Mountain ranges in Sonora tend to run north and south, with rivers between them. At some point, the rivers turn west and run to the sea. The farther east you travel, rivers and mountains get larger, and the more accessible an older, traditional Sonora becomes. Let’s spend some time on the Río Sonora, the second river east of Magdalena.
The easiest way to get there from Tucson is to cross the border at Nogales, go to Magdalena, and then turn left on a paved road. This route takes you through some lovely country to the town of Cucurpe, Kino’s starting point for his entry into the Pimería Alta.
It’s also the halfway point on the winding road to the Sonora Valley, so it’s a good place to stretch one’s legs. There are interesting pictographs (pinturas rupestres) and more recent religious paintings just upstream from the ford before you enter the village (4-wheel drive recommended). Up the hill behind the town are the highly photogenic ruins of a large, unfinished church. The road continues east through ranching country to the Sonora Valley.
Coming down into the valley, one can see the bell tower of the church at Sinoquipe, backed by beautiful cliffs. Upriver to the left is Arizpe, an early capital of Sonora, with its impressive mission church. This road will eventually lead back to the Border at Douglas or Naco. Downstream are several interesting villages, some spectacular scenery, and eventually the town of Ures and the International Highway.
I usually prefer to turn right, stay at La Posada del Río Sonora in Banámichi and use that as my base (The Hotel Los Arcos de Sonora in the same town is also good). From there I can roam the entire Sonora Valley from Bacoachi downstream to the International Highway.
What will I encounter on these roamings? The Río Sonora is a lush, green agricultural valley running through the desert. It used to be important wheat growing country, and it is still dotted with large, ruined flour mills. It is the home of some of the consistently largest flour tortillas I’ve seen. It is also the home of a good mezcal distillery and several independent stilling operations.
There are wonderful missions up and down the valley as well, and even public hot springs. Ethnotourism is beginning to be important, and your hotel can arrange trips to visit craftspeople, farms and ranches, and even cooks and cheese makers. And the scenery can get pretty spectacular.
Anyway, that’s where we’ll be for the next week or so, hearing and retelling stories and absorbing a place not unlike our own Santa Cruz Valley as it was 150 years ago.