Sun Dublan

We had heard much about the Barrancas de Chihuahua and read about them in the tourist Brochures. We had read about the romantic town of Batopilas with its isolation and rich mines and history of the past. We found in the membership records the names of some people living in Batopilas and decided to go down into that Barranca town and see if we could find them. We had written our children about the coming trip and Jenene wrote and said that she wanted to go with us. She came down with her friend Sharon and the next morning we were off on the big adventure. We went up to Creel and stopped there to see the town and spend the night. The next morning we went on to Cusarare where we decided to stay and go down to the falls.The Hotel had on a special promotion rate to stay at the hotel because it was new and not very well know as yet. They had made it in a rustic style and used only kerosene lamps for lighting and all of the décor was designed to depict the old days. After registering at the Hotel we prepared to go down to see the Cusarare falls. Sharon was having trouble with her knees so we rented some horses for Sharon and Naoma to ride. The owner of the horses went along to take care of his horses and to be our guide. Jenene and I walked along with Sharon and Naoma on the horses  crossing and re-crossing the Cusarare river on the way down. The way was open along the  river until we came to the falls. Then the canyon boxed up and we walked in heavy timber and undergrowth. It was during the rainy Season and the falls were running big and were very beautiful and filled the canyon with the roar of the water. The falls were about 80 feet wide and the water fell about two hundred feet into a very rugged and picturesque canyon. We took plenty of pictures. Jenene being the photographer she is balanced on a point of rock where she could look down into the boiling roaring water at the foot of the falls.

On our return trip back to the hotel we came onto different places where Tarahumara Women were sitting with thick pine bark scattered around them. They were carving little dolls and animals out of the bark to sell to us as we came back. They had some very nice detailed carvings and it was fun to watch them cut and carve the soft reddish brown bark of the big pine trees.

We ;spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the hotel curio shop and enjoying the scenery and the tour of the hotel rooms etc. later in the evening we were invited in to supper by lamplight. We were served by pretty Tarahumara girls in there native costumes. Jenene liked the pretty sandals that one of the girls was wearing. She asked her where she had gotten her sandals and she replied that her father had made them for her. She told us that she and her family lived just over the hill in Cusarare town. Jenene asked if we could go over there and ask her father to make Jenene some sandals. She replied that she thought he would have time to make them because he did not have any trips at that time. Her father took tourists down into the Barranca de Cobre to see the mines and the old Machinery that was left. He put the tourists backpacks on burros and they all walked down the hazardous trail into the deep canyon. The next morning when we went over there the river had too much water in it for us to cross in the van and the house was on the other side of the river nestled in the pine forest. There was a big field of ripe corn ready to harvest in front of the house. The Burros were grazing along the lane outside the corn field. It looked like a happy home and a good place to live.

The next morning early we had a very good breakfast and they prepared us some Tortas for lunch and we were on our way to find the fabled Batopilas. Very soon after we left Cusarare the oiled highway gave way to a graveled road. We traveled along observing majestic mountains and the different types of trees. We were interested to see as we went farther south that there were many Pinos Tristes (sad pines) with the pine needles all hanging down as if they were truly sad. We stopped at the Urique canyon bridge to look down into the deep river gorge. This is up nearer to the head of the Urique river which runs Through the famous Barranca del Cobre. Just before the bridge we passed through Umira where we were pleased to see apple orchards loaded with beautiful apples that were ready to be picked. We had seen many scattered Tarahumara ranches along the washes and rivers through the mountains. This was all Tarahumara country.

Finally we came to the road that took off the main graveled road with a small sign nailed to a tree reading Batopilas. There was a small store there that sold Gasoline so we bought twenty litros just to make sure that we did not run out before getting back to Creel.

We traveled along the high ridges through pine forests, occasionally passing Tarahumara ranches and small settlements. After passing through a small town where school was in session we traveled down a wash and suddenly came to the Devisadero. The road here was carved in the rock just wide enough for one vehicle to travcl on. On the left was a cliff of rock but on the right was a frightening chasm. Two little Tarahumara boys were sitting on the edge of the cliff by the side of the road. They were casually looking down into the deep Batopilas canyon. As soon as we stopped and got out to look at the country they left. As I neared the edge I felt a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach and I was awed by the vastness of that spacious canyon. From where we were standing the cliff dopped straight down for over a thousand feet then slanted steeply to where in the blue hazy distance of nearly two miles we could see a tiny bridge that crossed the river below. To our left we could see the white ribbon of the narrow dirt road that wound back and forth down to be lost behind the uneven terrain of the side of the canyon. I remember Naoma's comment echoing our own sentiments, "Are we going down there"?

