The Journey to Chaco

The archaeologist Stephen Lekson believes Paquimé is the final ceremonial/political outpost, following consecutive abandonments at Chaco, Salmon, and Aztec — sites in northern New Mexico.  His arguments unfold in an immensely readable book, The Chaco Meridian: Centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest. Whether or not Lekson’s hypothesis is valid, there is abundant evidence of strong links between Paquimé and various sites in what is now the Southwest United States.

I’m not an archaeologist.  I took a trip first to Paquimé and then to Chaco to understand how the experience of visiting two UNESCO World Heritage sites that are separated by 400 miles (600 km) and one mostly menacing border.  (I’m excluding the US Antelope Wells Station, of course) and understanding how other things, such as location and the way they are operated, effects the visitor experience.

Chaco is 3:13 northwest of Albuquerque and 154 miles, according to Google Maps. Park officials commented to me that to go to Chaco you have to want to go to Chaco.  The NPS website makes it clear that Chaco is not a destination for the uncommitted flaneur:

Chaco Canyon is located in northwestern New Mexico. The preferred and recommended access route to the park is from the north, via US 550 (formerly NM 44) and County Road (CR) 7900, and CR 7950.

Warning: Some of the local roads recommended by map publishers and services using GPS devised to access Chaco are unsafe for passenger cars. Please use our written directions below to avoid getting lost or stuck.

From the north, turn off US 550 at CR 7900–3 miles southeast of Nageezi and approximately 50 miles west of Cuba (at mile 112.5). This route is clearly signed from US 550 to the park boundary (21 miles). The route includes 8 miles of paved road (CR 7900) and 13 miles of rough dirt road (CR7950). 

National Park Service officials were extremely helpful with my research for this project and arranged for me to stay in park housing for two nights.  The alternative to that would have been sleeping in my rented car, which would have been extremely uncomfortable, with nighttime temperatures dipping to a level a wee bit above freezing.

The 8 miles of paved road and 13 miles of rough dirt road don’t sufficiently reflect the degree of isolation.  One can’t go to the Chaco visitor center and buy a hamburger or a pack of Twinkies.  I did hear there’s a Coke machine there (although I didn’t see it), but that’s about it for nutrition available for purchase. The nearest real grocery store is 42 miles north on US 550 in Bloomfield (after the 21 miles journey from the park).

I was approaching from the south, so I made sure to stop at the sole supermarket in Cuba, New Mexico, more than 78 miles from Downtown Chaco, Mickey’s.  (The big plastic sign out front, however, identifies it as Cosmos.)

I also ate at Presciliano’s Cafe, on the north end of town and had a delicious breakfast of eggs, potatoes, carne adovada, and tortillas.  I enjoyed the meal and dispute the review on Urban Spoon that says “Don’t bother eating here. McDonalds is a better bet.”  Plus, as I was leaving, two officers from the NM State Police were entering, which I viewed as a good sign.  As the cops entered I was being approached by a totally inebriated Indian woman who was trying to sell me three necklaces.  (My AAA road map tells me Cuba sits between the Zia Pueblo and Jicarilla Apache reservation.) Two were simple strands of a) turquoise or b) abalone.  A third was a gaudy affair with silver, turquoise, and coral.  That one was $20.  The other two were only $10.  I asked the cashier/waitress if that was a good price and observed that it certainly was compared to the $10 another Indian woman who had been in there moments ago wanted for some flimsy little earrings.  So I bought my first souvenirs. Evidently this kind of trade is pretty common there, and I was happy to do my part to boost the local economy.

Cuba appeared to be a reasonably lively place. The mile or so stretch of 550 passing through the village includes at least seven restaurants, according to Urban Spoon, plus the McDonalds, which I would bypass.  Other notables are El Bruno Mexican Restaurante (accent on the e), the Cuban Cafe, and Del Prado Cafe. The town features several relatively ancient motels, which appear to remain active, given the absence of chain operations.

