Casa Grande, AZ to Chihuahua, Mexico

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By Jonathan H

Bearings readers are in for a special treat. The following is the first day in five. When I was 23 and about to quit my first job after college, I decided to leave it all behind – if just for a few weeks. The ultimate destination was Batopilas, Mexico, a small village that sits deep in Mexico’s famed Barranca del Cobre. The possibility for adventure was irresistible, and long before I had asked my busy friends if they wanted to come along, I had really hoped to make this trip alone.
It wasn’t my first solo road trip, but it was my first foray into a strange and uncharted territory, where the locals still lived in caves and old, collapsing mining tunnels still hold the three-hundred-year-old secrets of millions of ounces of undiscovered gold. This place was literally still living in the era of Spaniards, and I was about to leave my comfort pillow to encounter a whole different culture. In a way, it was the inspiration for Bearings… so enjoy!
Pepsi Cola Sign in Bisbee Arizona

Day 1: Casa Grande, AZ to Chihuahua, Mexico

I’ve seen some beautiful country. After a long and fruitless search for a campground among saguaro cacti, I pulled off a dirt road and drove 1/4 mile from the Highway. I woke up in the morning to pressed coffee; folded up my sleeping bag riddled with stink beetles; and started on my journey towards the border. On the way were the bucolic mining boomtowns of Bisbee and Tombstone.

A Building in Bisbee Arizona

A long-forgotten building in Bisbee, Arizona, where one of the world’s deepest open pit mines resides.

Finally! I was in Mexico! Alone. Free. I drove across the Northern Deserts encountering one checkpoint after another – some military, some police. The first one I reached was for frutas; I pulled over and asked the inspector if I needed a “tarjeta de viaje” or “permisa de vehiculo.” He glanced towards me and nonchalantly said, “no, no, pase.” What I do remember of this man were his striking blue eyes. He was obviously mestizo, and he probably picked that up from his distant conquistador ancestors.

The same thing happened down the road, with another military checkpoint. I spoke in Spanish to the young soldiers, who quizzically looked at me. Their superior soon came out of the roadside shack in full fatigues, commanding a limited knowledge of English so I ambled along in Spanish. Again, I asked if I needed a permit to travel, or papers for my car. Not surprisingly, he said no.

Driving East along the border, I encountered the occasional immigrant making the long and arduous journey across the border and into the Arizona desert. I can’t see how they can do it in that heat – one was carrying nothing more than a one-gallon jug of water in his hand. His eyes searched passing cars to make sure they weren’t authorities. Upon confirmation that he was safe to continue his walk, he trudged forward, off into the horizon, and into America.

Searching for Relief

As the road twisted and winded its way through desert peaks I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of it all (the trucks in front of me were creeping up at a measly three miles per hour; there was also road work – which, I might add, was much needed). And I couldn’t help but notice that Mexico, despite being a few dozen miles from American soil, somehow seemed different. Maybe it was my mind’s eye playing tricks on me, but the expansive vistas, the mesquite and whitewashed cliffs — all of it seemed to resonate with all of the stereotypes and caricatures I had seen up to that moment.

There came a time when I had to “ir al bano.” Pressed coffee had worked its magic. Let me tell you this: it’s impossible to find a bathroom in Mexico. I assume most truckers just pull over to the side of the road, but stories of friends who have been thrown in jail for public urination have convinced me for a more civilized manner of relieving oneself. I pulled off to a roadside restaurant that looked as if it catered to weary truck drivers. The facilities cost a few pesos, and I also ordered my first out-of-my-country meal. Corn tortillas stuffed with carnitas – all of it unlike anything I had ever tried before.

Turned Back to Juarez

That day, 200 miles south of the border, I finally encountered my third and final checkpoint.

Tienes permiso?” The woman asked, as she suspiciously leered into the cab.

No. No tengo,” I said sheepishly.

I was told that I could go no further. The sun was setting. And I had to drive back North to get my papers, to the border, and Ciudad Juarez – Mexico’s notorious record-setting town.

Mexico Drug Cartels

A map of the drug cartels in Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is ground zero for the country’s largest and most violent cartels.

Record for what, you may query? Homicides. Some 400 women have been victims of femicide in the past few years and the murders have spread to nearby Chihuahua. It seemed so unlike the places I had recently seen. The Mexico I had seen seemed a peaceful place, full of smiling people despite the dry desert and the bleak surroundings.

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Ciudad Juarez – a notorious Mexican border town is notorious for all the wrong reasons

My truck rolled into a Motel in Chihuahua around 9 p.m. on my first day in Mexico. I fell asleep within minutes.

2 comments on “Casa Grande, AZ to Chihuahua, Mexico

  1. Darla on said:

    Your photography is beautiful. The vibrant use of the red and orange that you were able to bring out of the brick shows the depth of this advertisement. bravo!

  2. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Thanks Darla. This was taken years back, and I shudder to think how many amateur things I did back then… Every once in a while, though, a passable snapshot seemed to be fortuitously granted to me 🙂

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