Growing up in her native Tucson, Bernadette Quiroz had long heard of a special, small Sonoran town, not far south of the border.
Her father, Edward Ronstadt, had enchanted his daughter and her 11 siblings with stories of that place and the nearby towns strung along the Sonora River Valley, about three hours south of Naco. It is where her grandfather, Federico José María “Fred” Ronstadt, was born and lived for the first dozen of years of his life before coming to Tucson in the early 1880s.
Quiroz’s father had returned to the family’s ancestral Sonoran home but she had not. Until last week.
Quiroz, along with her husband, Robert Quiroz, her siblings Paul, Bobby and John Ronstadt and Agnes Poore, their spouses and other family members held a mini Ronstadt family reunion in Banámichi.
“It was magical,” said Quiroz.
It was a serendipitous weekend for me as well. I had traveled to Banámichi with my wife, mother and two friends. We, too, had long heard about the special towns in the Río Sonora valley.
We headed south through Bisbee and Naco, through the Sonoran grasslands, which turned into a gentle rise of hills and mountains. We drove into the river valley of rich farmland walled by jagged, craggy peaks covered by cacti, ocotillos and mesquite. We were safe driving on the winding, two-lane road and, for the most part, we were the only travelers.
We arrived in the land of flour tortillas, beef and bacanora, Sonoran tequila. We were also in the region which scores of Southern Arizonans, and families beyond Baja Arizona, call their ancestral home.
“I was looking at this land through the kind of lens where time stood still,” Quiroz said, several days after her maiden visit.
Her great-grandparents Frederick Augustus Ronstadt and Margarita Redondo came to the valley in the 1860s. He was a German-born engineer and she was the daughter of a well-known Sonoran family from Altar, west of Banámichi. They settled in Las Delicias, just south of Banámichi.
All that is left in Las Delicias is a corner adobe wall, about 10 feet high, Quiroz said. The ruin is in the middle of a small forest of giant nopales, she added.
They walked through a family’s home to get to the adobe remains.
“I could see where my dad was so moved when he visited this land,” said Quiroz.
The ruins, the land, the vistas are the magnets that continue to pull Southern Arizona descendants of the old families from the towns — Arizpe, Sinoquipe, Huépac, Aconchi, Baviácora, Ures — which were founded in the 1640s, in the land of the Opatas.
William Steen of Canelo is one of them. His grandfather, Bernabe Brichta, was born in Banámichi in 1860, about the same time the Ronstadts were settling down.
He is pulled to the Río Sonora because of its peacefulness, its beauty, simplicity and people. It is a welcoming place, said Steen.
“You don’t go there to go shopping. It’s the people,” said Steen, who grew up in Tucson.
Last fall, Steen, a photographer, accompanied another Ronstadt, singer Linda, to the valley, in a trip written up in the New York Times, with his photos.
While the Ronstadt family home stands no longer, the family home of Tucson lawyer Jesús Romo Vejar is still there on the plaza across from the church, Nuestra Señora de Loreto. Romo returns often.
“The people of Arizona, California and New Mexico really were one people at one point,” and many of them came from the Río Sonora, where the Spanish had established their communities, said Romo, who was born in Hermosillo, Sonora.
And for nearly 400 years there has been a back and forth flow of people, which continues to this day, he added.
“The border has never affected this kinship,” said Romo. “The families return and they feel like they never left.”