The Altar Valley

Like beads on a rosary, a string of lovely Mexican villages line the lush Altar Valley south of Sasabe, Sonora. Their names are musicial -- Caborca, Pitiquito, Atil, Oquitoa, Tubutama and Saric. All are home to 17th-century Spanish missions founded by Father Eusebio Kino, padre, explorer and penultimate desert rat.

The town of Caborca was relocated when the the river changed course, so its mission lies in a quiet residential neighborhood on the edge of town.

Oquitoa's mission is the oldest one still in daily use. The village streets are paved and lined with date palms. However, the only access from the main road into the town is over a rough and rutted gravel road. Maybe the Oquitoans aren't all that interested in contact with the outside world?

Oquitoa is also the site of the ruins of an old adoble watermill.

Tubutama is on the east bank of the river, overlooking a forest of golden cottonwood trees. Even the local "desposito" was photogenic.

The pavement ends in Saric, and the gravel road that would take us over the mountain to Sasabe was none too obvious. After three loops through the village, I mustered my courage to ask directions. My "victims" responded by flashing brilliant smiles and unleashing a torrent of words of which I understood little except "perdito." They motioned for us to follow them and accompanied us to the edge of the town. Before wishing us "vaya con dios," the driver came back to warmly shake my hand and offer us a beer. Dang! I swear next time I'll know enough Spanish to take him up on it!

We crossed the border in time for sunset in Arivaca and dinner at the Grub Stake Saloon.