We traveled on, bending around the solid rock road through a little tunnel and along the face of the steep mountainside hoping that we would not meet a truck or a bus coming up put of the canyon. I thought how would we pass another vehicle on this narrow track. Soon we were lower and an occasional wide place in the road eased my worries.

About half way down we came suddenly to a couple of Adobe houses built next to the road on switch back turn. Some little Girls were waiting for us holding out some Tarahumara dolls for us to buy. I noticed that the potted plants were hung high on the walls of the house. I soon understood why when I saw a boy driving a  big herd of goats up the road to meet us. The plants were high enough so that the goats could not eat them off. We examined the dolls and they were beautifully made in typical dress. After buying some of the dolls we continued on until we finally came to the bridge that we had seen from high above. After taking pictures and resting awhile we went on our way along the road that wound  along the side of the mountain down the canyon. We soon passed the yellow mountains of mine tailings from La Bufa Mine. As we passed the few houses we saw that they had been built where the yellow tailings had been leveled off to make a flat area on the steep mountain side. As we looked back at the yellow mass we could see a herd of goats laying down almost invisible against the yellow hillside.

We had been in the very cool pine country but as we came down we noticed that it became warmer and warmer until down in the bottom we could feel the tropical heat. It became even hotter as we continued on down the Batopilas canyon. Finally we arrived at the town and crossed the bridge and stopped in the shade of a big Lavalama tree that was growing out of the big rock retainer wall on the steep hill side. Jenene and Sharon were off to take pictures and Mom and I were relaxing in the shade. We saw a young Tarahumara boy carrying, balanced on his shoulder, a big pine beam. While I was taking a video of him I was calculating the weight of that beam. It was hand hewn with an ax out of a pine tree. It measured 4x8 inches x 16 feet long and was made of green pine. Yet he was walking along with it balanced on his shoulder without holding it with his hands. He acted like it didn't weigh much and was breezing gracefully along. He was bare all except for his breechclout and huaraches. I marveled at his physical condition. He was slightly built and only about 5 feet 6 inches tall. We later  found out from some others carrying their beams down out of the mountains that it took them two days to hew them out of a tree with an ax and then it took them two days to carry them down out of the mountains. They sold those beams in Batopilas for $24.00 Pesos.

After  the boy passed with his beam two ladies came along the street one was riding an old mule in a dilapidated old saddle and the other was walking along chatting and smiling with the older lady on the mule. After they had passed I went over to chat with a lady who was sitting in the shaded doorway of her house working on an embroidery piece. After passing the time of day I asked her if she had seen the Mormon missionaries when they were here. She answered that she had. I asked her if she knew any members of the church that lived here. She said that the lady that had passed talking to the lady on the mule was a "Mormona". I asked her where she lived and she said that she lived up river.

A young girl with blonde hair and blue eyes came along selling bread. I asked her if she knew any members of the Mormon Church. She answered that she was a member of that church. I asked her where she lived and she answered that she lived up river. I asked her if she would take us to her home but she said that she had to sell her bread. I asked her if I bought all of her bread if she would take us. She just held out the bread and I bought it all. I then wanted her to take us to her home but she said that she had to wait for her father. So we could not go now. Soon a man came along the street and I went out to meet him with some membership slips in my hand and asked him if he knew a man by the name of Ramon Gill. He answered that he was Ramon Gil. I explained that I was the President of the District and had come to find the members of the church. He turned to his daughter, the bread girl, and told her to take us to their home up river.