Stocked up on bananas, peanut butter, jelly, tortillas, sourdough bread, apples, Coca-Cola, bottled water, and packaged fruit pies, I headed up the road toward Nageezi.

The principal path to Chaco takes one up the magnificent US550 (butter smooth with wonderful sweeping curves and fabulous vistas), then transitions to CR 7900, a serviceable two-lane affair, and then results in the final dirt stretch.  About half of that final stretch is smooth, but the other half is assumes the proverbial washboard surface.  As one approaches the park, the bumps become more pronounced.

(Someone mentioned that the washboard effect is caused by car suspensions. An initial abrupt stop or other action creates a first dip, which spawns new dips as the next vehicle hits the first dip and its suspension responds. Eventually the road winds up looking like what is depicted above, the segment just prior to entering the park.

Whether deliberate of unintentional, there is a distinct transition as one follows this principal path into Chaco. It reminded me of the deliberate transitions in place at Disney World, where visitors (they call them “guests”) typically arrive in massive parking lots and then are transported by fake paddlewheelers, motorized trams, monorails, until they arrive at the so-called Magic Kingdom.

Visitors to Chaco know they’ve arrived when their car, truck, or motorcycle is once gliding over smooth blacktop.

Chaco Entrance
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Paquimé to Antelope Wells

After breakfast again (Constantino’s, brilliantly lit, like every other eating place we saw in NCG), we zipped up to Paquimé, arriving at 9:00 for my morning appointments.  After a bit of a wait, I was able to speak briefly with the education director.  One of the architects I had spoken with the previous day burned me a copy of the management plan and provided photocopied pages of a report on visitors.  She promised to scan the entire thing into a pdf and send it to me.

I was introduced to a tour guide who lamented the near-complete decimation of the tourist market, especially from the United States.  Whereas they used to receive several busloads of gringos every week, they now receive one every 15 days — and then it’s half full! She believes US visitor levels are only 1% of what they were previously.

Our plan was to head back to the United States by way of the border station at Antelope Wells.  From Mrs. Jones and John Hatch, we learned the border station closes at 4:00 p.m., which is 3:00 p.m. on Chihuahua time, as New Mexico had already sprung forward for Daylight Savings Time, and Chihuahua had not.

There was a bit of anxiety about making the last 30 miles or so to get passed the Janos customs station and into the border zone where tourist permits (which we didn’t have) and car permits (which we also lacked) are not necessary.  We continued to the dusty little crossroads of Janos, where roads heading from Ciudad Juárez to the east, Agua Prieta to the west, and Nuevo Casas Grandes to the south.

We had a pleasant lunch. I had the comida corrida , beef soup with carrots and cabbage and  a chile relleno.  Washed it down with a (real sugar) Mexican Coca-Cola.

Apart from a gas station, several liquor stores, and several little restaurants for traileros, Janos is also home to a distillery for Sotol, a liquor brewed from the Desert Spoon plant.  The taste is somewhat similar to tequila, but it’s actually a bit smoother, with a pleasant, smoky aftertaste.  The pre-Columbian residents of the area had brewed various beverages from the same plant.  The invading Spaniards took it to the next level and developed a spirit popular in Chihuahua (it was a favorite of Pancho Villa).  These days, it’s evidently not so popular — we looked in several liquor stores in NCG and Janos and couldn’t find any.


We wanted to pick up a bit more of this marvelous stuff. I had bought a bottle in NCG the night before and noticed the address of the Don Cucol distillery, at km 200 on the Ciudad Juárez-Janos highway, printed right on the bottle.  We drove a short way down the road and found a rather elaborate ranch, followed by a dusty industrial building. That was it!  We drove into the industrial side of the operation and at first saw nobody.  Then a couple of workers appeared from the rear of the building where there assorted bottles and desiccated skin of a calf lying in the dust.  I inquired about where we could buy some of their product and he led us to the main casa and the “rancho” part of the operation.  There was a bit of care in the decoration and layout of this part of the complex. This was where they welcomed visitors and clients.


