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Highway highlights from Tucson, AZ, USA to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico

RimJournal no longer posts a driving guide. Check out AlamosMexico.com at https://www.alamosmexico.com/ for border information, links for hotels, businesses, language courses and much more.

If you are traveling through Tucson, see Desert bed and breakfasts.

The following notes are from our original driving guide and highlight interesting places along the road.

We wish you a wonderful journey and stay in the beautiful town of Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

Tucson, Arizona through Nogales, Sonora

Going south from Tucson to Nogales take Hwy 19 off Interstate 10. The road passes two of the original Spanish Colonial missions in Arizona. San Xavier del Bac on the right/west just outside of Tucson is still an active parish for the Tohono O'odham Indians. Farther south on the left/east is a National Monument with the partially restored ruins of Tumacacori Mission.

South of the border through Sonora

It is illegal to take undeclared firearms or ammunition into Mexico. See our note on Firearms in Mexico.

In Mexico, topes are speed bumps in the road, so slow down and remember not all topes are marked.

Ángeles Verdes/Green Angels are Mexico's highway help. They drive green pickup trucks and can fix tires and other small jobs.

Crafts for sale along the highway include equipales (Mexican leather chairs) and hand-crafted copper. Families of ornamental stone carvers sell fountains, statues of lions and other carvings. Vendors sell snacks, tortillas and seafoods. We do not recommend buying fresh cheese as it not always pasteurized.

Commercial agriculture is big business in Sonoras with huge hydrophonic greenhouses growing winter produce for the US market. Imuris sits in a very fertile river valley. Whole fields are planted in marigolds and other flowers for use in the November Day of the Dead celebrations. The small crosses along the road mark places where someone was killed in a highway accident. During the Day of the Dead, the family will repaint and decorate the memorials.

Magdalena is a good place to drive through a typical small Mexican town on the free (libre) road. The toll road passes by hills with big stands of saguaro and senita cactus. The free road becomes Avenida Niños Heros, the main street through town, or take the right hand fork onto Avenida Cinco de Mayo in front of the IMSS building down to the Plaza. Follow the Zona Commercial signs. Watch for topes and overhead traffic lights. Magdalena is the hometown of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the Mexican presidential candidate who was assassinated. Magdalena left up one of his campaign signs in memory of their native son.

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was the pioneering Jesuit missionary in Northern Mexico, Arizona and California from about 1687 to 1711. His grave was discovered in Magdalena in 1966 and is the object of a huge pilgrimage on October 4, the feast day for St. Francisco Assisi. His statue is in a small side chapel of the later Franciscan church on the Plaza. Pilgrims fulfill their manda (vow) by walking to Magdalena where they pin milagros on his robes. It's a long way - 36 hours to walk the 55 miles (89 km) from Nogales, 120 miles (193 km) from Tucson. "Ya mero" - almost there. Turn right on Avenida Espino to the Plaza from Avenida Niños Heros. Small shops sell souvenirs year round.

Just beyond the split between the toll and the free roads for Magdalena, on the free road leading into town, is the turnoff to the late 18th century Franciscan church of San Ignacio de Cabûrica, about 2 km. This boldly lovely small church still has its ornate, original hand carved doors. One of the church ladies can open the sanctuary for you. It's appropriate to make a contribution to the church if you go inside.

Tacicuri is a small settlement along the free road where women make and sell the paper-thin, homemade wheat flour tortillas which are typical of Sonora. In season, pinon nuts, red chili ristas, squash and other items are for sale along the road.

Benjamín Hill is named after a general of British descent who defended the border town of Naco during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917.

The desert vegetation begins to change, note the first of the white-flowered palo santo trees (Ipomoea arborescens).

At Km 248 to the west, on the mountain cliff, is a colorfully painted shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Hermosillo through Guaymas

Hermosillo is the bustling state capitol, named in 1828 for Col. J. María Gonzãlez Hermosillo, a leader in Mexico's war of independence from Spain.

Puente means bridge and there are lots of small ones over drainage culverts on this section.

Guaymas and San Carlos are deep-sea game fishing and resort towns, a good place to stop for the night.

Guaymas through Ciudad Obregõn

The desert becomes lush with thick stands of different kinds of giant, clumping cactus. The pitahaya edible cactus fruit that is sometimes for sale in the markets. This area is the bread basket of Sonora with huge irrigated fields.

Pass the turnoffs to Yaqui Indian villages of Potam, Vicam, Bacum, and Cajeme. Watch for livestock on the road.

The Yaquis and the Mexican government are often at odds. The Yaqui and Mayo Indians fought hard into the 1930's to keep their fertile land from the Spanish and Mexican settlers. Although Sonora has adopted their deer dancer as a state symbol, the Yaqui and the Mayo are distinct from their Mexican neighbors. Our friend, who grew up on a small ranchero outside of Alamos in the 1940's, speaks with fear of the Yaquis, who raided Alamos and its surrounding rancheros in the early years of the European settlements. See our article on Yaqui and Mayo Indian Easter ceremonies.

The Yaquis in this area still build the typical wattle and dab houses that were widespread in the Arizona and Sonoran desert Indian communities. There used to be a few Akimel O'odham Indian houses of this type on the road between Tucson and Phoenix. A framework of horizontal poles is infilled with adobe mud and the roof is usually thatch. These traditional houses are cool in the summer and easier and cheaper to build than adobe.

