by Bob Brooke
the heyday of westerns, films showed cowboys riding through the Great
Sonoran Desert from Arizona to what is now the State of Sonora in
Mexico. The desert is still there and so are the cowboys.
Sonora is Mexico's wild west. In some
ways, it reflects the Old Mexico of the by-gone days of yesteryear. In
others, it reflects the new Mexico–the Americanized Mexico of Wal-Mart
and Sam's Club, Pizza Hut and Burger King.
Beginning in Nogales on the Arizona
border with the U.S., I decided to make a trek into an area of Mexico
that's often left off of the main tourist beat. The main roads through
the State are well-marked and maintained due to Sonora's almost
fraternal bond with its northern neighbor, Arizona. Since I was already
within the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the landscape changed little as I
crossed the border.
Unsuccessful early Spanish attempts to
settle what's now the state of Sonora left the area nearly invisible
until the 17th and early 18th Centuries. But the discovery of gold in
Alamos brought a steady stream of settlers from the south, and by 1824
the former province of Sonora y Sinaloa had become the State of
Occidente. Eventually, the Mexican government divided Occidente into the
States of Sonora and Sinaloa.
Luckily, at about the time the mines
played out, agriculture in the Yaqui and Sonora River Valleys expanded
to support the local economy together with fishing in the Sea of Cortez.
Perhaps, it's Sonora's pioneering spirit that spawned three of Mexico's
presidents–Alvaro Obregon, Abelardo Rodriquz, the founder of the PRI
party, and Plutarco Elias Calles.
But Sonora has always been the home of
two very important indigenous tribes, the Yaqui and the Seri. While the
Yaqui inhabited the valleys between present-day Guaymas and Sonora's
capital, Hermosillo, the Seri developed their culture amid the cactus
along the coast above Guaymas.
As I drove south, I saw signs for some of
missions founded by Jesuit missionaries, most of which stand near the
border with Arizona. The missions encouraged the growth of haciendas,
which became productive units and the social organization of the Sonoran
countryside. During the 1880s, railroads helped spawn growth and by the
1920s, the Sierra had become the most prosperous region of Sonora due to
the boom in mining, cattle and agriculture.
The Road to Hermosillo
The road to Hermosillo, the state capital, runs through the heart of the
Sonoran Desert, more than two-thirds of which lies in Mexico. A young
desert, it's less than 10,000 years old. But it's one of the most
complex, due to the great variety of species and general structure of
volcanic rocks sedimentary and metamorphic.
Subtropical deserts, such as this one,
tend to have more plant species. Occasionally, I passed a cattle loading
station, since Sonora is known for its fine beef, but not much else.
Tall Palo Verde "trees" dotted
the landscape along with plants with names like
creasote and Indigo bushes and Mormon tea, and all forms of cacti–pencil,
cholla, barrel, Christmas and prickly pear cactus, as well as velvet
mesquite. After a few hours of desert, I arrived in Hermosillo.
Hermosillo, Sonora's capital, is a clean,
well-planned town carved out of the rugged desert terrain. It's set
amidst sweeping plains of golden grasses and green-tufted hills with
taller, serrated peaks rising abruptly in the background. This bustling
city is the only town in Mexico in which all water is purified before
it's sent to homes.
Though the Spanish tried to impose a
settlement called Santisima Trinidad del Pitic on the existing
indigenous settlement called Pitic in 1700, confrontations with the Pima
and Seri Indians forced them to wait nearly a century until they
considered the area safe for habitation.
In 1828, the city's name was changed to Hermosillo in honor of a general
from Jalisco who was a hero in the war for independence from Spain.
A pleasant mix of modern Mexico and old
Sonora, Hermosillo today is a common stopover for North American
visitors, like myself, heading down the coast. It's worth a stopover to enjoy downtown strolls along the laurel-lined avenues.
Plaza Zaragoza lies at the city's heart.
This spacious plaza, built in 1865, features a lofty, Florentine-style
kiosk built in the early 1900s. At either end of the plaza are the
Palacio de Gobierno and Catedral de Asuncion.
The Palacio de Gobierno, one of the most
impressive government buildings of Northern Mexico, was originally
constructed in the neoclassic style in 1859, using Yaqui labor and local
stone. In 1881, Gov. Don Carlos Rodriguez had it rebuilt to serve as an
institute of fine arts, but he was forced to leave office before his
term ended. The next governor converted it into the Palacio de Gobierno
in 1884. Unfortunately, it was almost completely destroyed in 1948 by
The twin-towered cathedral with its
striking white, tiered facade sits opposite the Palacio at the other end
of the plaza. The original adobe chapel on this site, completed in 1778,
had decayed so much by 1877 that 800 local women petitioned the Catholic
diocese to have it replaced. The current neoclassical building was
constructed in 1908 with a tall single bell tower. The south tower was
added in 1912. Between the two is a huge cupola, with tiered columns,
niches, and arches, giving the effect of an elaborate wedding cake.
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Museo
de Sonora, a 19th-century stone building that once served as a state
prison from 1907 to 1979. In 1985 the city converted it into a museum
with exhibits on Sonora's history, geology, natural history and
About two dozen maquiladoras, assembly
plants, call Hermosillo home. A well-trained workforce assembles
everything from Ford cars to Barbie dolls in clean, ultramodern
facilities set in fancifully designed industrial parks. But though
industry has moved in, Hermosillo is still an agricultural center for
wheat, cotton, soy, grapes and oranges.
After overnighting, I head west from
Hermosillo along a modern four-lane highway for about an hour to the
seaside resort of San Carlos.