However; the boss was apparently down in Janos’s hotel; there was only a young woman with a brood of delightfully cute children.  There was a big box of the deluxe “reposado” model, but she didn’t know the price.  I suggested she call el jefe’s cell phone, but between her phone and my phone, we couldn’t connect.  We were getting a bit antsy about finding the dirt road to Antelope Wells and the border station in time, so I suggested I give her 300 pesos for two bottles.  That option seemed to make everyone happy, so the deal was done.

While the woman was fetching the bottles, I noticed an open bottle of Sotol sitting on the desk, along with a telescoped stack of small plastic cups.  I asked if we could have some samples and we knocked back a shot of the reposado and the traditional model.  Both were fantastic.

Don Cuco Facility

It was time to head to Antelope wells.  The cruise up Mexican Highway 2 toward Agua Prieta was easy enough.  As Google Maps promised, there was the little sign pointing to El Berrendo.  We turned off onto a fairly smooth dirt road and headed up the ~seven miles to the border station.  I was a bit concerned because there were vast discrepancies between my Guia Roji Mexican road atlas, the AAA Mexican road map, and what I had seen the night before on the computer.  With absolutely no cellular service in this thinly populated area, there was much chance I could be using the GPS function on my so-called smart phone.  We had gone about three miles when we saw a little hand-painted sign featuring a slanting green arrow pointing to the west and “USA.”  OK, so we took that path, but wondered why this was the bumpier, worse-maintained road than the one heading to the right.  Maybe Yogi Berra was right:  “If you see a fork in the road, take it.”

"If you see a fork in the road, take it."

Moments later, we could make out the border fence (not a very imposing thing out here) and a small ranch to the right.  The road approached the fence and turned right, passing a number of ranch buildings, corrals, and dwellings, then it turned to the left, where a Mexican Border station appeared.

Friendly border officer.

My reading had prepared me for no activity on the Mexican side here, but we were stopped by an unfriendly Mexican soldier wearing green battle fatigues, but not sporting a nasty automatic weapon. He examined our passports and copied our names onto a worn spiral notebook.  He also asked us to identify our places of residence and professions.  He asked where we had been, and I prudently told him Janos, which is squarely in the frontier zone.  After he asked me to pop the rear hatch on the Jeep Cherokee and he saw three bags of pottery from Mata Ortiz, he probably knew I was lying, but he didn’t press it.  Instead he asked what was in the other bags: two suitcases and a computer briefcase.  He poked around in them for five minutes and then waved us on.

View toward the Mexican side. Note cameras approaching the US and the fence, to the left.

While all of this was going on, we could see a US Customs and Border Protection officer, sitting in the shade of the awning of his station, only 25 yards ahead.  After the Mexican soldier was through with us, we drove slowly through the customary battery of cameras and sensors to the shade of his awning.  The agent was a friendly older guy who took our passports and handed them to another agent who scanned them.  Meanwhile, he asked us why the hell we decided to come this way.  I explained that we didn’t want the hassle of traveling on that nasty Route 2, with two mountain passes, heavy truck traffic, and military checkpoints.  I didn’t mention that we also were looking to minimize hassles from Mexican immigration officials and nasty lines and inspections on the US side. His second and final question was “Where are you coming from?”  We saw no need to lie to him and told him Casas Grandes.

I asked if I could take some photos and was given permission.  The CBP agent even offered to take a photo of us.  “Is it point and shoot?” he asked, perhaps not thinking of the 9-mm point-and-shoot device on his hip.

So there it was: a totally pre-9/11 experience.  No questions about what we bought, purpose of the trip, presence on a farm or ranch, large quantities of cash, and all the other stuff one confronts at the usual border.  The salty old guy was kind an charming and we departed as happy Homeland Security customers.

