Mary in Mexico

Mary returned to the U.S. for family festivities, and took a quick trip to Mexico to visit the region affected by the 1887 earthquake.  After all, the quake is the topic of her soon-to-be-bestselling non-fiction book: The Quake that Drained the Desert.

Amazingly, there was no line for cars headed across the border at Agua Prieta. Our border crossing took less than 20 minutes, including car and personal visa applications. The only question was why did I need a visa if I already had one in my passport, so I pointed out to the clerk that it was a visa for España, not Mexico.

On the Mexican highway 17,  this desert looked fairly drained:


I traveled with Lee, Joan, and Sarenson. Lee had recently mountain biked in this part of the  Sierra Madre mountains, and he and Joan visited the area years ago together.  We stopped for excellent tacos and biriera  (goat stew) in in Esqueda.  Sustainability=no paper plates, but instead plates covered in plastic bags.

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After lunch, a man stopped us by the car to tell us about things to do in Esqueda: visit dinosaur tracks in the mountains nearby (true!), and see the cave where Geronimo hid (possibly true!). He was an artist so he and Lee exchanged information.

We continued south through deserts and hills and past the environmental disaster of a mining town: Nacozari de Garcia. Like Bisbee except with yellow mining residue contaminating the hills and arroyos.

Up and over a ridge and down into the valley of the Rio Bavispe (where it flows south), we arrived at Huasabas and Granados. Lee and Joan had stayed in Granados before, so we decided to stop for the evening. We just missed the office hours of the Hotel Granados, so we went to the plaza to ask for directions.

The town was preparing for San Isidro Labrador four-day festival. Saint Isidro, the farm laborer. I later learned that San Isidro is also patron saint of Madrid, a city very much unlike Granados. Like in Spain, Mexico saints’ days always involve branding by the local beer.


We found the right guy, who showed us our rooms then walked with us to show us the one place for visitors to eat. We walked through the quiet town smelling pomegranate and orange blossoms.IMG_4558

Time for cocktails under the palapa:


Mary saw the full moon rise over the Sierra Madres:


Mary talked with the night manager of the hotel, an older gentleman who told her the stories he heard about the earthquake in Granados. Except it was a different earthquake (1913). Many adobe houses damaged, and people injured; he called it “un dia feo,” an ugly day.

At dinner, our hostess had made a special effort to invite us to the Fiesta de San Isidro Labrador because it is a beautiful festival.  But we had to move on early the next day. However, we did visit the plaza and church one more time to see  final preparations involving lots of flowers.



We had our first view of the Rio Bavispe, it flows south here and eventually into the Rio Sonora. This is  low river season, before the rains of summer. On the other side of the mountains (where we’re heading), Rio Bavispe flows north!


Onto the top of the next ridge, Lee skillfully drove us, to Cruz del Diablo (Devil’s Cross). At this overlook, we met a family band in their pick-up headed for the San Isidro fiesta in Granados. Lee chatted with them and came away with a CD of their music. The “cross” is where two canyons meet, and it’s a little difficult to photograph. Dramatic in person, however.

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Lee remembered a perfect cone-shaped mountain and sure enough, we saw it:



At last, we arrived in the town of Huachinera, home of Lee’s friend who would be our guide, scuptor Jess Davila. The town is home to the Centro Artístico y Cultural de Huachinera, with studio space, classrooms, and museum space.  I first saw it from the riverbed in which we drove after a wrong turn. Then we had a tour.

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Sculpture in progress by Jess Davila.

The next day, Mary interviewed Lolita and her cousin, and learned about her Uncle Chico, who felt the earthquake in the town plaza and remembers watching the burros bolting in fear. She said that the earth cracked open in the milpa (farm field) and swallowed a man up to his waist, then popped him out again!


José and Lolita in her kitchen

Lolita and her daughter Coyita made us delicious breakfasts each day and lunch on a couple days too! Their house was on the main plaza, across the street from the church. Huachinera was an excellent base for us, a quiet town with friendly people.


Church in Huachinera

Jess drove us to Bacerac, Bavispe and San Miguelito for interviews, interviews, and lunch, respectively. Jess translated Spanish when Mary couldn’t understand the older folks telling their family stories. We heard earthquake tales of the Rio Bavispe disappearing into cracks in the earth, statues of saints being rescued from inside quivering churches, and soldiers blocking people from going into one church. Which was fortunate because the Bavispe church roof collapsed during the earthquake.

Assorted scenes from the day are below.


Bavispe church in ruins after the earthquake.


Bavispe church wasn’t rebuilt until the mid-20th century.


Mayor of Bavispe shows Lee cracks in Town Hall from more recent tremors.


Bavispe plaza and new church on the right.


Church in Bacerac.


Typical modes of transportation: horses and pick-ups.


Rio Bavispe as seen from the town of Bavispe.IMG_4693

Alas, this restaurant in Bavispe was closed, so we went to San Miguelito.


In these small towns, a few people turn their homes into “restaurants.” We enjoyed machaca (dried and re-cooked beef bits), rice, beans, tortillas and grapefruit drinks paid for by the Town of Bavispe.

The next day, we headed north back to Arizona. Our drive was short in mileage, but long in time because of the dirt “road” condition. We went in and out of washes and sometimes the road WAS the bottom of the wash. Lee and his Subaru took good care of us. We looked for the earthquake rupture, which is visible somewhere along the route, but we couldn’t distinguish it from the many other ridges.

We stopped at a remote ranch house, where Lee and Joan had given a ride to someone about ten years ago. They invited us for coffee and guitar playing–a random and sweet final experience in Mexico:


Mary attempts to sing and play on guitar with two strings reversed, Lee is amused.

We drove on through the afternoon and arrived in Tucson that evening.

[Watch for more pictures from Mexico in the next post]

From this trip, Mary learned just how remote this part of Mexico was and is today. After the earthquake, the local people couldn’t count on much help from outside. The older people living today remember their family stories of terror. Which gave Mary a new perspective on the impact of this terrible event.

© 2014 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.





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