Travelers From Brazil Enjoy Mexico’s Copper Canyon

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. A few months ago Doris Beinhauer and Henry Adler from Rio de Janiero, Brazil, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 11-day Independent Trip to the Canyon Bottom.

Hi Lee, Laurie and all the California Native team,

Just this week we have been talking with friends from Los Angeles about our trip to Copper Canyon and how much we enjoyed it. This little adventure turned out even better than I imagined.

We liked El Fuerte and the Hotel Torres del Fuerte. Chihuahua was also a real surprise.

Highlight of course was the trip from Creel to Batopilas. If we ever would visit again we would like to hike into the canyon, and if there is another time we shall surely contact you.

All the best from Rio de Janeiro,

Doris and Henry

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda
In the town of Batopilas, at the bottom of Copper Canyon, the ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda are a reminder of the time when this town was one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.

California Natives Lunch With Mexico’s President Calderón

Mexico's President, Felipe Calderon, and California Native's President, Lee Klein, at luncheon in Mexico's Presidential Residence, Los Pinos.On May 21, 2010, California Native owners Lee and Ellen Klein were guests of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón at a luncheon he held in Mexico City at Los Pinos, Mexico’s official presidential residence.

Guests at the luncheon were specially selected international tour operators, and members of the international press corps.

The event was the kick-off of an initiative to spur tourism in Mexico’s many beautiful and fascinating “non-beach-resort” destinations.

This year marks Mexico’s Bicentennial, as well as the Centennial of the Mexican Revolution. In recognition of these events, The Mexican Tourism Board has created “Rutas de Mexico,”—ten tourism routes covering the 31 States of Mexico.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch and listened to speeches from Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s new tourism minister, as well as the President himself, who spoke of each of the routes. He spent quite a bit of time on the Copper Canyon Route, and talked about the town of Batopilas, which is visited on most California Native Copper Canyon tours.
The California Native's Lee and Ellen Klein at luncheon in Mexico's Presidential Residence, Los Pinos.

As guests of the Tourism Board and President Calderón, we spent the next four days touring on the “Revolution Route,” which included many charming Colonial Cities, including Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and others.

Watch our blog for more on these cities, along with our other Mexican destinations of Copper Canyon, Chiapas and Yucatan.

The Village of Batopilas in Mexico’s Copper Canyon is a Step Back in Time

A dusty cowboy rides his horse down the sunbaked-earth main street, his pistol at his side. A small group of Indians, clad in bright colored blouses, breech cloths and headbands, pack their burros for the long journey back to their remote village, while nearby a group of children play tag around the bougainvilleas in the town square.

Cowboy walking horses up quiet street in BatopilasThis is Batopilas, a small village located in Mexico’s Sierra Madres at the bottom of the deepest canyon in the vast complex of mountains and canyons known collectively as Copper Canyon. Today Batopilas is a sleepy little village, but it was not always this way. At the turn of the century it was one of the richest silver mining areas in the world, but after that period, time seems to have stood still.

The Spaniards first mined ore in Batopilas in 1632, and the mines continued to produce for the next three hundred years. The peak mining period was reached during the late 1800’s when an American named Alexander Shepherd developed the mines to their highest level of production—a level which ranked them among the richest silver mines in the world.

The mining operation at that time employed 1500 workers, and the total length of tunnels was more than 70 miles. Shepherd did much to improve the town, building bridges, aqueducts, and a hydroelectric plant, which made Batopilas the second city in Mexico to have electricity—second only to Mexico City itself. His headquarters was known as the Hacienda de San Miguel—a complex of adobe buildings which included the family residence, the business offices and a mill and reduction plant. He later constructed the Porfirio Diaz tunnel—a tunnel bored through the base of a mountain, where a train hauled out ore which was dropped down shafts from the tunnels above. The train had to be dismantled and hauled in almost 200 miles by burro and human labor, because there was no road to Batopilas. In fact, the road to Batopilas was not built until the 1970’s, almost a century later. The tunnel is still there, now deserted except by the bats.

Today there is no large-scale mining in Batopilas, though a few old prospectors still pan gold and silver from the river or extract small quantities of ore from the abandoned workings.

