Explore The northwest and Copper Canyon
From Mexicali, Hwy-2 trails the US border eastwards towards Sonora, the second largest state in Mexico; you’ll have to put your watch forward an hour when you cross the state line, unless Baja California is on Daylight Saving Time (April–Oct), in which case there’s no change. The Colorado River marks the boundary, and beyond here lies the parched Gran Desierto de Altar, an area so desolate that it was used by American astronauts to simulate lunar conditions.
There’s little to stop for on the road. You’ll pass through San Luis Río Colorado, something of an oasis on the Colorado River, and Sonoyta, a minor border crossing into Arizona. Both are pretty dull, though they have plenty of facilities for travellers passing through. Beyond Sonoyta the road splits: Hwy-8 heads south towards the Sea of Cortés and the resort town of Puerto Peñasco, while Hwy-2 cuts inland before turning south and hitting the first foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental and Hwy-15, which then hugs the coast all the way to Tepic and Guadalajara. Coming from Arizona and Nogales on Hwy-15, there’s little to see; however, you do pass through the small town of Magdalena. Here there’s a mausoleum containing the remains of Padre Kino, “Conquistador of the Desert”, a Spanish Jesuit priest who came to Mexico in 1687 and is credited with having founded 25 missions and converting at least seven local indigenous tribes to Catholicism. From here the highway cuts straight south, passing through several small towns on the way to Hermosillo, the state capital.Read More
- Puerto Peñasco
Bahía de Kino
Bahía de Kino
Boasting more than 15km of pristine Sea of Cortés coastline, 110km west of Hermosillo, BAHÍA DE KINO is a popular weekend escape for locals and increasingly a winter resort for Americans. For good reason; the seafront is padded with miles of inviting sands, the placid waters are perfect for swimming and kayaking, the offshore islets and strange rock formations make the sunsets particularly memorable and the resort remains relatively low-key and laid-back – for now. There are two settlements around the bay: the old fishing village of Kino Viejo, a dusty collection of corrugated-iron huts, passed over by the fruits of development, and the younger Kino Nuevo – an eight-kilometre strip of one-storey seafront houses, trailer parks and a couple of hotels and restaurants.
This whole area used to be inhabited by the Seri people, and there are still a few communities living round about: their former home on the offshore Isla del Tiburón (Shark Island), was made into a wildlife refuge in the 1960s but is still administered by the tribal government. You may come across Seri hawking traditional (and not so traditional) ironwood carvings along the beach in Kino Nuevo, though their main settlement is Punta Chueca, 35km north – you can buy genuine crafts here, but you’ll need your own wheels to reach the settlement. The tiny Museo de los Seris (Tues–Fri 8am–3pm; M$6), on the plaza in the middle of Kino Nuevo, gives a little more information on Seri history.
Around 16km north of Guaymas, the town of SAN CARLOS is in the infant stages of becoming a larger resort geared towards a mainly retired clientele. The chief attraction here is the scenery: the resort is dominated by the barren, jagged peaks of Cerro Tatakawi, and the scorched desert landscape makes a stunning backdrop to a series of inviting bays and calm, cobalt-blue waters. Though access to the shore is difficult, and most beaches you can reach are stony, there’s a modern marina, a golf course and scores of villas and developments linked by a long avenue of transplanted palms. The main activities here are diving and fishing.
Another “Pueblo Magico”, some 250km south of Guaymas, the enchanting colonial town of ÁLAMOS hasn’t escaped the notice of scores of North Americans – predominantly artists and retirees – who have chosen to settle here over the last forty years or so, often renovating the otherwise doomed-to-decay Spanish architecture. A ride out to this patch of green makes a very pleasant respite from the monotony of the coastal road, and it’s a great place to do nothing for a while: a tour of the town takes no longer than a couple of hours, and there’s little else to do but soak up the languid atmosphere. Everything changes in January each year, when thousands of people descend upon Álamos for the week-long Ortiz Tirado music festival, in honour of the late Dr Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Pavarotti”. Accommodation is usually booked solid at this time, so reservations are a must. In the cooler winter months, Álamos is also a good base for exploring the fairly distinct ecosystem hereabouts; the meeting of Sonoran and Sinaloan deserts, at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental, has created a home for a broad range of flora and fauna. In particular, this is a bird watching mecca, boasting several hundred different species.
Coronado was the first European to pass through this area in 1540, spending most of his time trying to subjugate the Yoreme and Yaqui, unaware that below his feet lay some of the richest silver ore in Mexico. When the ore was discovered in the late 1600s, Álamos became Mexico’s northernmost silver-mining town; officially founded in 1684, within a century it was a substantial city with its own mint, and the most prosperous town north of Guadalajara. Following Mexican independence, control of the area fell into the hands of the Almada family who, despite having initially productive mines, spent most of the nineteenth century protecting their property from political wranglings and petty feuds, and watching over the region’s decline. The mint closed in 1896, and even the brief existence of a railway only served to help depopulate a dying town – the ravages of the Revolution finished off what business was left. Álamos languished until the 1940s, when an American, William Levant Alcorn, bought numerous houses here and set about selling the property to his countryfolk. A bank was built in 1958 and an airstrip opened, and a paved road from Navojoa was finished two years later. Today the population hovers around the 10,000 mark.