On the US side, the dirt road evolved into beautiful two-lane NM Highway 81.  We were told we were the fourth car of the day to pass Antelope Wells on Tuesday.  With such light traffic, and probably zero truck traffic, this highway was pristine.  The only traffic we saw between Antelope Wells and Hachita were four green and white dogcatcher-type Border Patrol trucks.

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After the shopping expedition in Mata Ortiz, we headed back to Casas Grandes.  We were hungry and had a little time to kill, so we ducked into a little snack bar off the town’s plaza. The little town, established in the 15th century, has a bit of laid-back charm.

While ordering some burritos and tacos, the high-school-age girl behind the counter told us in unaccented English that we didn’t have to speak Spanish.  It turns out, she and her family recently moved to Mexico from Arizona, where she had grown up.  The Jan Brewer administration and the Arizona legislature had made it impossible for them to live in Arizona, so they were forced to move to Mexico.  These were kind people and it bothered me knowing that elements in my country had been so unwelcoming.

We made it over to Paquimé at 1:30 and I was able to talk at length with the director of the site, who was quite knowledgeable and helpful.  After a one-hour discussion, two architects toured me around the site, while explaining various aspects of preservation and operations.

I was assured that copies of the site’s management plan and data on visitation would be available to me the next morning.

Paquimé was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1998. It was admitted under critera III and IV, because it bears “a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared” and because it is “an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.” It’s an impressive site, with carefully preserved ruins and minimal reconstruction.  Its visitors center has an impressive array of artifacts and interpretation, which apparently could be understood and appreciated by most ages.  All descriptions were in both Spanish and English.

Two Mexicos
Some of the footprints also went north.

My impression is that North Americans tend to regard Paquimé as an extension of the ancestors of contemporary Pueblo cultures to the north, in New Mexico and Arizona, while Mexicans tend to see it is a northern outpost of Mesoamerican civilization.  The displays at the Paquimé museum appeared oriented toward the former view, with numerous to Chaco, Snaketown, and Mesa Verde, for example, as well as to the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo in the United States.

I’m not an archaeologist, nor do I aspire to becoming even an amateur archaeologist, so I’ll borrow some background information and interpretation from smarter people who have been immersed in those stuff for a long time.

Paquimé was the last of the great ceremonial and trading centers of the US Southwest or northwestern Mexico, perhaps enduring past the arrival of Columbus in San Salvador, Bahamas in 1492.  Stephen Lekson, at the University of Colorado, argues in his book The Chaco Meridian: Centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest ( Altamira Press, 1999) that this last center is linked by design and usage characteristics to earlier sites at Chaco,  and Aztec — all in New Mexico.  (One could also toss in Salmon Ruins, between Chaco and Aztec.) What’s more intriguing is that these three major centers are all located along the same meridian.

Here’s The Chaco Meridian‘s basic argument in one paragraph from pages 15-16 of that fascinating book.

“In Pueblo prehistory, there were three “capitals” — small ceremonial cities where low-grade political complexity encompassed and organized surrounding regions:  Chaco Canyon, Aztec Ruins, and Paquime (also called Casas Grandes). These centers were sequential, and historically related.  Each was by far the most important settlement of it stime and place, and each controlled the distirbuiton of exotic materials  — partots, copper bells, shells, and so forth.  Chaco, Aztec, and Paquime spanned in seuqnece five centuries, from abut A.D. 900 to A.D. 1450. (All dates are A.D. or C.E. and hereafter I dispense with those abbreviations.) A variety of symbols and architectural forms were used to signify historical continuity from each successor capital back to its predecessor.  Amont these symols was an interesting (but not unique) use of positional alignment: The capitals were al built on the same meridian. Pueblo traditional histories allude to places and events that may refer eto these sites and their sequence.  That’s all simple enough, I think.”

