Border Crossing: A Road Trip To Nogales, Mexico From Nogales, Arizona

Border towns on the U.S.-Mexico border don’t get much love. I “understand” the reasons people provide for why, but, frankly, I love Mexico. And I haven’t even spent as much time there as other destinations. But each time I go, I love it. My Pinterest boards are bursting with pins of my Mexico daydreams. Growing up in Phoenix, I, for one, always enjoyed day trips down to the sister cities Nogales, AZ and Nogales, SN. I looked forward to Coca Cola with real sugar – not corn syrup, purchasing new paper mache parrots, tin garden sculptures, and lunch at La Roca. I love road trips, and had not taken a road trip to Nogales in years, so….

Nogales, Mexico

When another 100-plus day taunted me, I knew I was NOT spending another sweltering monsoon Saturday in Phoenix. I *really* want to go up north. BUT — I also need to practice my Spanish before my move to Oaxaca. What better time and place than a morning border run to a long-missed trip to Nogales? I grabbed all the small bills I could gather, to make for easier bartering. Packed Edie’s vaccination and registration records, in case I was asked (I was asked but not required to verify — but why take the chance), and my passport & GOES cards. We left Phoenix and would be in Mexico by lunch time.

Once we hit I-19 from Tucson and started to pass the missions, San Xavier del Bac, Tubac, and Tumacacari. Further along, I spotted the warehouses where produce coming through the Nogales port waits for shipment to the rest of the U.S. Fun fact: an estimated 80% of U.S. purchased produce enters the country through Nogales. Another fun fact: the produce rests in those warehouses for up to a week before being placed on a transport truck in country.

A hillside view of Nogales, Mexico

Speaking of lunch… My favorite place is La Roca. I’ve been going there for over 20 years, and they do it right, every time. This is old school dining. Most of the staff have been there for decades and the service is perfect. The maitre d’ directed me to the patio where Edie and I sat on a balcony lined with potted geraniums. A perfect tamarindo margarita started to sweat on the glass… while the temperature was a sweet 83 degrees, the humidity was darn near tropical. La Roca has a near cult following and once you’ve been there, it’s easy to understand why. From the decor inside the cave to that service I mentioned, and the food…. the food! Seafood from the Sea of Cortez… and everything is fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh! The pico is so fresh, it’s practically sassy.

La Roca Mole

Following a delicious meal of mole and more margaritas, Edie and I crossed back over the tracks and pedestrian bridge to start some shopping. The general absence of U.S. tourists made for easy bartering. Alleys filled with steer skulls, punched tin, pottery, and woven textiles in an array of colors were reminiscent of trips before the border frenzy and fear of drug cartel violence when walking across the border required my driver’s license, at most.

Friendly shop keepers invited me in and were eager to sell their wares. Whereas I usually start a barter at about 30% and haggle up to an agreed-upon price, I found myself walking out with a serape and dress for my niece for about a third of the starting price. The bartering was easy and of everything purchased, I paid around 30-40% for everything. I had the advantage of being one of very few shoppers that day.

Nogales day trip shopping

I was on a mission for a statue of St Joseph to aid in a current real estate struggle (living in an on-the-market house can be a daily struggle of constant tidiness). Repeated pop ins to curios looking for San Jose resulted in empty hands or only giant plaster statues. Finally, the smallest one I could find I bartered down to $7 USD from the asking $22 USD. He, too, was bigger than I wanted, at nearly 10″ tall.

U.S. Mexico Border Wall

Crossing back into the U.S. was easy. I had my large tote of purchases and Edie in her sling. The customs agent asked me my purpose of my visit. “Lunch and shopping,” was my response. There was no further inquiry or inspection. He asked me if I had current vaccinations for Edie, and when I offered to show them, he politely declined. Like that, I was back in the U.S. A quick walk to the paid parking lot ($4 right across the street from Burger King on the border side of the road) and Edie and I headed toward Phoenix.

Nogales Mexico street art

Crossing through the more northerly border patrol checkpoint was a breeze. Somehow, my 7.6 lb rat of a dog manages to get the highly trained border patrol canines to lose their minds. I’ve seen one do a back flip on his handler’s leash – granted, Edie tends to start the aggression with her (fierce and imposing — in her mind, only) growls and barks as we start to pull to the check point. At this stage, usually they just wave me through so their dogs will calm down. If Edie weren’t so annoying, I’d probably find the scenario amusing. But, alas, we’ve been through the scene too many times.

We stopped at Tumacacori, but alas, no dogs allowed at the mission! Sorry, Edie!

Tumacacori National Park

I made it back to Phoenix in about 2 1/2 hours. Pete balked at the size of St. Joseph and I assured him I endeavored to find a smaller statue. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of St. Joseph before he went into the ground… We had an accident. When Pete put him in the hole he dug, head first (always), he was decapitated. It remains to be seen if that is going to motivate him to help the house sell quicker or if we are in for a longer sell. This is very much a sort of groundhog day conundrum!

But what about safety, right? 

Visit Nogales

With all the talk about the “great, great wall” a particularly provocative presidential candidate continues to tout, the border – and existing wall – remains a controversial topic. I hadn’t been to Nogales since the Sinaloa cartel and smugglers (human and drugs) descended upon the area with increased violence. A couple of friends and I recklessly camped on a beach along the Sea of Cortez during the height of the violence, but we were not disturbed, threatened, or observant to any activity.

There are varying reports of safety. The biggest risk to U.S. tourists is probably wrong place, wrong time. My thoughts on that are there are plenty of places in Phoenix and any other large U.S. city where wrong place/time can play out. Granted, I’m a bit more adventurous than a majority of my friends, but I’m by no means an adrenaline seeker!

