Cave Man

Author finds gold in a book about the Sierra Madre.

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When writer Jeff Biggers ventured into Mexico's Sierra Madre a few years ago, he had no idea what to expect. "You're overwhelmed by the landscape," he says. "It's one of the great wonders of the world." He emerged after a year of scouring the mountain range with a backpack full of tales that he collected in his new book, In the Sierra Madre. "I had no intention of writing it," he says. "But the stories just kept coming and coming."

Biggers, who lives in Illinois, initially was just tagging along with his wife, a social linguist who was researching the Sierra Madre. But he found himself drawn in by the region's culture, including the Raramuri-Tarahumara Indians, whom he ranks among the most misunderstood people in the world. "People still live in caves there," he says. "But they're thriving, and they're resilient. They've [survived] for 500 years, and they will continue to for another 500 years."

The Sierra Madre has always been the stuff of legend. Poets, war refugees, and archaeologists from across the globe have all searched for inspiration in the area's many caves and caverns. In 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Humphrey Bogart even led a pack of gold-hungry excavators to their doom. "For years, people went there for the silver and gold," says Biggers. "People are drawn by the sense that there's some sort of treasure there."

Biggers — whose previous book, The United States of Appalachia, chronicled another mountain people — says that his year-long stay in the Sierra Madre included run-ins with travelers, natives, and the occasional drug smugglers. "We were confronted several times with guns," he says. The book, however, reads like a travelogue — an invitation to a land shrouded in myth. "The real treasure are the people and their stories," says Biggers. "It was an incredible journey."
Wed., Sept. 6, 7 p.m.

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