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October 2002 Issue
The Geographical Review
October 2002, Vol. 92 (4), pp. 555-581
REVISITING THE TOPIA ROAD: WALKING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF WEST AND PARSONS
JOHNATHAN WALKER and JONATHAN LEIB
Keywords: landscape change, Mexico, James J. Parsons, photography, Sierra Madre Occidental, Robert C. West.
In 1940, Berkeley graduate-student geographers Robert West and James Parsons traveled to Mexicoís Sierra Madre Occidental to retrace the Topia Road, colonial Mexicoís main trans-Sierran trail linking isolated mountain mining hamlets with the Pacific Coast and the world beyond, a journey chronicled in a 1941 Geographical Review article. Almost sixty years later, we chronicle our attempt to retrace West and Parsonsís route. Based on field observations, interviews with local informants, replication of Parsonsís photographs, and his field notes, we document landscape change in what West and Parsons referred to as some of the most isolated settlements in Mexico. We assess changes in the still-remote communities along the route in terms of three influences: mining, migration, and drug trafficking.