I felt safe my entire time, even when venturing outside of the Obregon corridor (which is generally not recommended). To be fair, though, I only saw one other U.S. couple during my entire day. I sharply observed changes and noted that this was not the Nogales I knew from shopping marathons with my mom and day jaunts with ASU sorority sisters and friends. While the squares and sidewalks were bustling and lively, I found curio shops primarily empty. Vendors were eager and flexible with negotiations.

Overall, from what I saw on my solo shopping excursion, general safety concerns apply. Don’t be a fool, and you’ll be ok. As for my day trip with Edie, I am content with my purchases and think we had a day well spent.

Shopping in Nogales

Follow:

Learning to Take a Leap (A Flying One, That Is)

Learning to Fly – Tom Petty w/ Stevie Nicks : Does it get better than this? I got a little tingle feeling on my arms that I recognized as goosebumps.

Well, if I were slightly less tired from last night’s party (my ass is old; I cannot stay out that late anymore!!), being less tired would be a great start. Being finished with these papers looming over me (I can practically feel the executioner’s ax on my neck). However, attending the Junior League of Phoenix White Party was awfully fun last night! Any opportunity to don a new dress and pair it with vintage treasures from inside my closet is alright by me (and this made for the seemingly one time per year I can bring out my fluffy fox stole – relax, it was already an estate piece when I got it). Rooftop dancing at Casablanca Lounge among suspended flower arrangements and a grooving DJ on a Saturday night in January — and NOT feeling cold? Yes, please!

Well, and although my ass may be old, the cutie 25 year old from one of the stops last night actually reached out to me and asked me on a date. I figured why the hell not, and so Saturday night will be a puma (I think that’s what I would be called). All I have to lose is some hairspray, lipgloss, and I can chalk up the night at the very least to one of an experience!  I’m not yet sure if this means this young buck has a thing for older women (Dear Lord, I hope he doesn’t think I’m a cougar – I don’t like being aged upwards) or if I maybe am not quite the picture of the little old lady I see in my mind?

But either way, although I do not view, with any seriousness, a possible romantic connection with someone more than a decade younger than me, this is an opportunity for me to get out and have a new experience with someone new. Truth be told, I have been so completely shut down to the idea of dating — ANYONE — perhaps a date with a quarter-centarian might help me find the fun that I used to have dating again. This is my flying leap. Hey, I generally don’t date men younger than me (not by design or choice; it’s really just worked out that way), and this fellow is so significantly younger than me, to call it a leap is not much of a leap. Hell, that I actually agreed to go out on a date – with anyone – at this point is a leap!

Oh, and maybe I took a little inspiration because today’s Kiss a Ginger Day…. 😉

Follow:

Membership has its Privileges | Phoenix Art Museum Membership After Hours

Do you have a city ritual or space you go to with a regularity bordering on Mass? Hands down, one of my favorite spaces in the city is Phoenix Art Museum. Searching for ways to lower my tax liability, I have been maintaining a Phoenix Art Museum membership for a number of years.

My fanaticism of the museum ultimately led to me joining WoMAC, the Women’s Metropolitan Art Council. I care deeply about supporting causes and organizations that are important to me. Joining WoMAC is a way for me to strengthen my support for this gem.

I often find myself running in for an hour, or less, on a hot Sunday afternoon. One thing I like to do is dash in and spend some moments reflecting in front of a favorite piece. Say “hello” to Frida, study the latest fashion exhibit the curator designed….

Upside Down, Inside Out

From my favorite Anish Kapoor to delightful modern and contemporary gems most Phoenicians don’t realize we have, PAM is a fantastic way to spend some time in my day, or as with the other night, to create my own night at the museum.

One day I will be in Chicago long enough to visit Cloud Gate — that likely requires going to Chi Town for something other than business-only. Until then, I satisfy myself to take nuanced selfies in front of Upside Down, Inside Out, the glossy black sculpture in the main hall.

There’s some feeling just the other side of “whoa” when walking through great halls of nearly vacant museums that makes me feel as though I’m trespassing with my partner, and even among friends.

 
We loitered in the Contemporary Gallery after a party with a hushed reverence as if we are doing something naughty and oughtn’t be allowed.

What is your favorite city space?

 
XO, Jennifer
 
Phoenix Art Museum Membership My Own True North
 
Follow:

A (Bad) Dog’s Life

What a dog’s life. Little Edie’s got it made, whether in sunshine, a beach bar in the desert, or under a tree’s shade. She’s still a bad dog, particularly when chewing a new CK bra, then a (not-cheap!) belt from JCrew, followed by gnawing a hole as big as her head in the left arm of a merino wool sweater (also from JCrew, who does not have any brown sweaters in their color palette this season with which I can replace what is formerly my favorite frigging sweater).

Follow:

Tricky, Tricky, Snow is Sticky!

So, the Mayans may be getting the last laugh after all. It snowed in Hell… or Hell froze over. One of the two; maybe both. Either way, what I can’t believe I’m saying is… it frigging snowed in Phoenix!  Well, at least in July, it feels hotter than Hell in Phoenix, and today, er “Yesterday,” it snowed on my geraniums. And around the palm trees outside my front door. And, my neighborhood didn’t even get the full dusting some of my friends living in North Scottsdale saw! It snowed…. in Phoenix. Or, as meteorologists are calling it, gropple? Kind of like calling what were decades’ worth of monsoon dust storms are now haboobs?

Follow: