In and Around Batopilas
The Hacienda San Miguel Walk
“You can spot the ruins of a once-majestic silver baron’s home Alexander Shepherd from town. Walk through the river to the other side. Locals have placed timber on rocks over the river to make it easier to cross. Remarkably, the buildings, although made of adobe, still retain their form. Roofs have caved in, and in some case the floors are gone. Wild bougainvillas grow up and spill over the tallest remaining building ruin.”
Easy walk in town. The Hacienda San Miguel is the Gothic style adobe Mansion of Alexander Shepard you see spreading along the far side of the river.
Batopilas was the richest silver mine for centuries; the labyrinth of tunnels lacing the hillside producing chunks of native silver the size of basketballs.
Alexander Roble Shepard was the visionary mayor of Washington DC. Considered a possible presidential candidate, he was responsible for conceiving and building Washington DC as you see it today. But his vision was beyond his budget. The project ran so far over, he was accused of corruption and found it convenient to leave town and establish himself in the most remote and inaccessible corner of Mexico Batopilas, in the heart of the rugged Copper Canyon. It was so inaccessible the first road of any sort was not possible until 1975, almost a century later.
Still a visionary, he pulled together investors from France and England and took over the Batopilas mines. He linked the endless tunnels to a single central tunnel served by a railway engine brought in pieces on the backs of Tarahumara Indians and mules. His adobe mansion is the Hacienda San Miguel.
He had pianos and the finest European furnishings hand carried down the cliffs. Under his watch, Batopilas was the second place in all Mexico to have electric lights in 1880, long before most of the US was electrified. His generators kept working long after his mines were abandoned during Pancho Villa’s Revolution. The lights went out finally in 1963 and did not go on again until 1990.
The Copper Canyon lodge was restored by 92 local craftsmen in 1989 using only hand tools and traditional methods.
Mission Angel Custodio de Satevo Walk
I came to teach, but in time I realized I was here to learn. – Father Brambila S.J.
Easy long flat walk. Walk about along the Batopilas River teeming with flowering plants, birds, and butterflies. Downriver about four miles is the antique mission of Satevo, standing tall and white against a backdrop of blue sky and rocky, rugged mountains. The large, three-domed church is estimated to have been built around 1760 or thereabouts. A fire in the 1880s destroyed all of the original papers. The church holds many mysteries. Nobody knows who built the mission. There are marked and unmarked graves beneath the stone flooring, and ochre colored patterns on the crumbling interior walls. Religious statues grace the mission’s altar, and during Semana Santa and Christmas, locals place festive paper flowers and candles on the altar. About 8 miles round trip and takes half a day. If you like you can arrange for a truck for the return trip.
The mission has amazing acoustics, and famous musicians such as Opera tenor singer Oscar Ortega and Jim Kline, classical guitarist, have held concerts in the ancient building. Sr. Ortega studied with Luciano Pavarotti, and has performed at Carnegie Hall. He also served as Manager at the Riverside Lodge in Batopilas. Kline invented the 19-string arch harp guitar and still performs all over the U.S. and Mexico.
The Aqueduct Trail Walk
Easy. Alexander Shepard built several miles of aqueduct to power the light generators in 1885. It still supplies the town’s water today. This easy hike is on a level trail along the water which parallels the river. Shady in the afternoon. Go as far as you like. Feeling ambitious? Go left up the first side canyon. No guide needed once you find the start of the trail. About 3 miles.
Eagle eye views of the canyon and town. Spectacular switchbacking road-ish access to a very high place.
Ride in style downriver to the Mission. Beautiful views. Go and come in a morning or afternoon OR my recommendation is pack a lunch and picnic somewhere by the river. Your driver can show you a good place.
Like the hike but ride! Follows the river to an isolated settlement which was on the silver trail used By the Batopilas Mining Company to remove over a billion dollars in silver by bi weekly mule trains to Chihuahua. This little town saw the first wheeled vehicle only 8 years ago.
Batopilas to Urique Adventure
This is the big one! Go entirely out of the canyon and over the divide to the Urique Canyon. Fabulous adventure up from tropics to cactus, to oak to pines till you overlook the Urique river and canyon. Then return. A LONG day. Need more? Add to the trip by descending all the way to the Urique river and the village of Urique.
Road to Yoquivo
Winds up to a beautiful view of Satevo and the lower canyon… the entire lower canyon. 4 hours round trip.
More Challenging Hikes
Cerro Colorado Hike
Moderate. This is along the river and up the side canyon along the old silver road to a mostly abandoned gold mining town with about 7 friendly remaining families. Best in winter when the river is low. Bring a lunch and sandals for several river crossings. Guide recommended. Nabor is a good guide for this excursion as he lives at Potrero along the way. Fairly level. About 14 miles round trip.
Satevo Ridge Hike
Moderate. Walk to Satevo in the Morning stop for lunch. Climb up and come back along the ridge in about 2 to 3 hours. Great vistas and steep the last descent back down to Batopilas. 8 miles round trip.
Penasquito Silver Mine Hike
Moderate. Explore this abandoned silver mine! This hike is a steep rocky climb about one mile, gaining an elevation of approximately 800 feet. After exploring the mine hike down a longer, less steep trail, getting some excellent views of the town of Batopilas and the Riverside Lodge. Guide notes: Lots of brush in the rainy season, November, trail is clear. I actually used a machete all of August just to get up there. The trail is clear in winter. It’s about a half day. Bring a guide and a lunch and flashlights. Maybe 2 miles round trip but it’s steep.
Moderate. Walk up the rugged arroyo by the little plaza behind Valentin’s store. Go about 3 miles to a small country rancho where up to 5 generations of one family live together. Ranchos like this one, accessible only on foot, still dot the canyon country by the hundreds. Not long ago most people in Mexico lived this way. Fascinating. Guide a good idea. Bring a lunch and take your time. This one is a favorite of mine. About 6-7 miles round trip.
For the next week, these trials kept me busy hiking up 4,000 foot-high mesas with astonishing 360-degree views, past hidden caves, old silver mines, cool rivers…”
Yerba Buena Hike
Moderate. The Tarahumara do not live in villages, but in nuclear family homes hidden in the canyon crevices or on high wooded plateaus. Perhaps Yerba Buena is the closest they have ever come to making a village. This one is best done in a vehicle. It’s a steep climb up a primitive road from the highway. The little settlement has a church, school, and clinic. Beautiful vistas, and if you want to walk from the main road it takes about an hour. About a mile climb.
“The magic happens best when you take off with no destination in mind. Then… the mountains seduce you.”
Very difficult. Take a truck upriver a half hour to the trailhead. Cross the river and start the very rough hike uphill along a magic spilling stream to a Tarahumara settlement in a lush valley full of Mangos Papayas and oranges. Here best sense of Copper Canyon wilderness. To the Tarahumara their concept of their home is not the place with the roof. The place with the roof is more like their bedroom. Their concept of home and personal space extends to the corrals and area around the structure including corrals, orchards, and cultivated fields. Proper etiquette is to stand outside the attended areas and quietly wait until acknowledged. When and if they are ready, they will come out to the edge of the area and greet you. It may take a while. Best suited for folks not afraid of heights. Pack a lunch and take a guide. You are visiting their private homeland. Here, best take the pictures in your heart. 10 miles all day.
Very difficult. Leaving from the same Huimaybo trailhead as above, hike up a steep mountain trail to another Tarahumara community with fantastic views. If you are lucky you can visit the family of Patrocinio who has become famous for his fine violins. Again, in their home, better to take pictures with your heart. Pack a lunch and a guide.
Divasadero Yerbanis Trek
Very difficult. This is a STEEP climb with EXCELLENT VIEWS of EVERYTHING. It’s 3-4 hours switchback up from town past corn fields and spectacular vistas of the mesas and river below. This is an all day affair. Not recommended in the rainy season because the huge hail balls can kill you. Lunch and guide. 10 miles all day.
