrance to the Convention Center are two statues, one of Pancho Villa (more later) and another of John Wayne! Yes, John Wayne did many Western classics in Durango, he is considered another folk hero. You do not have to go very far to find Villas del Oeste and Chupaderos, two villages with dusty streets, teeming with cowboys, saloons, sheriffs, and dancers. These communities became settings for approximately 150 films among them John Wayne’s The Sons of Katie Elder, The War Wagon, and Chisum.


The Old Historic District of Durango has close to one thousand historic buildings with diverse architectural styles ranging from neoclassical and Baroque to Gothic. Exploring the streets of the downtown area is like walking through a huge open-air museum. For this reason, Durango has earned a spot on the route called the “Camino Real de Tierra Adentro”, or “Royal Inland Road,” declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Catedral Basilica de Durango
Pancho Villa at his Museum
The Plaza de Armas is at the center of this Old District. With a huge Gazebo at the center, it leads to the  Catedral Basílica de Durango, one of the most beautiful landmarks in northern Mexico, built from 1685 through 1787. It is a blend of architectural styles, including Spanish Baroque or Churrigueresque. The main façade is Baroque and includes Corinthian columns and niches built to protect the image of St. Peter and St. Paul. The cathedral boasts of the second most richly carved choir stage in the country; second only to the one in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. The altar is Neoclassical, guarding the 18th century gilded carving of the Purisima Concepcion and housing paintings by Duranguense artists Miguel Cabrera and Juan Correa.

Among the many architectural icons including churches, government offices, and former homes turned museums, is the Pancho Villa Museum. The man was born in Chihuahua, Mexico about 400 miles north of Durango City and only 150 miles south of El Paso, Texas. But the Museum in Durango City gives you a good enough insight into the man, the abandoned child of a penniless peon who became a mountain bandit and then turned into a revolutionary hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The Museum is housed in a magnificent 18th-century building, the home of a wealthy miner from Spain. Juan José Zambrano, that became the Government´s Palace in the mid-19th century.

variety of Mexican cheeses at the Mercado
A short visit to the Mercado was our last stop and then it was napping time on the bus on the way home. It turned out to be a great discovery tour for us and added another state, making it seven out of Mexico’s thirty-one states we have visited. After all, Bill and I have adopted it as a second home, a kind of nearby Philippines, only several hundred miles from Arizona, our soon-to-be first home. 

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