PART 1: Driving from Arizona to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico - Rocky Point - during COVID-19
A Day Trip to Rocky Point Mexico from Phoenix Arizona
Puerto Peñasco is the Spanish name for the fishing village turned tourist destination known as Rocky Point. It lies on the northeast coast of the Sea of Cortez Mexico, about 60 miles from the U.S. Mexican border. Our family decided to visit Rocky Point in late August 2020, under the ever present threat of COVID-19. Like most people, we have been sheltering in place for months since the outbreak began and needed a break from the monotony of staying home and indoors. With recently renewed passports in hand, we planned a quick day trip. We wouldn't be staying overnight so we didn't do much planning beyond what we would normally do for a day at the beach. Rocky Point is known for its ocean shores, sandy beaches, and relative close proximity to the United States. We wanted to get an early start and it helped to do some light packing and preparation the night before. We got to bed early – setting alarms for 5:30am.
Things we brought with us
- Passports and drivers licenses
- Beach towels and large beach towel/blanket
- Cash/U.S. Dollars in small bills
- Printed Map and directions
- Cell phone with international data and calling
- Bottled water
- Snacks/food (no fruit as it is not allowed into Mexico)
- Life jacket for child
- Bathing suits
- Beach chairs
- Swim mask(s)
- Beach toys (shovel, bucket)
Heading out from Phoenix – 6:45am – for the 3.5 hour drive
We live in the east valley area of Phoenix Metro and it only took a few minutes of driving on Interstate-10 south before civilization dropped away. Ahead, beyond the casinos and racetracks on the edge of town, was the open desert. After only a few miles we saw a pack of wild horses. We also saw a lot of garbage, mostly plastic, on the side of the roads and caught in fences. It looked like polluted tumbleweed. It took many, many more miles before the garbage thinned out. Our route after I-10 took us onto smaller state roads through the towns of Gila Bend and Ajo, and aptly named Why (as in Why are you out here?). The terrain between these bastions of civilization was remote. There were dips and turns in the road. There were yellow and black striped markers along the way that we took for warnings about flash floods, and dips that might be hiding standing water when raining. But today was bright and sunny. Eventually we spotted a sign saying we had entered the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument area and soon came to a border patrol security checkpoint on AZ-85 (still miles from the border). We slowed down but weren't asked to stop. Soon we spotted the border wall in the distance traversing a hill side. I had never been to this part of the country and it was exciting to see. Finally we arrived at the border.
I wasn't sure what to expect. We were the only car – maybe one or two had gone a few minutes before us - it felt creepy and isolated, not like other border crossings into Canada I have done which were bustling. After a few stop signs and slow speed signs on a single track of road, we found ourselves across the border. No one on the U.S. side stopped us, which why would they, but I half expected an exit interview – asking us why we were going to Mexico, where we were going, and maybe offering a few safety tips - but that was in my head, it didn't happen. On the Mexican side we were waived over as expected and asked all the typical questions, and then cleared.
Sonoyta, the only vehicle border crossing open to non-essential workers
South of the border is the town of Sonoyta, and here it's obvious you are not in the states anymore. Most signs are in Spanish, speed limits are in kilometers, and traffic signs and road standards are a little different. We noticed the area looked sleepy (it was still early – around 9am). Not many people were out and there weren't many cars on the road. A few people were begging on the side of the road and in cross walks on the streets. Overall it looked safe, but we kept our doors locked and didn't make any unnecessary stops. (Due to Covid-19, at the time of our trip - late August 2020 - Sonoyta was the only vehicular U.S./Mexico border crossing open to non-essential workers.) We found clear and visible signs pointing us towards Puerto Peñasco, and soon we found ourselves beyond Sonoyta and on Mexican State Road 8 (Benemérito de Las Americas/México 8), the road to Rocky Point. This area is desolate like southern Arizona, but the terrain is different. We noticed less cacti (they disappear completely after a while), and the soil took on a lighter orange color. We surmised the soil composition changed due to salt air from the coast being nearby. (After we returned from our trip I did a little research and it turns out this area is full of volcanic rock from an ancient volcanic eruption – it's highly protected from development.) Rocky point lies only about 60 miles south of the U.S./ Mexican border, and after a long straight drive down Mexico 8, we spied the large hotel and condo units that line the beaches of Rocky Point.
Before leaving Phoenix we did two important and necessary things for safety: One was to get Mexican car insurance for our vehicle (cost approx $5/day), and the second was making sure one of our cell phones had an international data and voice plan. The cell phone came in handy. We used the maps features to navigate the final few roads to get to the beach area. Upon arriving we came across a guy asking us to pay to park. We didn't fully understand him, and he didn't fully understand us, be we all got the gist. $6 to park and we got a spot in a small lot close to where we could walk down to the beach. There was fencing up preventing anyone from driving down to the beach areas directly, and due to Covid they had us walk through a checkpoint and record our family name. They loosely directed us to area “1”, off to the left. Again the English / Spanish language barrier prevented us from communicating fully, but we got the idea and went with the flow. The beach area was great. We carried as much gear as we could, such as lawn chairs and towels, and set up camp. My daughter couldn't wait to go into the water and play in the waves. We went in together.. it was fun! Eventually the tide came in and we had to move our stuff up the beach a bit. By the end of the day the water receded much further out than when we arrived, making for a large sandy area. It was nice to hear the waves and gaze at the horizon where the water meets the sky.
Overall it was a great day and we spent about 6 hours on the beach. It was windy, and sand got into just about everything and everywhere. We all took a few large waves to the face and got mouthfuls of very salty water. There was a good amount of people on the beach, but it wasn't crowded. I don't believe I saw any other tourists that looked like us from Arizona. Everyone else looked like they might be locals. We probably stood out because we were approached by a lot of people - vendors selling their wares - so many times that it got annoying. They offered food, drinks, bracelets, hats, glasses, hair braiding, henna tattoos. All sorts of stuff. We did splurge midday and got a couple drinks. We also made sure to drink lots of bottled water to stay hydrated, but one thing us adults forgot to do was put on lots of sunscreen. We made sure our daughter was loaded up, but myself and my fiancée put on a minimum amount only, and we paid the price for it later. Very burnt! We didn't realize we were getting burned because the air temperature was so comfortable and there was a strong breeze. The sun didn't feel overwhelmingly hot like it can in Phoenix. We did put on some sunscreen, but it must have washed off in the water. The only negatives I can point out for the day would be the plethora of vendors approaching us – something I wasn't crazy about with Covid going on. Most people were wearing masks, but some were not. Also, there was a lot of glass on the beach. At first I thought it might be sea glass, but no, it was actual broken glass. It looked sharp and seemed to be everywhere. We couldn't step 2-3 feet in any direction without finding some, but we were careful and everyone avoided getting cut.
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