She led us along the trail up river. This was a trail with the river on the right of us and the steep mountain on our left. Up above us on the side of the mountain was a ditch of water. This water came from an up river dam that had been put in many years before to divert the water along the ditch to run the Hydro electric plant that had supplied electricity to the town since the days of the prosperous silver mines. There were muddy places along the trail from the seepage of the water in the ditch. We came to one place that was a wide mud puddle where the whole area was littered with ripe Guayabas. I picked one up and ate it and it was delicious having been ripened on the tree. The tree above us was still loaded with ripe fruit. It was along the trail and in no ones garden so no one claimed the fruit. Everyone had plenty of all kinds of fruit in their gardens for their own use. It was not feasible to haul it out over the rough mountain road to the nearest town six hours away.

Soon we came to a steep trail that climbed up and passed under a flume in the ditch. It was rather muddy and full of trash but we made our way up to a little two room Adobe house on a little level place on the side of the mountain. The mother was out in the yard washing clothes on a wash board in a big tub. A little girl was sitting near by and four little boys between the ages of four and ten came to stare silently at us. The mother came to greet us wiping her hands on her apron. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and was a nice looking woman who we thought was rather young to have so many children. All of her children were beautiful kids with blonde hair and blue eyes. I remember thinking that all of those little boys could really be something if they could only grow up in the programs of the church. We talked with the Lady explaining that we were trying to help them get a small branch going in the town. We asked her how many members she thought we be able to come. She said that her mother lived up on the road  but could come down to stay with her for the weekend. She said that there were two families that lived up river that could probably attend. Apparently they were her cousins.

It was getting late and we needed to get back to town before dark. We asked about her husband. She said that he had gone up to their corn field to keep away the Cholugos during the night and that he would probably come back late tomorrow morning. Naoma and I walked back to the van and went on up the one street to the main plaza.

We met Jenene and Sharon and went to a little bed and breakfast hotel that had been recommended to us. There we met the owner of the little hotel who welcomed us in English. She was a nice woman and charged us five dollars a person per night and explained that she would prepare us a light supper and breakfast but that the noon meal we would have to eat at some other restaurant. Her name was Monse and when she found out that we had been to see the Gil family and that we were the presidents of the district for the Mormon Church she was very happy. She said that she tried to help the girl when ever she could and that the family was very poor. When we said the blessing she joined in and wanted us to pray with her for the poor people that had been in a bad earthquake in some distant part of the world. She accepted us immediately as fellow Christians

That night as we slept in the rooms in the garden of little hotel we were awakened several times by a bang! bang! on the tin roof of the rooms. The next morning we discovered that the ripe Mangos were falling off the trees and hitting the tin roof. We picked some up for our breakfast of delicious ripe Mangos.

On our way back up the canyon on the way out we met Ramon Gill and a big Tarahumara man dressed in full blouse and breech clout. We stopped to talk to them I especially wanted to talk to Ramon to see if we could find some way to get a little branch going in Batopilas.

While I was talking to Ramon Mom, Jenene and Sharon were talking to the Tarahumara man. He said that his name was Domingo and that he lived up in Yerba Buena. He explained that he had a big family and that some of his girls were in Parral going to school. He also invited us to go to Yerba Buena to visit him and his family. Jenene was fascinated with the big wide woven belt that he was wearing and she asked him about it and he told her that the Tarahumaras wore them wrapping them twice around their waist and overlapped in the back. He told them that these belts had many uses besides being a support belt. They were used many times in a carrying head band or around the shoulders to help carry heavy loads. Jenene asked him who had made his belt and the said that his wife was a good weaver and that she had made it. Jenene then asked if he would have his wife weave her one if she would give him the money to buy it. He took off his beautiful belt and sold it to Jenene.

I asked Ramon about the possibility of him helping to get a little branch going in Batopilas. He said that he was gone away from home a lot because he had a business of guiding tourist on trips over the mountain down into the  Urique Canyon. He said that he used his burros to carry their packs and they all walked over the steep rough trail. He explained that when he was not taking people over the mountain that he worked on the mine tailings to gather Silver ore to sell.

I asked him if he would be able to do a better business with the tourists going around the places of interest in the Batopilas canyon if he had horses for them to ride and pack mules and burros to carry their camp. His face lit up with that wonderful idea and he said that he would then be able to really attract a lot of people.

I told him that if he would come to Casas Grandes that I would give him some horses and mules and saddles and Aparejos to set up his business with. I also told him that he could pay me gradually as his business permitted. He was very  enthused with idea and promised to go to receive the animals and equipment the next week.