That’s Lekson’s argument, and it persuaded me.  In a slightly different context which I cannot recall specifically, someone during this trip offered the observation: “The only coincidence would be if there was a coincidence.”  A space alien circling the earth, unaware of the boundary between the United States and Mexico, might look down and see these sites laid out at -108 degrees W, give or take a few seconds.  I’m tired of ripping off Lekson, so I won’t steal the map that appears on page 16 of The Chaco Meridian.  Instead, please take a look at this map cribbed from Google Maps.  Ignoring the slightly crooked route, and looking strictly at the LatLng Markers I learned how to drop in, you can see the three sites are in near-perfect alignment, just like the motels on Central Avenue in Albuquerque and the embassies on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington, DC.  The line between  Paquime and the predecessor sites is about as ramrod straight as the borders between Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona on the map below.  If the alignment of the sites is coincidental, then one would have to argue that the Four Corners are likewise.


Keep this in mind.

When asked about the principal problem from tourists, I was told there are not enough.  A random look at the logbook for individual visitors revealed that as little as 16 visitors on a single day would show up at this, one of 936 examples of sites of “outstanding universal value.”

Influenza, a sagging economy, and narco violence are obviously to blame, but the H1N1 problem was three years ago.  It’s debatable whether the economy is bouncing back, but several conversations with local residents revealed that the region today is quite secure, although there were serious problems three years ago.


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Mata Ortiz

A few miles (or kilometers, if you prefer) down the road, part of which evidently has been recently improved, sits Mata Ortiz, a dusty hamlet that got its start as a railroad center where timber harvested from the nearby Sierra was processed and shipped.  In the mid-1970s a coalition of Mexicans and (North) Americans developed a lively pottery industry in the little pueblo, with styles that copy, evoke, or are inspired by work found at the Paquime site.  The reputation of this work has spread, and some work, we were told, has sold for as much as $10,000.

John Hatch advised us to visit the pottery museum in the apparently fin de siècle railway station.  Unfortunately, the station, or its surrounding apron, is undergoing repair and the building is closed.  We parked the car, emerged, and were instantly hailed by a woman standing outside her house, waving at us.  We strolled up and were invited inside to see her pottery and her relatives’ work.

We saw some beautiful stuff — many works in black or in mixtures of reds, whites, and yellows.  Others sported painted motifs inspired or copied from work from Paquime.  We promised to return and left to walk around the town a bit.

A bent-over ancient woman wearing a heavy sweater, earmuffs, and far too much jewelry hobbled over and promised to take us to see some wonderful pottery.  We followed her to a blue place three blocks down the callejon.  It was locked up, but across the street a smiling young woman was outside waving and beckoning us in.  Arrayed in her living room on sofas, side tables, and a few shelves were may 60 gorgeous pots.  I bought six, paying in U.S. dollars, which apparently are the preferred currency in Mata Ortiz.  The woman and her husband took the pots to the kitchen where they wrapped them carefully, first in plastic and then in newspaper, while we and our guide watched.

After our graciases and hasta luegos, we tipped our guide 10 pesos and headed back to the main drag, followed by the unrelenting guide. We returned to house number one and bought a few more gorgeous pieces.

I was bit conflicted about all this buying.  On the one hand, I felt a bit uncomfortable playing the vulgar gringo tourist, buying up everything in sight.  On the other hand, we were the only tourists in a place that depends heavily on the tourist trade which has been absolutely decimated — first by the influenza scare and more recently by incessant reports of narco-violence in Mexico’s northern states. As I write this, I’m quite happy that I bought these beautiful things for my home and to share with friends.

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Colonia Juárez

55th Operating Temple, Colonia Juárez.

The plan was to head to the archaeological site at Paquime, which opens at 9:00.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen on Mondays.  In a bit of a panic, I went into the offices and learned that the sites director and assistants would be arriving after 1:00 p.m., so we headed down the road to another Mormon settlement to look around and kill some time.

