Batopilas, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
Batopilas was established as a mining town in the late-17th century in the gorge of the same name. Due to the importance of its silver mines, Batopilas was the second place in Mexico---after the capital, Mexico City---to be wired for electricity. Many of its principal structures were built during “the Porfiriato,” an age of European-inspired elegance (1876--1910) when Porfirio Diaz ruled Mexico as self-proclaimed "president for life.” However the town today consists of little more than one main street with tiny tiendas for groceries and simple restaurants and lodgings.
Visitors splash in the river or hike, ride horses or mountain bike down dirt roads and single-track paths. One popular hike leads to multi-domed Satevó Cathedral, about 7 km (4.3 mi) downriver. The appearance of this whitewashed brick church in the middle of the wilderness is very moving. More ambitious are overnight backpacking or biking trips to the tiny towns of Cerro Colorado or Munerachi via the Camino Real, over which mule trains once carried Batopilas' silver to Chihuahua City.
Creel is the usual staging point for groups heading to Batopilas. Ninety-six km (60 mi) and 1,219 meters (4,000 ft) into the gorge, Cañón de la Bufa is a great place to stop for excellent photo opportunities and day hikes, too. About 25 km (16 mi) beyond La Bufa---and another heart-stopping hour of driving---brings you to Batopilas, a unique river destination on the canyon floor.
This quiescent town can be reached by bus, truck, burro, horse, or mountain bike. Deep gorges like the Batopilas are accessed via a serpentine road with sheer drop-offs: reasonably safe, but not for the faint of heart. 4x4 trucks can be rented inexpensively in Creel by individual travelers, but those who want to explore off the beaten track should hire a guide.
Apart from the danger of getting lost, this lonely, sun-kissed terrain is the perfect venue for marijuana plantations, and a lost hiker might stumble across a security guard toting an M-16. Fortunately, locally based guides and knowledgeable tour operators offer access to this magnificent world of striated gorges, pink- and copper-hued peaks, and iconoclastic mission churches.
More places to visit and outdoor activities:
- The aqueduct, built to supply the mines with electrical power and water, which still supplies the town today
- Across the Batopilas River, the ruined mansion of Alexander Shepherd, former governor of Washington, D.C. and Batopilas entrepreneur
- Day hikes to villages above Batopilas, popular with birders and other naturalists
- Rugged expeditions of two to four days to Urique, in the canyon of the same name
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