On Day 5, I was determined to make up for lost time. I’d stopped in El Paso to take in some of the sights. My destination for today was Yuma, Arizona, over 550 miles away.
After a so-so breakfast at the motel (hey, it was included at least), I was back on the road. I didn’t know that the highway I was on, I-10, ran parallel to the US-Mexico border and was shocked at the contrast between both countries.
To my right, on the US side, there were brand new shopping malls, tall buildings and late-model cars and SUVs. To my left, Juarez, looked the part of a third-world country. Ramshackle houses, some without proper windows and the odd pick-up truck kicking up dust along a dirt road. I couldn’t spot a building higher than two stories.
Houses in Juarez seemed to have been built without any planning and just been placed randomly on one of many hills that dot the Mexican landscape. The fence along the border can be seen below.
After El Paso, I-10 winds away from the border. Pretty soon I was in New Mexico.
One of my favorite town names ever is “Truth or Consequences” in New Mexico. The town’s original name was Hot Springs, but residents changed it in 1950 to win a contest proposed by Ralph Edwards, host of the radio quiz show “Truth or Consequences”. Edwards promised, on-air, to broadcast the show from whatever town renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs won the contest and Edwards proceeded to visit the town every year, for the next fifty, every first week of May. Edwards’ visit started a tradition for the town, a celebration named “Fiesta” that includes a parade and other activities.
To say the name change was positive for the town is an understatement.
La Mesilla, New Mexico
A few miles into New Mexico I spotted signs for the historic town of Mesilla. After driving past the exit, I thought better of it and backtracked, since this was probably the only time I’d ever be in New Mexico.
The town has wonderful architecture and houses are built in the traditional adobe style.
The place to visit in Mesilla is known as Mesilla Plaza, a National Historic Landmark. Basilica of San Albino is the most important building in the plaza and has the distinction of actually being established in Mexico, the country Mesilla used to belong to. The US government later bought the territory from Mexico, making Mesilla part of the US.
Below is the oldest brick building in New Mexico (built in 1860), now a gift shop.
Below is the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced. When Billy the Kid died and how is another matter that’s yet to be resolved.
Mesilla is fairly pleasant and on weekends becomes a huge tourist draw. Sellers line the streets and the atmosphere is lively. Not so on a chilly February mid-week morning. The place was a ghost town and every shop was closed.
The plaza commemorates the year Mesilla became a US territory (1854).
With nothing else to do in Mesilla, I was back on the road. Signs along a particularly barren stretch warned of dust storms. Thankfully, I didn’t run across any.
Interesting sign marking below marks the Continental Divide, which is the line that comes from Alaska and stretches towards Mexico. It marks the point at which rivers either flow into the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, depending on which side of the divide they fall.
The landscape was fairly interesting out here.
I was pretty stoked to run across the sign below, while on my way to Tucson. For someone who had been dreaming about this trip for a long time, I’d done very little research into what I’d actually see along the way.
The Tombstone movie (the Val Kilmer version) is one of my favorite American Westerns. There was no way I’d pass up the chance to see an actual Old West town, even if it meant driving 30 minutes out of the way, schedule be damned.
The town of Tombstone is a National Historic Landmark, and as such, very well preserved. It pretty much looks just like it did back in the late 1800’s.
The “haunted” Bird Cage Theater is still standing and open to the public.
As I frantically googled “Tombstone” on my cellphone, I learned that at 2 p.m there would be a reenactment of the most famous shootout in US history: the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
I arrived in time for the show, but just as I was getting to the ticket window, the attendant claimed the show was sold-out. After the people in front of me turned away from the window, I pleaded with the attendant to let me in. Thankfully, the attendant made an exception and let me in.
It was a great show, well-acted and very entertaining. Doc Holliday (below) was everyone’s favorite.
Below is Wyatt Earp and his brothers in action.
The actual place where the shootout happened is next to the stage where the live show takes place. Animatronic figures stand in the actual spots where the gunfight happened (according to Wyatt Earp’s account).
I couldn’t spend as long as I wanted at Tombstone because I was meeting a friend in Tucson. My friend later recommended I visit “El Guero Canelo”, an authentic Mexican restaurant known for their Sonoran-style hot dogs.
The verdict? Meh. The semi-sweet bun was good, but paired with the hot dog it was nothing to write home about. For my money, a New York-style dog or a Chicago-style dog “raked through the garden” is way, way better. I love sweet breads, but not with my dogs.
I made it safely to Yuma, Arizona, where I rested for a couple of days plotting my travel strategy through Mexico. I went to a local Sanborn’s Insurance, where I got my Mexican insurance paperwork and a couple of very useful travel guides and map, all for free.
Entering into Mexico was another story and I tell you all about it here.
Next, I’ll tell you how my trip through Mexico went, in all its glorious detail.