A U.S. Consulate alert about the highway to Rocky Point has some rethinking beach trips and business owners in the Mexican beach town calling the advisory unjustified and poorly timed.
The "Warden message" issued by the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Sonora, strongly advises U.S. citizens to avoid traveling at night on Highway 8 between the U.S.-Mexico border and Rocky Point, due to unconfirmed reports of fake checkpoints set up at night. The alert tells travelers to remain calm and cooperate if they are stopped at such a checkpoint.
"Reports from those passing through these checkpoints indicate that the operators only requested to see identification before allowing them to pass," the message says. "U.S. Consulate Nogales strongly advises any traveler who must take this route do so during daylight hours."
It goes on to refer to Mexico in general, and not just Highway 8, and says: "Motorists who have not stopped at unofficial checkpoints have been shot at and killed."
But there's no information about U.S. citizens being killed or injured in relation to fake checkpoints on Highway 8, said Joseph Crook, a spokesman for U.S. Consulates in Sonora and Baja California.
Crook said the alert is not designed to keep people from traveling to Rocky Point, but rather provide them with the same information government officials have about the security situation, Crook said. The State Department's "no double standard" policy dictates that consulate officials provide U.S. citizens with the same information they have, he said.
Consular officials in Nogales are currently limited to traveling major roads during daylight hours. And they're required to make official trips between cities in armored vehicles, the message says.
But hotel owners, real estate agents and longtime Rocky Point travelers are upset about the alarming nature of the message and its timing - days before the busy Memorial Day weekend.
It's been a difficult past several years for tourism-related business in Rocky Point, due to the economic recession and reports about raging drug violence in Mexico. The latest alert is expected to trigger more cancellations.
The Arizona-based reservation service for Rocky Point, Sea Side Reservations, had four cancelations Monday morning, said owner Steve Schwab. Schwab, owner of 11 Rocky Point resorts and more than 150 beach houses, said he travels two to three times a week from Phoenix to Rocky Point with his son.
"I wouldn't take my 6-year old son down there if it wasn't safe," Schwab said. "I have never been harassed on that road. I feel safer in Mexico than I do in the United States."
Rocky Point Realtor Rick Ramirez travels back and forth between Tucson and Rocky Point two to three times a month on the highway and says the report is baseless.
"It just kills us," Ramirez said. "Its very irresponsible of the consulate to put it out because it's not true. I want to know where the consulate is getting its information because it's not happening."
The alert has some reconsidering travel plans. Tucsonan Nikki Halle said she and her husband were planning to head down this weekend with their 9-year-old daughter and her friend to spend time at the beach house they own. But the friend's parents said they were no longer comfortable with their daughter going, and Halle and her husband are leaning toward canceling the trip, she said.
Even though they've never had problems during their 25 years of traveling to Rocky Point, Halle said the alert caught their attention and on Monday she was trying to determine whether there was any merit to it.
"It's very alarming," Halle said.
But Tucsonan Karen Clifton won't let the alert change her opinion of Rocky Point, where she's been going for 30 years. She lambasted the U.S. Consulate for issuing an "untrue" advisory that will hurt those who depend on tourism dollars.
"I even travel at night," Clifton said. "That road is fine."
Homicides in Rocky Point are down this year through April with five, compared with seven at the same time last year, statistics from the Sonora government show. Whereas other Mexican cities, such as Nogales, have seen spikes in drug-related slayings in recent years, homicides in Rocky Point have gone up only slightly: from 10 in both 2007 and 2008 to 13 in 2009.
Warden messages are designed to alert U.S. citizens already in a country about topics such as voter registration, new passport procedures and events or threats that can affect people's personal safety, Crook said.
The timing marks the second time this year that the State Department has issued a travel advisory before a major travel date. On March 14, right before college spring break, the State Department upgraded a country-wide travel alert for Mexico to a more serious travel warning.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org