Crossing the Sierra Madre
Welcome to Mexico
To me it's the place that gave us tacos, burritos and guacamole, but to Jonathan Winkler it's so much more. Having headed south of the border on a number of occasions, he is well placed to provide an introduction to the roads of Mexico.
This picture gives the lie to the stereotypical picture of Mexico as a country with an uniform hot climate though, to be sure, the climate generally is hot in low-lying areas. Mex. 16 is shown deep in the Sierra Madre, about midway between La Junta and Basaseachic. When I drove this route, I had to slow down frequently for patches of packed snow and ice which had not melted because they were in shadow for so much of the day.
Dogs on the loose are common in rural Mexico and even parts of southern Texas. As the sign shows, many of the placenames in this part of Chihuahua and Sonora are derived from the Tarahumaran language and so have characteristic -chi or -chic endings. There is continuing disagreement about which spelling is correct (e.g. Basaseachic versus Basaseachi), with guide signs using one or the other. Basaseachic and Tomochic are the only settlements of any importance on Mex. 16 between La Junta and the Sonora border, and Basaseachic is reasonably well provided with overnight accommodation because of its star attraction - La Cascada - one of the highest waterfalls in North America. (However, Basaseachic is situated at the head of the waterfall, and so has the worst views of it unless one is willing to make a difficult hike down within the canyon to a location where the full length of the waterfall can be seen less obliquely. Guidebooks with nous, such as Cummings' book on Northern Mexico, advocate taking a different route to the waterfall, via Chih. 25 to a back road near Estación San Juanito, which eventually ends at a nicely situated viewpoint on the canyon rim.)
Along much of its length through the Sierra Madre, Mex. 16 is simply cut into the side of one mountain after another, so that the motorist hardly ever leaves slide zones (zonas de derrumbes). Raising alignment standards is only one reason for building expensive valley viaducts as part of four-lane-divided relocations - taking motorists away from falling rock is another important consideration.
"Welcome to Chihuahua, the largest state in the Mexican Republic" - this sign (made of reinforced concrete gone scabrous as a result of the harsh climate and poor maintenance) greets travellers coming from Sonora. It is at least 10 km within Chihuahua, however.
This sign is situated on Sonora soil, near Yécora, about 30 km from the Chihuahua border. The white-on-blue color is associated with Sonora's "Only Sonora" vehicle permitting program, which allows tourists and other visitors not wishing to travel outside Sonora to obtain a free vehicle permit which is valid for travel only within the interior of Sonora. (Signs near the border read "Only Sonora - Turismo en el Estado.") This program means that Sonora has to maintain a system of internal frontier checkpoints within its own borders rather than, as is the case for other Mexican border states, allowing the federal government to run its own system of internal frontier checkpoints which are situated only along the international boundary. In theory a person who has driven his car around Sonora on a "Sonora Only" permit and wishes to go elsewhere in Mexico can simply stop at one of the state's internal frontier checkpoints and pay to trade in the "Sonora Only" permit for the federal vehicle permit which allows travel throughout Mexico. However, I could not establish whether this tiny checkpoint had the infrastructure required actually to issue federal permits.
[The sign should, obviously, say "foreign vehicles" - Ed.]
Nuestra Doña de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) is Mexico's national symbol. She is regarded as a friend to those in need - occasionally including even the farmer hoping to help himself to a few of his neighbor's cattle, or the adventurous young woman who finds herself in the kind of trouble that results in birth pangs after nine months. The Virgin of Guadalupe is often painted onto rock cuttings near the scene of fatal road accidents. I didn't find out why this image (made out of tiles set in concrete) had been placed on the hillside near a layby, or why the eyes had been effaced.