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Motorcycle Touring in Sonora Mexico

Grab the snow shovel, dig out the motorcycle trailer and head down Turkey Creek Canyon and south to check out routes for new tours. With the bikes safely stowed, its south through New Mexico and west to Arizona to the former copper mining town of Bisbee. Just south of that legend of the Old West, Tombstone, Bisbee flourished at the turn of the century and supported a beautiful late Victorian town. At one time, it was the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco.

The mine played out in the 60's and the town started to die. Like many down on their luck old mining towns in the '60, it was discovered by the flower children. In the 90's it was discovered again and gentrified. Now it stands as a funky eclectic mix of hippies, yuppies and retirees full of great cafes, shops and galleries.After a late breakfast the next morning, the bikes packed and Mexican motorcycle insurance in hand it was time to cross the border into Mexico.

The twin towns of Naco Arizona and Naco, Sonora host an un-crowded border crossing. The recently implemented Sonora only program allows you to drive through, often without stopping. As long as you stay in northern Sonora you don't need a vehicle permit.

The road south of Naco was narrow and in places almost solid tar patches. Shoulders were non-existent. All in all though, the potholes were few and the surface good. The road intersects Highway 2 about 37 miles south of Naco. From here, it's a short westely ride to Cananea, home to a working copper mine.

In Cananea, its time to head south on the Ruta del Rio Sonora, the Route of the Sonora River.There is a customs checkpoint on the route but it is once again a formality. Again, there are no shoulders but a good road surface.

The tall grass is three feet high and right up to the pavement. It gave a strange sensation, like riding in a wheat-colored Hot Wheels track. It's been dry, no rain for 5 months and the landscape is brown.

Twisty roads climb up away from the river then back down. Bright whitewashed bridges cross the river. Where there are no bridges and the river must be forded. The fords are called vados. Another feature of Mexican roads are topes.

These are large speed bumps at the entrance and through the towns. Some were large enough to scaprape the frame rails on the cruisers. Crossing at a slight angle alleviates the problem. There is another type of topes that seems more menacing than it really is. It is constructed of metal half spheres about 6 inches in diameter, 3 inches apart and arranged in three rows across the roadway.

This menacing array of steel balls proved to be just another bump in the road and actually easier to negotiate than the larger flat topes. Most of the topes were marked with warning signs and painted white or yellow. Some are not.

Continuing south along the Sonona river small towns can be seen. Built close to the roadway of stucco over adobe, single homes sit out in the country along corrals for cattle and horses. Along the route, Arizpe, founded in the 1630s is home of the historic Nuestra Senora de la Asunción Temple. Construction began on the temple in 1646 and features the bones of the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza who died in 1788. Juan's bones are there for all to see, six feet down under glass in the floor of the chapel.Back on the road, the broad valley to the west with the thin ribbon of the Rio Sonora came in and out of view as road climbed the valley wall and dropped back towards the valley floor again.

The welcome signs announced the town of Banamichi (pop 1500) and soon the bikes were parked in front La Posada del Rio Sonora. A posada is an inn. The Posada sits on the site of an 18th century hacienda.

Made of adobe, the building is unusual in that portions of the structure are two stories. Bill, the American owner purchased the building six years ago. At that time, much of it was in ruins; the roof caved in places and portions of the adobe severely eroded by wind and water. Bill and his wife Irma, who he met in the town, put together a crew of local craftsmen and went to work.The structure was stabilized, reinforced and reconstructed. The building now shines.

Eight guest rooms, two apartments, dining room, bar and library are now ready to lodge, feed and entertain guests. The area above the dining room and kitchen forms an intimate rooftop terrace complete with a fire grate for cool winter evenings. The inn is filled with treasures Bill has collected from all over the world.

A 300 year old door from Tibet leads from the bar to the dining room. A set of 18th century doors from China waits to grace the front entrance. African sculpture and a tin mask from Bolivia adorn the walls of the courtyard while the guest rooms show off a combination of locally crafted furniture and antiques. All this in a setting of stuccoed adobe washed in bright yellows, blues, strawberry and peach beneath a tile roof.Using the Posada as base camp, the first day ride took us northeast.

First, it was north back towards Arizpe then east away from the river into the Sonoran Desert. The ride passes through forests of saguaro and organ pipe cactus, and dry grazing lands. In Curcupe there are the ruins of an old Spanish mission.

Broad rolling hills and wide vistas of the mountains beyond framed the route to the town of Magdellana. The troopers at the military checkpoint all looked to be about 17 years old carried automatic weapons. Looking for drugs and human traffickers tourists on motorcycles are of little concern and they waving the bikes through.A final series of low passes through more twisting roads and Magdellana, population 31,000 came into view, .

This is a working town but it does see more Americans being closer to the border. Lunch at Irma's Fish House -- great shrimp tacos. A brief visit to the towns cathedral and it was getting late and traffic in town was getting building. The late afternoon sun slanted in and lit the landscape in a magical light.

More turnouts along the road would have allowed stops to take photos but in truth, stopping in the middle of the road was not a problem with the near total lack of traffic. Back down into the valley and south to Banamichi. Lots of smiles ands waves from residents of the small towns.After a late start, the next ride was south towards Hermisillo, the capital of the state of Sonora.

The church in Baviacora consists of two adjacent buildings. The original church is in rough shape but has been stabilized. The newer portion of the church is constructed in the classic style for the area with large heavy beams and filled with statues of the saints.

More twisty roads through the countryside climbing from the river to the hills along the sides of the valley. Cattle country; vaqueros on horseback working in the dusty sunlight the way they always have. Vegetable farms and almond orchards dot the landscape. The late start made for a short ride but well worth the great roads and scenary.Ride three was east into the Sierra Madres.

Again, south on the Ruta del Rio Sonora, back past Baviacora then east. The road climbs away from the river and gains altitude quickly. More ranches tucked into the hillside, more vaqueros.

Climbing higher, the road twists and snakes along ridgelines and down over more whitewashed bridges crossing the Rio el Rodeo, dry creek beds and arroyos. The day is clear with blue skies and the higher peaks of the mountains seem close enough to touch. The town of Moctezuma came into view. A stop at the local market found few tourist items. This is a working town.

School had just let out for the day and the kids waved and smiles at the two gringos and their "motos.".On to Huasbas and our turn around. The artist colony of Huaciara was still another 90 miles ahead and the continuing on would mean riding back in the dark. With wildlife and stray cattle on the roads after dark heading back was the prudent thing to do. The ride back was just as spectacular.

Very little traffic and clear sailing. Back in Banamichi for dinner.The next morning the bikes were packed for the ride back to Bisbee and home. It was hard to say good bye, hard to leave the warm days and new friends and return to winter.

This is not Cabo or Puerto Vallarta but the "Undiscovered Mexico." Tourist amenities are few and far between but the simple pleasures of the unspoiled landscape and the friendly people should not be missed. We will be back; Banamichi is now on our tour schedule. Take a tour, two wheels or four. You will not regret it.

.Author Lynn Matthews


By: Lynn Matthews


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