Puerto Blanco Trek
Death march. Recommended only for Tarahumaras under 25 years old. Go past Camuchin up and up and up and up to the divide between Batopilas and the Urique Canyons. Incredible views….a very long day. Start early. Go with a guide, lunch snacks, plenty of water and plenty of water. Stop often for water breaks.
Copper Canyon Birds-Migration Flyways
Because of its unique geographical location on migration flyways, the area of Copper Canyon between the Cusrare high country and subtropical lowland town of Batopilas host an abundance of opportunities for birding. One guest reported seeing a flock of green parrots bathing in the river’s blue pools. Others have recorded American Dipper birds along the river, and a family of Quetzals. During the flowering season, hummingbirds literally swarm; an uncommon sight because hummingbirds are very territorial and don’t like to share their space.
The antique silver town of Batopilas, nestled between river and canyon mountains, is 6,000 feet below and accessed by one narrow, dirt road that spirals downward, almost in vertical descents at times. Here, along the narrow Batopilas River and into the subtropical forest is a birder’s paradise! Plant life is abundant and varied, and offers perfect cover and food for many unusual bird species including the Flame-colored Tanager, Flycatcher and Green Heron.
Copper Canyon Bird List in the High Country and Lowland Migration Flyways
Birds spotted by Larry Liese of Nature Treks on an 8 day trip.
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Neotropic Cormorant
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Green Heron
- Black-crowned Night-Heron
- Lesser Scaup
- Black Vulture
- Turkey Vulture
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Crane Hawk
- Common Black-Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Crested Caracara
- American Kestrel
- Peregrine Falcon
- Rufous-bellied Chachalaca
- American Coot
- Northern Jacana
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Least Sandpiper
- Rock Pigeon
- White-winged Dove
- Mourning Dove
- Inca Dove
- Common Ground-Dove
- Mexican Parrotlet
- Groove-billed Ani
- White-throated Swift
- Broad-billed Hummingbird
- Violet-crowned Hummingbird
- Eared Quetzal
- Belted Kingfisher
- Acorn Woodpecker
- Gila Woodpecker
- Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Greater Pewee
- Western Wood-Pewee
- Gray Flycatcher
- Cordilleran Flycatcher
- Black Phoebe
- Vermilion Flycatcher
- Nutting’s Flycatcher
- Great Kiskadee
- Tropical Kingbird
- Northern Rough-winged Swallow
- Steller’s Jay
- Sinaloa Crow
- Common Raven
- Mexican Chickadee
- Rock Wren
- Canyon Wren
- Happy Wren
- American Dipper
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Black-capped Gnatcatcher
- Western Bluebird
- Brown-backed Solitaire
- Rufous-backed Robin
- Northern Mockingbird
- Curve-billed Thrasher
- Loggerhead Shrike
- Cassin’s Vireo
- Plumbeous Vireo
- Yellow Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Black-and-white Warbler
- Wilson’s Warbler
- Painted Redstart
- Rufous-capped Warbler
- Northern Cardinal
- Canyon Towhee
- Five-striped Sparrow
- Yellow-eyed Junco
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Great-tailed Grackle
- Hooded Oriole
- Black-vented Oriole
- Streak-backed Oriole
- House Finch
- House Sparrow
This is a partial list based on other birders sightings. These and other bird species can be found in the Batopilas area OR in the high country. Some are abundant, others fairly common and still others, rare.
Keith Albritton is the world’s expert on Copper Canyon Birding. He can tell you more at 414-530-1217.
I asked Bastiano, “Why do you run everywhere?”
He shot me a silly question look. “To get there.”
I suppose he could’ve asked me why I drive 40 miles an hour to the store when I could drive at 10 miles an hour.
Micah True, El Caballo Blanco found a natural affinity with the Tarahumara. He was well known in Batopilas and the trails that radiate from town. Christopher McDougall came to Copper Canyon, met True and the Tarahumara, hiked and biked here. I think he came to understand what the Tarahumara understand. So he decided to tell people about the magic of running…that people were born to run….the rest is history.