Vicam may have venders of bentwood furniture and large plaited wall/floor mats for sale. Some of the houses in this town use split-logs from the Sierra Madre mountains.

Bacum vaqueros and boys graze small herds of cattle or goats on the roadside grass. Other men thrash grain from the wild stands of wheat and grasses.

Cajeme has an old-style, interesting adobe church with double bell towers off to the right of the road. Cajeme was a famous Yaqui Indian chief. Ciudad Obregõn was formerly called Cajeme.

Cross the Río Yaqui, beyond is a big irrigation canal on the outskirts of Ciudad Obregõn. Watch for Yaqui Slider turtles.

Barrío Esperanza (Hope) spreads along the sides. We saw this barrío grow over the years from cardboard and wood pallet squatter shacks to cement block houses with electricity.

There is an turnoff to Tesopaco, onward to Hwy 12 to Yécora, from there to La Junta, and Creel in the Sierra Madres. The Arizona program to reintroduce wild turkeys went to Yécora to collect turkeys.

Ciudad Obregõn. is named for General Alvaro Obregõn, an important general from Sonora in the 1913 Revolution and later presidente of Mexico. He lost an arm to Pancho Villa in a battle at Celaya.

Ciudad Obregõn through Navojoa

The Aeropuerto (airport) turn-off is on the right/west, about 8 minutes south of Ciudad Obregõn. There are taxis (expensive) and rental cars available for the drive to Alamos. Your hotel may provide transportation. The plane connections from the USA to Ciudad Obregõn are often not direct and they change frequently. Also check out the Guaymas/San Carlos flights.

The long distance buses are decent, with toilets and comfortable seats. A number of expatriate Alamos residents take these buses to Arizona or to California. See our note on Bus service between Alamos, Sonora, Mexico and Tucson, AZ, USA

This area has big ejidos (cooperative farms), although some of them are leased out to commercial operators.

Cross the Río Mayo into Navojoa. There are pretty park-like areas around the river. Navojoa means "place among the prickly pear cactus" in Mayo. The young pads (napolitas) are eaten as a vegetable.

Left/east turn onto the Alamos road. The right hand road goes to the fishing village and beach area at Huatabampo.

Alamos is about a 50 km or 30 minute drive. Don't get discouraged as you drive out of Navojoa; it's not a scenic route at the edge of town. This is a partially unfenced road, so watch for animals.

On to Alamos

Eventually the road winds up into the thorn forest foothills (cerros) of the small mountains. From December through February the lovely lavender or yellow flowered amapa trees (Tabebuia chrysantha and Tabebuia palmeri) may bloom in clusters along the intermediate elevation of the hills. The tree with no leaves and huge, morning glory-shaped white flowers is the palo santo (Ipomoea arborescens) or else the cuajilote (Bombax palmeri). Big seed pods with fluffy, white fiber hang from the kapok tree (Ceiba acuminata). The tall saguaro-type cactus is hecho (Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum) which blooms from December into the spring. Summer flowering trees include the rose-flowered nesco (Willardia mexicana) and the blue flowered guayacãn (Guaiacum Coulteri).

The road to Presa Mocuzari, a large lake that has some fishing, is on the left/north.

Minas Nuevas has an historic church on the left, an old silver mine on the right. There are temporary kilns for firing burnt adobes. The turn-off to Aduana is on the right/south and the town is about 2 miles (3 km). Aduana is worth a half-day side trip. See Day trips and tours from Alamos

The outskirts of Alamos, outside the historic district, have some newer buildings. The forks of the road split around the Parque de Alameda commercial plaza and Mercado. Take the right-hand fork between the historic houses on Calle Madero. This narrow, one-way street goes directly to the Plaza de Armas and the church in the old colonial heart of Alamos.

See our sketch map of Alamos and History of Alamos

Returning to Tucson: additional notes

Hermosillo to Nogales

The distinctive desert includes a bush ocotillo which transitions into the Sonoran Desert ocotillo. Both have bright red blooms in the spring. Much desert was cleared on the east side of the highway for more irrigated farmland and grapevines. The large valleys along the Rio San Miguel, which parallels the highway off to the far east, are big agricultural areas with small lakes.

Nogales to Tucson

Nice view of Tumacacori and the Santa Cruz River Valley. The telescope on Mt. Wrightson is visible to the right/east.

Pass the town of Tubac on the right/east. The original Spanish Presidio of Tubac was here. Now there is a state park, art galleries, and restaurants.

A view of mine tailings ahead to the northwest at the Amado exit.

A good view of San Xavier del Bac off to the northwest/left as you drive into Tucson. Think how lucky you are to have done this drive now instead in the 1600-1800's. It was easy!

See also in this site: firearms in Mexico | sketch map of Alamos | Our Lady of Guadalupe | San Ignacio de Cabûrica | Yaqui and Mayo Indian Easter ceremonies |Sonora coastal bird list | bird guidebooks | desert books and links | wildflowers of the Southwest deserts

Back to Alamos toc or browse church | photos | map | events calendar | tours/ attractions | shopping | day trips | music | cafes and restaurants | street vendors and markets | food specialties | highway guide | bus service | firearms |

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