For the first time, the U.S. State Department has specifically mentioned Rocky Point in a travel advisory, citing recent cartel violence there as the reason.
The small town on the coast of the Gulf of California has long been a popular vacation spot for Arizonans -- but not so much in recent years as news streams north of extreme smuggling gang violence. Mexico tourism is down in general, and far fewer people have been driving down to Rocky Point, known in Mexico as Puerto Penasco.
If you want the full scoop, read our February feature article about Rocky Point, Scarecation. We found the place nearly empty in December, and only slightly more full of tourists in February, just before the universities went on spring break. New Times explored the evidence of recent violence, including a slaying last August at a popular boat dock.
We also interviewed the new police chief, Lazaro Hernandez, who told us that nobody knows why his predecessor was shot. The State Department warning states bluntly that the shooting of the former chief was related to cartel violence, (which, of course, everybody had figured.) After we got back, another apparent drug-related slaying occurred that seemed ripped straight from the Godfather. As New Times fellow Greg Pratt reported, a 21-year-old man was shot up in a firefight, then taken to hospital and abandoned by police. The attackers soon showed up at the hospital and finished the job.
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Still, we found Rocky Point to be peaceful, despite the ominous aura of potential violence. Going over the stats and old news reports, it appears that no American has been killed in Rocky Point since the early 1990s -- and in that case, an American hired the killer to off his wife. Most people who worry about going to Rocky Point fear the 60-mile drive on Mexico's Highway 8 from Lukeville to the beach, but we're not aware of so much as one confirmed carjacking on the road.
Not to say that it can't happen.
But there are rewards for those who "risk" it: Gorgeous beaches, fun nightclubs, real Mexican culture -- and none of it very far from the Valley.
Just watch your back.