Location: Batopilas Canyon; Pacific Slope
Altitude: 578 Meters / 1896 Feet
Founded: 1632 when Spaniards found silver
Pueblo Magico Designation: 1991
Economy: Mining for gold, silver, lead, copper; Forestry
Seat Population: 1220 (2010)
Name: Derived from the Raramuri word Bachotigori, which translates as "Place of enclosed waters."
The twisting road that carries visitors and locals alike, from high altitudes to the deepest base of the canyon is a mesmerizing and seemingly dangerous path that edges mountainous cliffs, detouring massive, abandoned boulders that have crushed the pavement from high above, with their monstrosity. This winding road of ruin is as hair-raising as it is exciting, for it devours bending corners, steeply descending into the tropics and delivering guests to the sleepy village of Batopilas.
Though the Spanish were mining ore in Batopilas by 1632, it wasn’t until 1708 when Pedro de la Cruz founded the town. By the 1870’s, news of Batopilas had surpassed her desolate location, catching the ears of Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd. Though historians often refer to Shepherd as the “Father of Modern Washington” due to the infrastructure he oversaw during his short three year term as the D.C. Governor, he was also disgraced for gross-overspending. Upon committing bankruptcy in 1880, Shepherd left with his family for Batopilas.
A fellow American named John Robinson had discovered an ore deposit in Batopilas, but was impeded by the difficulty of transporting the raw material out of this harsh region. Shepherd purchased the mine from Robinson for $600,000 – then set about with a unique plan. Instead of transporting raw ore from the depths of the canyons, Shepherd researched and funded a processing facility right in Batopilas. Casting bars of silver made for much easier transport by mule to the city of Chihuahua.
Between 1880 and 1906, 20 million ounces of silver were mined out of Batopilas – bringing incredible riches to this remote area. Shepherd’s wealth also resulted in the construction of the Porfirio Diaz mine tunnel, which remains deserted. Between building bridges and an aqueduct that still delivers water to the locals, Shepherd also constructed a hydroelectric plant. It is mind-boggling to imagine this hidden town of the north-west was actually the second town, behind Mexico City, to have electricity. When Shepherd died in 1902, the town had grown from 400 to 5000 residents. Today, the town sustains a population of approximately 1000. The hydroelectric plant was restored in 1988 and still powers the town.
Other than a few passionate old-timers who continue to pan for gold, the mining industry of Batopilas is but a memory from the past.