December 29, 2021
We are settling in to Sonoita, AZ. The first thing we usually do once we have our campsite set up is to go explore the local town. This gives us an idea of what amenities are nearby as well as local things to do and inspiration for photos. Of course, it is winter so the grass is all yellow, but we could easily imagine the summer here with green rolling grasslands. It is certainly not what we pictured when we decided to come to Arizona, but it makes this part of the state special and unique. We realized we were close to the Mexico border so we took a short drive to observe the border wall. I have to say, it was not impressive. More like a slotted fence. The gentleman at border control told us that people scale it easily with great frequency. Seems like a big waste of money to me. I also understand that local environmentalists are upset about the disruption it caused for the wilderness in some areas. Native Americans are also upset about the places where the wall messed with ancestral grounds and burial sites.
I discovered an old mining ghost town called Ruby that claimed to be the most intact ghost town in the state. We were able to request a permit to visit by sending an email to the website. We received a prompt response that we could tour any time Thurs-Sun. We chose Christmas Day because well…why not. We aren’t near any of our friends and family and had decided to skip gifts so the only plans we had for the day was to have our traditional cinnamon rolls with breakfast. This is a tradition I picked up from my mother and she in turn learned it from hers. Who doesn’t love fresh baked cinnamon rolls or an excuse to make them once a year right.
The road to Ruby was a long dirt road along a mountainous area. It was beautiful, but took us a couple of hours to get there. Along the way, we saw a small group on the side of the road so we stopped to ask if they needed help. They only spoke Spanish and though I have been learning Spanish for the past several months, I don’t have practice with conversation so I kind of froze up. We were able to communicate a little with the group. They declined our offer of water. They did ask if they could use our phone or come to our house to sleep. We had no cell service so could not help them there and we live in a camper so didn’t have a home we could take them to. For the rest of the journey we talked about our hopes that this group would be OK and get to a safe destination before nightfall. We both wished we could have done more to help like give them a ride to town, but the penalties for assisting those crossing the border are steep in Arizona. The highest penalty is if someone is killed either directly or indirectly, then you could face the death penalty for assisting the assailant. Info on AZ immigration laws
Ruby was an interesting place with some crumbling adobe structures as well as some mostly intact building made from wood and concrete. We were allowed to freely wander through the property after checking in with the caretaker with the exception of a couple of buildings boarded up as they were undergoing renovations. The caretaker was a bit fascinating to me. A woman in her 70’s living out here all alone with no running water. She had some solar panels up and I presume a generator for power. She had a cell phone she was able to use for us to pay for the permit with a credit card, but that appeared to be her 1 connection to the outside world. She told us that when she first arrived she discovered she could not connect to any cable channels so she destroyed her TV. She also told us that though she is far from town, she feels she has everything she needs. She makes a supply run once a month and when regulars come to fish or the owners come to visit, they always check with her before making the trip to see if she needs anything.
We asked her if she felt concerns for her safety being isolated out here in a border town. She shared that she had seen several people who had crossed the border pass through her ghost town, but they had never caused trouble, tried to squat in the buildings, or made her feel unsafe. She shared a couple of sad stories of some of these people who were in distress when she stumbled upon them and that since she had been a nurse, she was able to provide first aid and contact local agencies that could help. However, she did mention a few threats such as a rattlesnake that got into her home and vigilantes. She stated that the dangerous people that come through this area tend to be drug smugglers (they try not to encounter other people so hadn’t been a threat to her) and the vigilantes. I asked her who these vigilantes were and she shared that they are not from the area typically and they wear MAGA hats and carry AR-15’s. She stated that she had been threatened by them before and they would come onto her property to hunt for people who had crossed the border. She shared with outrage that they have killed over 200 people and nothing was being done to punish them for this.I felt sick hearing this story. Onto the ghost town though, I’ll share a couple of photos here that I came away with. This area is also used by conservation and animal researchers for the colony of bats that summers in the old mine as well as various other wildlife that lives in this area.
Christmas did give me the gift of a cavity. I thought about going to Mexico for cheaper dental care since we were staying about 20 miles from the border, but decided to check on the price with a local dentist who was able to fit me in this week. Since the cost was under $200, I decided to just stay local. However, when I was making the decision, I asked around and learned about a wonderful dentist just over the border with great prices. They said he has a primary practice in Tucson, but opened an office in Mexico too so he could offer more affordable services as well. The dentist here in Sonoita is great. I gave her a 5 star review and would like to say I’d go back to her, but who knows if we will be in this area again when I need a dentist.
I had also been thinking for some months now about a new hair color so I found a local hair dresser who was willing to be daring with me and give me the look I wanted. I think I must have been thinking of Cruella Deville when I came up with this look, but I do really love it. I asked people at the salon as well about their opinions on the border issue and people crossing over as this was still on my mind. They told me that locals don’t really have a problem with anyone crossing the border and sure they’ve seen it, but it’s not a threat or a problem for them. They did confirm that people outside of these towns do come in to round up those who illegally crossed at times and you are more likely to encounter them in the wilderness areas. Why is it a problem for people who aren’t directly affected? I know, I know that there are many causes for fear and hatred. One of the things I love about traveling is learning about the different perspectives and experiences of others. I think it’s worth knowing and sharing so here you go. Anyhow, the towns around here feel very safe to me. Sonoita is a small town where many people seem to know each other and take time to stop and catch up when they run into each other around town.
Jennifer MacNeil is currently traveling the US with her husband and two dogs. She loves to have adventures, explore, meet fascinating people, and see amazing places. She strives to learn every day and spread kindness to others. She documents her journey through her photography and blog to share with others.