The gleaming white Mormon Temple, surrounded by brilliant green grass and flowering trees stood in distinct contrast to the browns and tans that prevail in the surrounding area.

We strolled about the grounds, admiring the trees, the adjacent fortress McMansions, and the spectacular view from the hillside.  A handful of Mexican laborers were working on the grounds.

One of the faithful emerged from the building shoeless, and near the doorway put on his shoes, which had been sitting there.  He came over and introduced himself as John Hatch.  I had just finished rereading God’s Middle Finger, by Richard Grant, a book that explores the lawless Sierra Madre and surrounding areas.  The author had hired John to guide him through the area and his name — and that of his father, Dr. Hatch — figures prominently in the book.

Anonymous tourist (left) with John Hatch (right).

I asked John if he was the John Hatch from God’s Middle Finger and he chuckled, adding that the book included a strong dose of hyperbole.  We chatted for about 15 minutes about the many visitors that hire him to explore the region.  He noted that European visitors are especially knowledgeable about and interested in Apache history.  (After being routed from the Southwest United States, Apache groups migrated south to the Sierra Madre and reportedly lived there into the 1930s.)

Academia Juárez

Safety.  John asked if we felt unsafe in this part of Mexico.  Standing in the brilliant sunshine outside under the golden angel Moroni, we felt pretty safe and said that we indeed never felt unsafe thus far.

He encouraged us to head down the road a bit and head to the tiny pueblo of Mata Ortiz, which is famous for its pottery.


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Colonia Dublán

George Romney's boyhood home. Now occupied by Mrs. Jones's brother in law, it has been extensively modified.

We began the day with a little bit of pre-breakfast touring.

Colonia Dublan was founded in 1888 by Mormon polygamists looking for a place to practice their variety of marriage without government interference.  Today it has been gobbled by the sprawl from Nueveo Casas Grandes and to the casual visitors appears rather seemlessly as a blend of various U.S. house styles from the late 19th century up to and including today’s McMansions.


We cruised around the neighborhood for a bit and then saw a blond woman in a silver Volkswagen dropping her blond child off at a Mormon school.  We stopped and chatted with her.  Mrs. Jones was very friendly and volunteered a mountain of information about Mormon colonies, places to visit (she recommended the Paquime packing house), border crossings, and how to avoid getting nailed for having an illegally imported car.

Another typical Mexican dwelling.

With respect to the latter, we learned that the customs checkpoint south of Janos demarks the line between interior Mexico and the frontier.  Driving north from Nuevo Casas Grandes with our illegal car, once we pass Janos we will be safe from fines or confiscation, because one can freely drive within the border zone without posting a bond to guarantee return of the car to the United States.  The challenge will be to drive around N. Casas Grandes, Casas Grandes, Colonia Juarez, etc., and then driving the 40 minutes north, past the checkpoint, without getting stopped by the police.

Colonia Dublán house.

We also learned that the border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, is the preferred path for exiting the country.  Approximately 50 km past the town of Janos (which produces a liquor called Sotol, which is distilled from the Desert Spoon plant, and which I now have in my possession) is a cutoff to a 7-mile dirt road that leads right to the border.  Going that way would avoid the dangerous switchbacks, congestion, and military checkpoints heading west on Mexican Route 2.  In its place apparently is a rather straight shot up to I-10. We will see.

Mrs. Jones told us that a freak snowstorm last week decimated the communities peach crop.  I don’t recall if she said their apple crop was destroyed.  The Mormon colonies in Chihuahua are know as the Washington State of Mexico for their fruit production.

We headed back to the center of town and stopped at a prominent well-lit restaurant. Apparently, they’ve been in business for 58 years, with zero redecorating in the intervening period.  There was an elderly fairs-skinned couple sitting adjacent to us.  They obviously weren’t tourists and they were speaking German to each other.  The man said hello as we entered the restaurant.  As they left, he chatted with us about where we are from and joked about outsiders’ fear of violence.  (At this early point, it was becoming abundantly clear that this place was no fear-plagued war zone.  People appeared to be comfortable in the parks and public places, and there were no trucks laden with black-clad and masked military that I’ve seen in Michoacan.)