We told our friends goodbye and continued on up to where the mother of the members of the Church lived with one of her sons that was not a member. We stopped at the goat ranch and inquired about the lady that was a member of the Church. They explained that she was not there that she had gone down into the canyon with some other ladies to pick Chile Piquin. We were impressed with the little blonde girls that we talked to that lived at this lonely ranch high on the mountain side on a switchback of the Batopilas road.

We  traveled on and had a late dinner in Creel and traveled on toward San Juanito. Just out of Bocoyna it got dark and we decided to pull off into the forest and make camp. We saw a dim road that led off the highway into the pine forest and onto a pretty level mesa. There we stopped and set up camp. We got out the equipment and had a good supper and sat around the fire a little while drinking herb tea. We set up a tent for Jenene and Sharon and made them a bed with rubber foam mats and sleeping bags. Mom and I slept in our bed in the van very comfortably. We always carried our bed with the seats down level and with about eight inches of rubber foam pads. Over the pads we had a fitted sheet and a top sheet covered with our Goose Down Comforter. The next morning after a breakfast of hotcakes we traveled on home. 

The next week Ramon Gil came and we went out to the ranch and picked five animals. Three horses and two mules. I also gave him three saddles and two pack outfits. He was very well pleased with the animals and the equipment. We hired a truck and  loaded the animals and tied the saddles and pack equipment on the side boards of the truck. I learned later that the trucker only took Ramon and his load to the end of the paved highway. He would not go any farther so Ramon unloaded the animals and saddled them up and drove them all the way down to Batopilas.

I wish that I could tell of a successful and happy ending to this venture but I cannot. Ramiro Lucero my counselor and I went down to Batopilas about a month later to follow up on our desire to get a little branch going. Ramiro said that it always made him a little bit hesitant to drive down that narrow steep road into the vast Batopilas Canyon. As we looked across the canyon I could see a mountain that reminded me of the tower of Babel. I told Ramiro that I was naming that mountain the tower of Babel. He laughed and said that it certainly looked like it could be a tower.

We crossed the bridge again in Batopilas and stopped in the shade of the big Lavalama Tree and prepared to go up river to see if we could find Ramon Gil and his family. A man came along riding a fat pretty mule and stopped to talk to us. As we talked he said, "you are the one that gave that no good Ramon Gil all of those beautiful Animals." I told him that I was and that I had given them to him so he could start a tourist business with them. He then began  to tell me about how in that country horses and mules needed to be fed because they could not graze except along the river bottom. He said the mountains were so steep and rugged that only goats could feed on them. He said that Ramon had sold all of the animals and equipment and had drunk up the money and left his family as poor and hungry as before. He said that two men had gotten in a fight over the pretty pinto horse that Ramon had sold and one of them had killed the other.

The man spent two or three hours talking to us about the details of what had happened to the animals that I had given to Ramon. He said that we would not find Ramon because he had left town to keep from being put in jail.

We were  rather disappointed about not being able to form a branch in the little town because of the lack of worthy priesthood holders. It was late so we went to Monse's bed and breakfast hotel to spend  the night. Monse confirmed her version of Ramon's negligence in taking care of his family saying that liquor was the curse of the Devil and that many men mistreated their families because of it.

The next morning we had an early breakfast and drove home. It took us six hours to drive from Batopilas to Creel, then  I drove on to La Junta to drop off Ramiro then on home. I looked at my watch as I drove in the driveway at home and it had been exactly twelve hours since we had left Batopilas that morning. I had driven as fast as possible or as was safe on those mountain roads. I was plenty tired and hungry and very glad to be home again.

My reasons for giving Ramon the animals and equipment were as follows: He was the only male member of the church in that whole region and the only hope at that time for getting a branch started. I was anxious to do anything to get the work going everywhere I went in the mission without counting the cost of travel time or anything else. I was inspired to give Ramon this chance to grow in his business and better take care of his beautiful family. I am not sorry that I gave him that chance because I at least did my part in trying to help him. If I had not done it I would have regretted it and would never have known whether it was my fault that the branch was not established in Batopilas.

