Ruta de Río Sonora

The highways following the Río Sonora are a terrific way to see a less touristy side of Sonora. Between Hermosillo and Cananea, the riverbanks are speckled with small towns, each with its own appeal. Some are known for their thermal springs, others for their rich histories. As is typical of the area, each has a colonial church and a heart-of-town square. People come into town from the surrounding ranches, so you'll see plenty of cowboy boots and hats.

The region is known for its hospitality, and it's common for townspeople to wave as you pass by. The easiest drive is up the valley from Hermosillo, although it's also possible to drive south from Cananea. (This route passes over mountain roads, which are difficult in bad weather.) From Hermosillo, take Sonora Federal Highway 14 east to Mazocahui, where you'll pass through Ures, the first town on the route, and then continue north on Sonora Federal Highway 89. The whole route, without stopping, requires a little over three hours. Driving part of it, with stops, makes an easy day trip, especially in autumn.

The land along the Río Sonora was the region's first inhabited area; it was settled by the Pima and Opata people. The route is also linked to the arrival of the Europeans—the Spanish explorer Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca followed the Río Sonora during his travels between central Mexico and what is now the United States in the mid-16th century, and the Coronado expeditions of the 1540s also followed the Río Sonora. The main towns along this route were founded and settled 100 years later. Signs at the entrance to each town give you the exact year.

Heading northeast on Highway 14 from Hermosillo, the first town that you'll come to is Ures. The former capital of the state, 45 minutes from Hermosillo, is the largest town on the Río Sonora. Its square is anchored by four bronze statues representing Greek mythological figures. There are some good country-style restaurants, and some of the 19th-century haciendas have been converted into hotels.

Continuing on Route 89, you'll pass through Baviácora, with its 19th-century church standing next to the 20th-century church built to replace it. Aconchi, about 15 minutes farther down the road, is a good base from which to explore the area. Make sure to visit the local hot springs, which range from tepid to really, really hot.

About two hours from Aconchi is Arizpe, the first place in Sonora to bear the title of "city." This was also the first capital of the province of Occidente, which encompassed Sonora and what is now part of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Its magnificently worn church, built in 1646, contains the remains of Spanish Captain Juan Francisco de Anza, the founder of San Francisco, California. Arizpe's quiet central square, with its handsome brick clock tower, is a great place to soak up the peace of small-town life. If you decide to stay the night, there are some worthwhile local restaurants and hotels.

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