Mrs. Jones provided helpful information.George Romney's house. Now owned by Mrs. Jones's brother in law. Apparently it has been extensively modified.
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Nuevo Casas Grandes

Left Tucson a bit after noon and it took all of six hours to get to this bustling little city of 60,000.  Although it’s not terribly far from the border — about maybe 50 miles as the crow flies, there isn’t much of a feel of a tourist town (although the hotel personnel appear mighty fluent in English).

I had read numerous times about the need to give the Mexican government a bond of several hundred dollars to guarantee that visiting motorists won’t decide to sell their cars in that country.  Somehow that vanished from my consciousness as D., C., and I crossed from Douglas, Arizona to Agua Prieta, Sonora.  So, after crossing the border (where six U.S. officials asked us if we had any guns with us and where we are going and, 100 feet later, a Mexican barely out of his teens and toting a nasty looking automatic weapon looked at our bags for two seconds), we stopped briefly for some roadside chicken and then blasted down Highway 2, which parallels the US border for maybe 90 mines.

At many points the distance between this desolate highway and fence is perhaps 100 yards.  Closer to Agua Prieta, it’s a more menacing looking steel affair. Once into the wilderness, it appears to be less formidable, and with less (or less visible) related electronics. In most cases the border there is a vast scrubby or grassy plain.  Anyone attempting to cross there would be easily seen by a helicopter or airplane — not that we saw any.  The only people on this lonely road were soldiers at two military checkpoints and truck drivers backed up for miles in a westbound direction, heading for the checkpoints and x-ray searches.  It was difficult to understand why they would have two such checkpoints on one enormous stretch of highway uninterrupted by any communities.  But there they were.  Plenty of economic value going down the toilet as these semis trickled through the checkpoints.

We finally got to Janos, a dusty crossroads, where a highway from the Ciudad Juarez met us us and we gassed up.  We were now only 40 minutes from N. Casas Grandes.  We trundled down the road for another 10 minutes and hit a customs checkpoint.  A trim female agent in a pony tail speaking Spanish asked D. for some papers and he produced the pile of insurance documents and copy of the Jeep’s title that C. had gathered and put in a large manila envelope.  No, she explained in fractured English.  That wasn’t what we needed.  There was something about a license…and then I remembered.  The bond for the car. There was another word uttered: detencion!

I got out of the car so I could talk to the female agent and her male associate.  Explained that we were only going to Casas Grandes, only 30 minutes away, that we were going to be there only two nights, and that I had an appointment at 9:00 the next morning with Doctor Eduardo Gamboa from INAH. The last part was a bit of a stretch.  I wanted to have an appointment, but never had a response from Sr. Paquime confirming it. The male agent calmly turned to me asked if I had $200. “No, I said.”  Tengo dos cientos dolares.  $100?  “Tengo solo cincuenta.”  He walked away a few paces, then returned, waved, and said it was okay to go.

With that victory under our belts, we headed to Nuevo Casas Grandes.  It was dusk at that point, so the details were a bit hard to make out.  It appears to be a prosperous community.  Indeed, when we checked into the Hotel Pinon, we were told they couldn’t honor our reservation beyond Sunday because a mob was coming in for some ceremony connected with construction of a new Soriana (a Wal-Mart style discounter).  Shows who’s really important here!

Approaching pass from Sonora to Chihuahua. U.S. is in the distance...a few miles away.
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After-swim shot, Jacksonville, Florida

I’m about to embark on a trip to the southwestern states in the U.S. and to Chihuahua, Mexico and thought it would be useful to share my experiences with family, friends, and stalkers.  I hope you like it … and I hope I like it.

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