Our next trip to Batopilas was the next year in August and our Daughter Susann was with us. The first night out  of Dublan we arrived in Creel late in the evening and since we had our camping equipment with us we decided to go on out to Lake Arareco and find a camping spot in the pines there. We pulled off the highway onto a little side road and set up a kitchen fly because it was raining a slow drizzly rain. We set up a new tent for Susie and I began to fix supper. I put on a big pot of herb  tea. My special recipe is Canela, Laurel, Perrermint, Lemon Grass, Yellow Dock, Comfrey, Marjoram, Rose Mary and Spearmint. We had the Tea all steeped and made up and were just warming up the burritos we had brought when a group of Tarahumara women and children suddenly appeared out of the night and came under the kitchen fly and stood by the fire out of the rain. They were chatting among themselves and seemed glad for the shelter and the warm fire. The Children were staring at us so we began to pass out cups of hot Tea and warm burritos. They all ate slowly and politely. The old Grandmother soon finished her tea and accepted another cup. Before she was through she had drunk four cups of tea. She would smile at me when I would pour her another cup. We asked them where they were from and they replied "Pa Ya". When we asked them what place they were from they finally told us that they were from San Andres.

After this pleasant visit with us they gathered up their packs and went silently out into the dark rainy night just as they had come into our shelter. We understood the Tarahumara way. They believe that all of the earth belongs to God and we his children share with each other. They accepted our hospitality as a matter of course and had shared with us a few minutes in trust and friendship.

We ate our late supper and got ready for bed. Naoma and I slept in our Van where we carried a good bed. We were Comfortable and warm but Susie soon told us that her tent was leaking. We had not taken the time to seal the seams of the new tent. She moved into a place where there were no drips and spent the rest of the night there. 

After the breath taking trip over very awe inspiring and scenic road into the vast Batopilas canyon we arrived at Monse's little hotel and rented some rooms for the night. She told us that a new road had been opened down to a mine down river and that it passed by the Lost Mission of Satevo. The next morning we went across the river to visit the ruins of the big Hacienda that an American that had run the Batopilas mine had built. This Mr. Shepherd had married a Spanish lady and had built this big brick Hacienda to live in. He must have tried to outdo some of the other men in the town because there are many big beautiful mansions in the town. These  ruins sprawl over about 5 acres of land and included some rooms where they washed the ore and  refined and smelted the Silver.

There was a man there working slowly with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. He said he was planning to restore te Hacienda and make it into a big tourist attraction complete with swimming pool and all that goes with it. We commented to each other that he was going to need more than a wheelbarrow and shovel to do all of that big job of restoration. Susie was busy taking pictures of this big wonderful ruin. In our imagination we could see how this must have been a big beautiful place to entertain all of the elite of Batopilas in it's day of glory.

We went back and prepared to go down to find the Lost Mission of Satevo. We traveled south along a newly bulldozed dirt road that went along the hillside above the river. In places where the country widened out we could see some houses and little homes hidden in their garden beneath the tropical plants and fruit trees. Some of these were surrounded by huge organ cacti that abounded all over the hills along that part of the river.

We rounded a bend and took in the picture that we had seen on a tourist brochure. We were looking down river with the water glistening in the hot sun with a swinging bridge that swung high over the river from cliff to cliff. In the background we could see the fabled lost Mission in all it's glory of red brick with it's rounding roof and twin bell towers. Susie just had to get some snaps of that famous scene so we waited for to take all she wanted.

We hurried on to really see the lost mission we had heard so much about. Before the road had been carved many adventurous tourist from all over the world had come to walk down to see the ancient marvel with their backpacks and drinking water.

We drove up into the rock courtyard of the Old mission and were glad to see the small door open welcoming us into see the inside. We admired the huge double doors that were gray with age as we entered in by the small door. Just inside on either side were doors that opened into the high bell towers on each side. We marveled at the big empty room with the high arched dome of the roof. To our left on the wall was a little rock basin that must have been used for baptisms. At ;the high south end were a few statues of saints a prominent one of the Virgin Mary and a crucifix on the right of the built up alter platform against the back wall. We noticed that the acoustics were very good and we found that if we would stand on one side near the wall an talk very low it could be heard very clearly over near the opposite wall. The priest must have used this method to impress the Indians when they confessed on one wall while he was on the other.

