Nacho Kino

Missing a Tutuburi

Copper Canyon Kino Springs campsite
Camping at Kino Springs

The countryside opened up as the trail left the Valley of the Iglesias. Our group of seven had passed a young Tarahumara (the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon) earlier in the day and I’d asked about Nacho Kino, an old Tarahumara man that I’d met while mapping the Silver Trail a few years before.

“He’s not at his ranchito. He’s gone to the Tutuburi in Kisochi. I’m on my way there, now”, he said.

{Tutuburi- An event held periodically in Tarahumara villages or ranchitos essentially to ask Oruame (God in simplistic terms) for something, such as rain for crops. After dancing the Yamari, the Tutuburi is danced. Once the dance is done, the feasting and associated drinking begins}.

I’d hoped to see the old man and introduce him to the others when we passed by his log house the following day. There was something about the little old man that brightened my day whenever I’d stopped and visited with him before and I simply wanted to share that with the others. He was somehow the embodiment of simple, pure happiness that I couldn’t quite describe, but wanted others to experience for themselves. He’d related one time, with a constant smile on his face, how he’d come back there to the valley of his birth to die, and how he had all the good stuff around there that a person could ever really want—a warm house, good dog, healthy and prolific apple tree and plenty of family and friends close by. Anyway, visiting with him this time around just wasn’t going to happen, so I just told the young Tarahumara to tell him “saludos de david, el gringo”.

He said he would and then we all moved on, in our different directions.

After the trail meeting, we continued on with our plan, which called for us to backpack the four or so more miles from where we were at that moment up to a remote ridge top above Nacho Kino’s ranchito, where there was a small spring, which we called Kino Springs; camp there that night and then go all the way to Huajochic the next day. For that long day, I’d figured we’d have a short break at the old man’s house and after stopping and visiting for a while would still have the better part of a solid day of hard, Copper Canyon backpacking along the newly mapped trail, to get there. Now, I reasoned, that at least since we wouldn’t be making that stop, we’d have that much more daylight to work with.

We were a group of seven, including 5 teenagers, myself and another leader, Ryan—backpacking a section of the fabled trail which runs between Batopilas and its abandoned silver mines at the bottom of Batopilas Canyon up toward Chihuahua City, some 250 miles to the north. Beginning in the late 1800’s, the trail was developed and used for hauling literally tons of silver via mule train, wagon and railroad ultimately to the U.S. with supplies and household goods (including a grand piano of all things) back in the other direction. The route was used regularly up until the 1920’s and then more sporadically until about the time of WWII and eventually became overcome by time, trains and roads to become mostly lost and forgotten- at least until a group of us located, re-traced and mapped it in 2004.

(A further note regarding that particular mining operation: The area was mined for silver at various times dating back to the 1700’s and finally, by an American company, which became known as the Batopilas Mining Company, around the turn of the 19th century. There were four, manned, rock stations along the backcountry part of the route that led there along with a more extensive one in the town of Carachic, where an actual stage road began. The ore was hauled some 125 miles via mule train to there, then transferred onto wagons for the final 125 miles on to the Banco Minero in the city of Chihuahua, where it was stored and then loaded onto rail cars for the for the final portion of its journey. The stations along the mule train section of the route were each spaced about a day’s mule ride apart, so that nights were spent along the way in relative security and comfort. Each one had a small kitchen, sleeping quarters for the leaders, a windowless store room for the silver and corrals for the mules. La Conducta, as the mule trains were known, typically consisted of about 100 pack animals along with assorted walking and mounted arrieros and well-armed guards.)

We were backpacking northward on the section of the trail that started near the remnants of the station known as Pilares. Ultimately, we’d pass by the ruins of the station at Huajochic, where we’d cross the waters of the Rio Conchos as we headed on toward Carachic. The trail for us would actually end a few miles short of Carachic in the small town of Baquiriachic. In all, we’d ultimately walk about 40 miles.

At the northern end of the rock-spire filled Valley of the Iglesias (Churches), the trail made a marked turn to the north as the creek we’d been following joined another. Once we rounded the corner I could see the Kino Springs mesa sticking up above the lower hills a mile or so ahead. We worked our way across the valley floor, passing to the side of a small, seemingly deserted village, and then began climbing gradually. Eventually, the trail steepened a bit as we moved up onto the actual mesa. It cut across a rocky section and stayed just below the top as it crossed up and to the north, finally dumping us out onto a relatively flat, forested and mostly dirt area up on the edge of the mesa top. I knew it would be there, so wasn’t surprised when it was. It was a good place to camp and we arrived there with just enough time to do what needed to be done in order for us all to be ready for sleep by dark.

Everyone set their packs down and immediately went to work setting up tents and fetching water from the spring. By 7 o’clock, we were all sitting around, mostly leaning against trees and rocks, waiting for the supper water to boil, when suddenly, the same young Tarahumara man whom we’d seen earlier in the day just appeared, standing off to the side and with something obviously to say. I was a bit confused by it all initially. I’d never felt at all threatened anywhere along the Silver Trail before, or for that matter, anywhere in the Copper Canyon backcountry, and at that very moment we were in the Nacho Kino realm, so it just made no sense to me that there was anything negative going on, but I still had to wonder.

Then, he spoke. He said that Nacho Kino had invited us to come to the Tutuburi and that he, the young man, would take us there. I was immediately overcome and overwhelmed by the gesture and its prospects. Seven white boys from the United States attending a Tutuburi in the wilds of the Sierra Tarahumara. How could we not seize on the moment? What would it mean to a 16-year-old from middle America?  Shoot, what would it mean to a 50-something?

I seamlessly went into mental rationalization mode. The water didn’t have to boil right then, we had lights for traveling in the dark, our trail pace could be pushed the next day if need be and, besides, we had a short trail day scheduled in the midst of it all anyway. I was trying to figure out how we could logistically make it work, when the slightly inebriated way he’d slurred his words while extending the invitation came to the forefront of my thinking. That, brought to mind visions of tesquino drinking, drumming, American boys getting into a moment they weren’t prepared for, and me trying to explain it all to a parent in an Austin coffee shop– and I simply turned down the offer.

“Thank him”, I said. “but we have a lot to do tomorrow and need to rest”.

True, it was late and we still had a long way to go. A part of me said, amazing opportunity missed. My pragmatic side said, profound disaster averted. The Tarahumara shook his head in acknowledgement, smiled and disappeared back into the brush.

The offer and refusal part seemed simple and straight-forward enough. Even though the boys didn’t speak a lot of Spanish, they could pick out a few words, see the smiles and feel the goodwill, and ultimately got the gist of what was happening. And so, for that moment and in their minds, it was some sort of cut and dried event that they weren’t going to be a part of, but they could feel good about, nonetheless.

After the Tarahumara vanished completely, everyone in our group began talking, asking questions and essentially trying to figure out what’d just happened. We discussed the whole episode for a moment and at the time I figured that the details of the Tutuburi and invitation for us to attend didn’t mean so much to the five younger people, especially since they mostly didn’t speak Spanish or fully comprehend the significance of what was happening anyway. In another instant, the conversation turned to the lack of mosquitoes and what was for dessert, and for that moment, the episode moved into the past.

PENTAX Image
Valley of the Iglesias Copper Canyon

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.