Nacho Kino

Missing a Tutuburi

Copper Canyon Kino Springs campsite
Camping at Kino Springs


The countryside opened up as the Silver Trail left the Valley of the Churches. Our group of seven had passed a young Tarahumara man (the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon) earlier in the day and I’d asked about Nacho Kino, an old Tarahumara whom 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 begins}.

I’d hoped to introduce him to the others when we passed by his log house the following day. The wiry old man was the embodiment of pure happiness and positive perspective. I’d stopped and visited with him several times previously, and the experience had always served to brighten my day, and I wanted to share that with the group. With a broad smile on his face, he’d once told me how he’d come back there to the valley of his birth to die. And how he had all the good stuff around him that a person could ever really want—a fine dog, prolific apple tree, and plenty of family and friends nearby. Since visiting with him this time around just wasn’t going to happen, I 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 encounter, our group continued backpacking along the trail toward our anticipated campsite on a mesa just above Nacho Kino’s house. On the next day, we planned to go from there all the way to a place on the Rio Conchos called Huajochic. That particular section was a long haul, but I figured that we’d break it up with a short visit with the old man. That would still leave us with the better part of the day to get there and with the added bonus of having had a nice rest in the middle of it. Now, I reasoned, that since we wouldn’t be making that stop, we’d at least have that much more daylight to work with.

As mentioned, we were a group of seven. It included 5 teenagers, myself, and another leader, Ryan. We were backpacking a portion of the fabled trail which connects the silver mines and the town of Batopilas at the bottom of Batopilas Canyon to Chihuahua City, some 250 miles to the north. The trail was developed and used for hauling tons of silver via mule train, wagon, and railroad ultimately up to the U.S. with supplies and household goods (including a grand piano of all things) back in the opposite direction. The route was used regularly up until the 1920s and then more sporadically until about the time of WWII. At that point, it became abandoned and forgotten on a large scale, although various parts of it remained actively used for local traffic even up to the present day.

In 2004, I was involved with a group that reconnected the various pieces of the trail between Batopilas and the mountain town of Carachic some 125 miles to its north. Our goal was to help in the creation of a long-distance hiking, horse packing, and backpacking trail that would take adventurous travelers into the remote and spectacular backcountry of Copper Canyon. And on this particular trip, we were backpacking a 40-mile section of that route.

We were going northward on the part of the trail that started near the remnants of the overnight station known as Pilares. Ultimately, we planned to pass by the ruins of another station called 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.

At the northern end of the rock-spire filled Valley of the 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 and passed to the side of a small and seemingly deserted village before beginning to gradually climb. The trail eventually steepened as we moved up onto the actual mesa. It crossed a rocky section and stayed just below the ridgeline before finally dumping us out onto a flat and thickly forested area on top. Once there, we found a good place to camp and began setting up with just enough time to do what needed to be done to be ready for sleep by dark.

Everyone put their packs down and immediately began setting up tents and fetching water from the spring. By 7, we were all sitting around and waiting for the supper water to boil when the same young Tarahumara man whom we’d seen earlier in the day just appeared. He stood off on the edge of the firelight and obviously had something to say. I was a bit confused by it all initially. I’d never felt at all threatened anywhere in the Copper Canyon backcountry. And right then 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 the moment? What would it mean to a 16-year-old from middle America or even a 50-year-old like me? My mind buzzed in excitement.

I seamlessly went into mental rationalization mode, figuring out the logistics of how to make it work. Just as a plan was solidifying itself in my mind, the slightly inebriated way in which he’d slurred his words while extending the invitation abruptly came to the forefront.  Visions of corn-beer drinking, teenage 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 suddenly overwhelmed my thoughts. And I 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,  fantastic opportunity missed. But my pragmatic side told me, profound disaster averted. The Tarahumara shook his head in acknowledgment, smiled, and disappeared back into the brush.

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

After the Tarahumara vanished, everyone in our group began talking, asking questions, and mostly trying to figure out what’d just happened. We discussed it for a few moments, and I was convinced that both the details of the Tutuburi and the invitation for us to attend had captivated the minds of the five younger people. Even though none of them spoke Spanish or completely understood what had occurred, they each seemed outwardly fascinated by the events. But then, a discussion about Sardine guts started up and the Tutuburi episode moved to the past.


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.