View of Satevo's 'Lost Cathedral', near BatopilasThree miles downstream from Batopilas, past an old suspension bridge, is a 400 year old Jesuit mission. The mission, recently restored, is known as the “Lost Cathedral” of Satevo, because over the course of time all records of it were lost by the Catholic Church.

Most of the buildings in Batopilas were built during the Victorian Era, but some date back to the 17th century. Many of the businesses have no signs on them—after all, in a town the size of Batopilas everyone knows where everything is. In the general store the counters are the old-fashioned high ones, worn smooth and wavy from a century of customers resting their elbows on them.

Evening is a special time in Batopilas. As the twilight spreads over the little town square the residents gather to visit with their neighbors, share the events of the day, and relax. Meanwhile, the youngsters play basketball until it is time for bed.

Traveling to Batopilas is an adventure in itself. Beginning in Creel, the road travels up and down through mountains and valleys and finally, just outside of the Tarahumara Indian village of Kirare, heads straight down along a windy, twisted, one-lane, “E-ticket ride” dirt road to the bottom of the canyon. From there it hugs the side of the canyon as it follows the Rio Batopilas down river for another hour, finally arriving in Batopilas after 5½ to 8 hours, depending on whether you travel by car or take the local bus. The local bus is a rickety old school bus which makes the trip down from Creel every other day. For the return trip, the bus departs Batopilas at 4:30 a.m. so that it can reach the rim of the canyon before the radiator boils over.

The journey to Batopilas is a breathtaking trip, but is not suitable for all travelers as the road down may make the faint-of-heart wish they had stayed at home. The best time to make the journey down is in the winter time, because Summer temperatures can soar above 100° Fahrenheit

Head for the Hills for the Holidays

The year 2009 is coming to a close. We are now at the end of November and the holidays are coming up fast, but it is not too late to make your plans for a wonderful holiday getaway. We do have some space left on our Christmas/New Years escorted tour to Mexico’s Copper Canyon where we will celebrate Christmas with the Tarahumara Indians and the owners of the Paraiso del Oso.

On December 23rd, we will be departing with a small group out of Los Angeles and Phoenix airports for an exciting tour into the canyon. The 11-day Ultimate tour spends nights in El Fuerte, Cerocahui, Divisadero, Creel, Batopilas, Chihuahua and a wooded area just outside San Juanito. As with all of our Copper Canyon tours, we ride the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad for one of the most spectacular train rides in the Western Hemisphere. The train travels through the lowlands of Sinaloa State and up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, passing through 86 tunnels and crossing 37 bridges.

Some other highlights on this tour are the Cusarare and Basaseachic waterfalls, a day trip to the village of Urique, the “Lost Cathedral” just outside of the village of Batopilas located at the canyon bottom and the magnificent vista point which overlooks a whole series of intertwined “barrancas” (canyons).


On this special trip, participants will have the opportunity to enjoy a special Christmas Eve known as Noche-bueno (the Good Night), a delicious dinner at the Paraiso del Oso and Ana Maria’s famous Christmas punch. Those wishing to join the Tarahumara Indians and mestizo community may attend the midnight mass, also known as La Misa del Gallo (Rooster’s Mass). Traditional Tarahumara dancing usually starts an hour or two before the mass, then recommences afterwards to make it an all-night celebration. As an old Spanish saying goes, “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir” (Tonight is the Good Night, and it is not meant for sleeping).

As Christmas morning arrives, the celebration moves back to the Oso Lodge where local Tarahumara join the hotel guests for the piñata party. The native Tarahumara live in isolated ranchitos in the rugged mountains surrounding the hotel. They take turns swinging at the Christmas piñata until it explodes showering candy and small toys to the ground. The hotel is filled with laughter and glee as the children scramble to collect their treasures. Gifts from under the Christmas tree are handed out. As the locals return to their mountain ranchitos, guests with The California Native prepare for the day trip to the Urique Canyon. In the evening after the excursion, guests enjoy a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

What better way to end this year and bring in the new year than to spend the night surrounded by pine trees in the Sierra Madre Mountains. We will stay in comfortable log cabins at the Lodge at Norítari meaning a “Place Above the Clouds” in the language of the Tarahumara Indians. Here one can hike to a nearby lake or relax on an old-fashion porch taking in the peacefulness of this lovely area.

To be a part of this year’s celebration and a truly unique experience, make your reservations now as time is running out. Happy holiday season to all of our fellow travelers.

