Nothing seemed dangerous, whether having a shrimp cocktail at a fish market, conducting an interview in a barrio, or driving around at night in the dark amid the mostly unoccupied homes in Cholla Bay.

New Times drove through the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, a national park off Highway 8 that's promoted with small billboards in nearly every hotel in Rocky Point these days. Though blog sites suggest hiring a guide for the 40-kilometer loop through the park, considered one of the most heavily cratered places on Earth, it's not really necessary. El Elegante, which could be Meteor Crater's volcanic twin, is an awesome sight.

Driving around this part of Mexico and hanging out in Rocky Point was the Gruesome Adventure That Wasn't. That is, it was all good.

Sunset on Sandy Beach as seen from Playa Bonita Resort
Jamie Peachey
Sunset on Sandy Beach as seen from Playa Bonita Resort
One of Rocky Point's rusty fishing vessels returns to Old Port
Jamie Peachey
One of Rocky Point's rusty fishing vessels returns to Old Port

Of course, the extra risk inherent in travel to a so-called Third World country must be accepted. Like riding a motorcycle, which is statistically more dangerous than driving a car, a mental adjustment must be made.

"If you're not familiar with the country, there's some uncertainty about travel," says Margie Emmerman of the Arizona-Mexico Commission. "People who travel more frequently are savvier about how to travel and where to travel. It's about having the right mindset."

Emmerman says she recently drove from Phoenix to Hermosillo, southeast of Rocky Point, without incident. But she has her limits: She says she wouldn't drive there alone.

The thought of driving south on Highway 8 from Sonoyta to Rocky Point, whether alone or not, holds many potential visitors back.

"I wouldn't mind going to Rocky Point," says a former Phoenix resident who says she practically "grew up" there because of her family's frequent visits. "But the drive there — I'm not sure I would do that now. I don't like those long stretches of nothing in the desert."

Rick Busa, a Rocky Point resident from Phoenix who runs a sports foundation in the Mexican town, says his wife and daughter frequently motor from Sonoyta to Rocky Point without worry.

Busa knows the United States isn't necessarily safer: A few years back, he lost a 17-year-old daughter in a vehicle collision just outside of Buckeye that also killed another teen. They were coming back from Disneyland.


Rocky Point's earliest history as a tourist destination involved an associate of Al Capone's.

It's ironic, then, that so many people are scared to visit it now because of crime related to the prohibition of drugs.

According to published accounts, the mob boss' associate, hotel owner John Stone of Ajo, was turned on to the area by Mexicans who wanted to promote excellent fishing and recreational opportunities. In 1929, Stone built a hotel, a well, and an airport that provided direct flights to and from Phoenix and Tucson. After a falling-out with the fledgling town's leaders, Stone was driven from the area — but not before setting fire to his hotel and blowing up the well.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the 65-mile Highway 8 from Lukeville to Rocky Point during World War II, in case America needed to use the Sea of Cortez port in its fight against the Japanese. (The United States had been prepared to take Rocky Point and the surrounding area from Mexico in the mid-1800s for a paltry sum. Mexico persuaded its more-powerful neighbor to the north to let it retain a land bridge to Baja California).

The region turned into a partying mecca in the 1970s, with the development of beach homes from the craggy peninsula of Cholla Bay to the smooth beaches of Las Conchas.

Many longtime Arizonans can recall the litter box of used fireworks and beer cans known as Sandy Beach, a place strewn with campers and drunk ATV-ers. Articles from the early 2000s depict a town struggling to cope with its own growth and popularity, with police making half-hearted crackdowns on the craziness. At the same time, it's been a magnet for families from Arizona and elsewhere who stick to the quieter beaches and condos.

The town grew up, sprouting high-rise condos on Sandy Beach and a resort experience. Circle Ks compete with the Oxxo convenience stores and Pemex gas stations. Houses are stuffed into Cholla Bay, some with virtually no setback from the road. Americanized, guard-gated neighborhoods east of Las Conchas sprawl past an estuary along back roads (upon which no American ever has been kidnapped or murdered — that New Times could ascertain, anyway) to the Mayan Palace area, which contains a swanky resort and expensive-looking, mostly half-built homes. Most of what is considered Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco is far removed from the gritty township.

Serious problems with overdevelopment in Rocky Point have become more acute now that hordes of tourists have stopped coming, says Fausto Soto, the city's director of international relations and tourism.

During the height of the "feeding frenzy," as Soto puts it, condo towers like the Sonoran Spa and Sonoran Sea, both of which contain more than 100 condo units, sold out just four hours after auctions began.

"We didn't really develop a real tourist industry, because there were no hotels," Soto says. "We called it 'real estate tourism.' More than visitors, buyers were coming down."

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1 comments
Nikkidog
Nikkidog

Just heard when crossing the boarder into mexico, the mexicans are taking turkey, steaks, hamburger meat and dog food from the Americans.  Not a very good thing to be doing when it's Thanksgiving and a lot of people will be going down there.

 
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