“My feet are very tender from running in shitty shoes, dancing over boulders and scree type rocks on these steep canyons. Although I am fairly trashed, this energy which flows throughout my warrior spirit, fuels a passion to search for more. I’m eating like a horse, imagine that! Like a True Dawg, or Gus, I keep munching what is in from of me. My appetite is insatiable, as I ate a big dinner at Dona Mica’s, then finished with a bunch of bananas and mandarins for dessert. I’m gonna stretch and pray. And, hopefully have sweet dreams. I don’t have a plan for manana. See what happens.
I love running some long trail that I don’t know. It keeps me in the present. And, I usually get to the top of a majestic mountain, or the town of destination, fresh and surprised that I’m there already. Because I’m not wondering where I am, or when the goal will be attained. Each breath – in the present. I am here! So, my goal is always attained. – February 12, Micah True.
Batopilas Canyon Biking
Descend the Canyon cliff face on the Soaring Eagle Highway, a ribbon of new pavement that swoops to the canyon rim then drops over the edge in 243 spectacular switchbacks and curves to the canyon floor then hovers like an Eagle above the river five miles to Batopilas. Mostly downhill, all day with Amigo Trails who organize the ride provide bikes and professional support.
Wonderful, exciting, dangerous, exhilarating, fun, insane and holy cow are the common descriptions of trail biking in the Copper Canyon. This is for very experienced riders only. Chris McDougall wrote a great article about his biking adventure here. It’s called The Savage Soul and you can find it in the anthology The Best of Bicycling Magazine, Subtitled, “Among the wild reclusive tribe of super-athletes is an untamed paradise of virgin trails a foolhardy gang of cyclists tries to put the mystery back into mountain biking.” Really recommended. Amigo Trails can also fix you up with trail biking adventures around Batopilas.
Copper Canyon Motorcycle Adventures
As the English say Motorbikes….Yes!
“Incredible…the best in the world”
All the roads listed in Truck-Treks are fabulous for bikers who understand rough roads. Now for the most spectacular adventure of all do the COPPER CANYON CIRCLE. Here’s what it is…. if you are ready…
The Great Copper Canyon Biker’s Circle
Pavement today. Start very early in Chihuahua. Cross the desert up into the hills to Creel. Take the Creel to Guachochi road in the high pines and wind eroded rock country. Take the Samachique cutoff to THE SOARING EAGLE HIGHWAY. The Soaring Eagle takes you past Quirare and right over the edge and down down down down did I day down over 5000 feet to the river at the bottom of the canyon. Then the Soaring Eagle road hovers over the river a few more miles to Batopilas. Collapse at the Copper Canyon or Real de Minas Lodges for a day or two with a few short trail rides.
Up very early take lots of water. Gas up in Batopilas. Take the unpaved sorta road up out of the canyon from bananas to cactus to oak, to the piney upland and back down again through oak, cactus, into bananas again in the floor of the Urique Canyon, up out of the Urique Canyon to Bauchivio where you turn right and follow the dirt road that parallels the railway to near Divisadero where you fall near dead with a beer in hand at Maria Barriga’s fabulous Mansion Tarahumara which is a sorta German Castle thing on the rim of a huge canyon. Sleep well.
Next day you will have about an 8 hour easy ride on pavement back to Chihuahua where Government officials will present you with official looking certificates avowing that you have COMPLETED THE COPPER CANYON BIKER’S CIRCLE AND HAVE ACTUALLY SURVIVED. A very cool ride.
You can do it on your own or join one of Skip Mascorro’s groups with your bike or his. He has the experience and support team to deal with the predictable unpredictables of backroads travel in the wilderness. Also he uses the best lodgings…OURS…The Copper Canyon Riverside Lodge and the Casa Real de Minas in Batopilas. Oh, did I remember to say his trips are FUN? Here are the dates this spring. Give Skip a Call motodiscovery.com.