The dirt floor had been dampened and swept previous to our arrival and the saints were clean and bright so someone was taking care of the old place. Out side we walked around taking pictures and noticed that a small Lavalama tree was growing on the west wall of the Mission high up nearly to the roof. I made a mental note that they needed to remove that tree or it would break the wall as it's roots grew and expanded. When we came to the Bell tower I recounted the following story to Susie.

Early in the sixteen hundreds two Jesuit Priests came into the sierra Madre to convert the Indians. They stopped in the Urique canyon and gathered some Tarahumara Indians around them and built a big mission church. Complete with the big beautiful bells from Spain. When they had finished their new building one of the Priests left and traveled over the high mountains to the southeast and found an open place on the Batopilas River and there established himself and gathered some Tarahumaras around  him and built another mission church, a duplicate of the one in the Urique Canyon. Finally when the long awaited Bell came from spain it had to be carried in by the Tarahumaras from the west coast. When the Priest and his helpers were up in the tower trying to place the bell in it's place, the Priest fell to his death. The Tarahumara flock left without a Shepherd drifted away and the beautiful building was abandoned and unused for centuries. It was so well constructed that it weathered the storms for over three hundred years until it was finally found and cleaned up by some faithful soul to be used by a family or two centuries later.

The Indians called it Satevo  the lonely place. That is what it is called today "The lost Mission of Satevo".

On our way back to Batopilas we saw a man in his Bee nets and clothing tending his Beehives near the road. We stopped to talk to him and learned that he had been  born and raised in Batopilas. He owned one of the big old mansions there. He now lived in Chihuahua but came frequently to work his Bees and take care of his house. He said that he would be going back to his house and would be pleased if we would visit him in his home in Batopilas. He said that it was the big mansion that was on the northeast corner of the plaza. We went on to Batopilas and had something to eat a got a little cooled off. Then decided to go visit our newly found friend and learn some history of Batopilas.

When we arrived he was busy getting ready to extract the honey from combs he had brought from the Beehives. He proudly showed us his extractor that he had made and had powered it with bicycle pedals with the chain going from the pedal sprocket to the smaller chain sprocket to turn the extractor. He said that the Bees made excellent honey from the desert flowers down along the river.

He took us around his place showing us first his garden and tropical fruit trees. He was especially proud of his big Papaya trees loaded with big beautiful Papayas. Then he took us into the house showing us some of the fine furniture that he still had left in the house. Then he told us that when he was a boy that there were no roads into Batopilas and everything that was brought in had to be brought in by mule back or Tarahumara back. He explained that he had made many trips to creel horse back with the mule trains to bring in supplies for his family. It took many days over steep mountain trails to bring anything into the town. He said that his father brought in fine furniture from France and that he had even brought in a Grand Piano for his wife who could play beautifully.

He explained that his father had contracted forty Tarahumara men to bring in the piano. The Tarahumaras had lashed  a pine pole on each side of the Piano with rawhide thongs and had put four men on each corner. They had carried that piano in over those steep rugged mountain trails by spelling off the men on each corner frequently. He said that it had taken them over a month to finally bring the beauriful Piano into their home.

He told us of the men their neighbors that were very rich and part owners of the mine. The Batopilas mines produced both Gold and Silver but more silver than Gold. One family when their daughter was to get married laid down a sidewalk of silver bars from their home to the Church for their daughter to walk on as she went to the church to get married. We took our leave thanking him for his kind attention and stories.

We next went across the street to visit the new big fancy hotel that was being built or I should say remodeled. An American company had bought a whole block of the fine old homes right in the center of town and were making it into a very nice and expensive hotel. They were making roomy suites with sitting rooms with fountains and tropical flowers in. the bedrooms were large and spacious with adjoining bathes with Sauna tubs  and fancy fixtures. They were planning to fly in their customers. They would have to enlarge the little airfield that was about 10 kilometers up river since it was for only very small light planes at the present.

We went back to Batopilas two years ago but nothing had been done about the air strip and the tourist were still coming into Batopilas by Suburban over that perilous road.

3/6/2003 Webmaster: Troy Bowman