Copahue History and Legends


The first people who recognized the quality of these hot springs were the aborigines.
In 1870, Dr. Pedro Vélez, a Chilean expatriate physician, got a lycense from Cacique Chenquel to take patients to Copahue.
The event awakened the interest of military doctors, like Dr. J. M. Cabezón and Dr. L. Maciel, who published in 1899 a book called "Los Baños Termales de Copahue."
In 1900 and 1903, the first samples of water were analysed by Dr. Enrique Herrero Ducloux, and at the same time, Engineer Lavenier presented a comparative report to the Ministry of Agriculture about Termas de Copahue and other hot springs in the country, where he emphasized the importance of these waters as regards their quality and excellent possibilities.

On 11 May, 1937, by decree Nº 105.433 of the Executive Power, " Reserva Nacional Copahue" was created, with an extension of 40.500 hectares under the jurisdiction of Parques Nacionales, then in 1950 passed to the jurisdiction of the Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica, and in 1962 to the province of Neuquén. On 28th July, 1988, by provincial law Nº 1762, the Ente Provincial de Termas del Neuquén was created.

Fotos: Gentileza de Rodolfo Dómina (


The Pehuén

Once upon a long ago, in the South of Argentina, there lived a tribe of mapuches.
In spite of the weather inclemencies, as during the winter the area would remain covered by snow, that place offered them what they needed to subsist.
During the summer, the land would turn green again and the tribe would get all the necessary provisions, except salt, which they should get very far, at the salt mines in the North and when the snow would not close the roads.
Then, the cacique Chacayal, with some men chosen by the tribe, would go out in search for such precious material.
Meanwhile, their wives and kids would stay home working as they waited for their return.
Around that year, the first snowfalls came and Chacayal had not returned. Then, his wife, fearing that something might have happened to him, called her son and asked him to go and find Chacayal.
The boy prepared his stuff and left immediately. It had began to snow heavily but he walked for days on end until he broke down and fell to the ground exhausted. It was then when in the distance he made out a pehuen brother. A strange tree in that location, which leaves ended in sharp points.
For the mapuches, this was a sacred tree and they worshipped it as a god. Then, Chacayal's son gathered his strength as he could and picked up to walk towards where the pehuén was to ask him for help. As tradition forbid to resume a trip without leaving an offering, he took off his fox fur shoes, made by his mother, and hung them from a branch.
Afterwards, he felt much better and continued walking with more strength although his bare feet would sink in the snow.
A few minutes later, he heard some voices and discovered a group of people camping around a bonfire to spend the night behind a hill. He approached them happily, thinking that his father might be among them, but they were from a tribe he did not know. However, they allowed him to sit by the fire to warm up and then have some food. He lay down, defeated b y tiredness.
But those men robbed him of everything he possessed while he was sleeping and abandoned him after tying his hands and feet.
So he was left there, alone, frozen and helpless. He could die because of the cold temperature or seized by a trapial or a hungry nahuel, which would surely be nearby.
When the day broke, the sun reflecting on the snow started to hurt his eyes. He desperately tried to get free from the ropes without any success.
He thought about his mother, and in spite of the huge distance between them, he started to call out her name.
At that very moment, his mother was having a dream. In her dream, she saw Chacayal dead and his son in danger. She heard his voice calling her and woke up in anguish.
Then, she resolved to immediately comply with the law of the tribe: she cut off her hair with the certainty that her husband had died and she set out in search for her son.
In the meantime, the boy, feeling that cold would penetrate his motionless body, kept on calling - niuque... niuque!!
Suddenly, when he opened his irritated eyes, he saw the pehuén in the distance with his shoes hanging from the branch and he desperately screamed: - If only you could turn into my mother... good tree!!
niuque, niuque come!! Come to save me... niuque!!
Then, in fright, he saw how the pehuén started to tear its roots from the ground. One by one, it took all its roots out and, once free, it started to walk slowly moving towards him, as if its roots were legs. When it got next to the boy, it spread out its branches over him to keep him from the cold and its sharp leaves would protect him from the wild animals.
Then, it dropped its kernels on him so that he would have something to eat. Feeling satisfied and calmer, he fell asleep.
When he woke up, he saw his mother, who had recognized his shelter by the shoes hanging from the only pehuén branch which had not bent.
She quickly untied and embraced him dearly. When he saw her shaved head, he understood that his father was dead and that they would both cry bitterly for their loss. Afterwards, when they calmed down, they thanked the pehuén in resignation stroking its trunk and the mother, in proof of her devotion, left her own shoes as an offering.
Treading on the new snow with their bare feet, both mother and son returned to the tribe.
But the pehuén did not abandon them. It walked beside them providing food and protection.
When they reached the tribe, the tree stopped and slowly buried its roots in the ground and there it stayed.
When mother and son told their people what had happened, they resolved to call that place “Niuque”, which means mother in the mapuche language, showing the pehuén their gratitude for saving the boy's life.

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