The Real Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The beauty of Mexico’s Copper Canyon and the simple life-style of its Tarahumara residents is the real “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” but this remote region of rugged mountains and deep canyons may also hold more traditional treasure—gold and silver buried in undiscovered troves.

Treasure may be buried near the Satevo Mission

In February, 1767, King Charles III of Spain decreed that all Jesuits be expelled from the New World and that their properties be confiscated. His counselors had advised him that the Jesuits held a special allegiance to the pope and opposed the supremacy of the monarchy. In addition, there were suspicions that the Jesuits were involved in political intrigues in Madrid. Some of this came about because the Jesuits, known as the “Black Robes,” had acquired much wealth and power throughout the empire, causing enmity among clergy of other orders.

To prevent the Jesuits from hiding their wealth, it became imperative that the expulsion be carried out simultaneously and without warning throughout the empire. Messages under seal of the king were sent to all military commanders and were not to be opened until June 25. On that day the officers were ordered to arrest and deport the Jesuits and confiscate all the church’s property for the crown.

Despite the best efforts at secrecy, the Jesuits in Mexico became aware of the plan and began conveying their treasure out of the country by secret channels. Because of the short notice, they could not transport all of the gold and silver and were forced to bury large quantities of it.

In the bottom of Copper Canyon, four miles beyond the town of Batopilas, is Satevo, a small settlement with a beautiful old church, Iglesias San Miguel de Satevo. The church, with its three-tiered bell tower and its three domes, is all that remains of the mission of Santo Angel Custodio de Satevo, built by the Jesuits around 1760 and destroyed by a fire in the late 1800’s. All of the mission’s records were lost in the fire and the church has become fancifully known as the “Lost Cathedral of Satevo.”

In the 1800’s, vandals looking for wealth hidden by the Jesuits, ransacked the church and its crypts, but there is no evidence that they found anything. Some people believe that treasure is still hidden in the vicinity of the old church and, indeed, throughout the Sierra Madre mountains.

Many of our Copper Canyon trips visit Satevo and the old church of San Miguel de Satevo. On these journeys to the bottom of the canyon you probably won’t uncover the gold and silver allegedly buried by the Jesuits, but among the beauty, tranquility, and the always-present history of the region, you’re sure to discover your own “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Copper Canyon: A Photographer’s Delight

We received this letter from Robert Bolton, a photographer from Wellsville, Utah, who was delighted with his trip and the photographic opportunities in Copper Canyon.

Dear California Native,

Respecting my recent trip to Copper Canyon with your company, to begin Rob was an outstanding tour guide in all respects. He is highly competent, knows his facts and he was a pleasure to be with. Rob worked diligently to meet the various requests of tour participants. In summary, I count Rob as a new friend.

In regards to the trip itself, it was a thorough adventure. It seemed in some ways as though I was stepping back in time one hundred and fifty years – except for the modern amenities. I particularly enjoyed the cultural aspects of the sojourn, dealing with remote peoples and villages.

Batopilas was exceptional, and in my view the high point of the trip, although there were many other singular experiences as well. This remote village was a joy to visit, and, as I am a serious photographer, a pictorial feast. I spent the first afternoon there making pictures of the town and colorful facades. I would have enjoyed spending an additional day in Batopilas. Another aspect of this particular experience was observing the village inhabitants interacting with one another. They take time to enjoy one another’s company, something that is disappearing in western culture.

Further, this is the first time I have ridden a train since I was a child, other than a brief experience in Europe this past September. I thoroughly enjoyed the train and the various cultural experiences along the rails.

Our first nights stay at Torres Del Fuerte in El Fuerte was a special treat. The old world charm at this hotel was particularly memorable. I would have enjoyed spending a bit more time at this venue.

Throughout our travels the food was great. In particular, the cooking at the restaurant in Batopilas and at Diego’s – Paraiso del Oso – was outstanding. One other note: I had some of the best guacamole of my life at a small restaurant in Creel that Rob took us to.

To conclude, I’ll not soon forget this outstanding travel experience. Thank you for a wonderful adventure.

Robert Bolton
Wellsville, UT

Thank you Mr. Bolton. And we invite others to share their impressions, photographs, and videos of their California Native trips.
Lee Klein