Mar 12, 2016 thru Mar 19, 2016
Apr 16, 2016 thru Apr 23, 2016
Oct 01, 2016 thru Oct 08, 2016
Nov 05, 2016 thru Nov 12, 2016
The Mining Museum
Rafael El Guapo (Which means the Good looking One) is very proud of his museum. It’s intriguing collection of cool old stuff and photos for your edification and delight such as the mould used to cast the four hundred 30 kilo silver bars shipped out by the mule train each week in the boom days. He has found pictures of the prominent Batopilas families of the 1880’s, elegantly and incongruously dressed in their Victorian Finery in this far away primitive place. He did his homework and researched the explanations. As a child, he was known by all as el Feo (which means the Ugly One). Out of town friends are successfully pushing to change his name to El Guapo (The Good Looking One), which actually fits him much better. Still, he has not married. Asked why not he simply states, â€œWomen move your stuff.
Where to eat
There are many good local Fondas where can get good regional food within a block of the Lodges. Here are two favorites.
Dona Mica’s is the most famous. There’s only one table, It’s on the front porch where you will be served whatever is on her wood stove today. Dona Mica was a fixture for generations, with a cheap FARO cigarette dangling from her lips, she would serve up frijoles, and chile rellenos along with wry commentary on her neighbors and life in general. She also knew how to call up ghosts, of which many are reported in Batopilas.According to folks, virtually the whole town is inhabited.
Now, a pack of FAROS appears each year on her tomb on el Dia de Los Muertos, and her porch restaurant is run by Velia her daughter in law. Velia does not smoke. You never know whom you will share her long table with. It may be the prisoners brought out of the jail for diner.. or one of countless celebrities, ambassadors, or academics from the world over who can say they have taken frijoles at Dona Mica’s table.
La Casa Carolina is right across the little plaza from. Dona Mica’s. This is a full menu place with some really fine cooking. Her Camaron dishes are fantastic. Here, you may want to ask for Lechuguilla, a local distilled item brought down from primitive stills in the ranchos. It is customary to say it is good regardless of how it really strikes the initiate.
On making the most of Local Customs, Courtesy, Guides and tips
As you may have already surmised, the kind of people who come to Batopilas are pretty sophisticated travelers. The place simply doesn’t attract tourists. Consequently travelers fit in easily with the locals. Here are a few tips that will add a deeper dimension to your visit.
Local Customs in Batopilas
People are very friendly. It takes locals hours to go a few blocks because of the obligatory greetings and handshakes with everyone they know… which is just about everyone. They don’t see lots of outsiders and you may find folks noticing you. In Batopilas there are only about a thousand people and everyone is an important individual.and now that includes you. Don’t hesitate to approach strangers, introduce yourself and shake their hand. They will feel honored, even if you do not speak their language. When entering a store, acknowledge the person behind the counter with a smile and greeting. Introducing yourself to the proprietress is very good form. Language is no barrier to a smile and extended hand. Try it you will be glad you did.
Photos and Courtesy
These are a deeply genteel people. Their long and proud history has gifted them with sensibilities and etiquette that make their culture unique in Mexico and perhaps the world. Though they are far too polite to say anything, it’s considered poor form to take pictures of people you do not know in Batopilas. This is especially true of the Tarahumara Indians who come down from the hills in the afternoons to trade.
They are a very sophisticated observers of human nature and consider their culture far superior to ours. They feel that taking their picture is condescending. Sort of like stopping a Hasidic Jew on the street in Brooklyn and snapping his picture as a souvenir. However, once you get to know people they are delighted to have their picture taken WITH YOU. Send a copy back through Martin the Copper Canyon Lodge Manager and it will be a special memory of the friends they made from far away.
The guides include a cattleman, storekeeper, former mayor, mule skinner and a cantina manager whose stories are very real. They are one of the treasures of the Sierra Madre. Most are Spanish speakers and not full time guides. They make the experience richer even if you do not share their language. Sometimes the subtle communication that occurs between people outside of spoken language is even richer. Martin, the lodge manager can help you find them. They are highly recommended for most hikes. They are people worth knowing.
The wonderful thing about tipping in Batopilas is that it is not expected. People take care of you because it pleases them. Because it is not expected , a tip, then is a wonderful surprise that brings the recipient joy and extra needed cash. How much? Considering the cost of living in Batopilas, I usually tip the same amount as at home.