Engulfed by the spectacular emerald hills of Santa Cruz Valley, Heroica Nogales is by far one of the more scenic gateways into Mexico. Fourth in slew of border cities connecting the industrious Southern States of America to Mexico, Heroica Nogales ranks in a close second with Ciudad Juárez in terms of its importance as a trade route and travel portal. Unlike its Mexican counterparts, Nogales geographically extends beyond the national border into the South of Arizona, concluding some 60 miles due South West of Tucson. The Mexican portion is comparatively larger, home to over 230,000 inhabitants and encompassing a municipal area in excess of 1,675 km² (646 square miles) in the far North of Sonora State.
Nogales grew from relative obscurity, during a period of extensive industrialization back in 1882. Construction of the American Trans-continental railroad linked the industrial tracks of Sonora, laying the foundations of trade links between the two federal nations. Prior to its “link-up” with America, the Sonoran settlement was little more than a boom town for agriculture and mining during the Spanish colonial era. To this period, it owes its wealth of historical relics that lie scattered throughout the verdant district. A network of Spanish missions linked Nogales with the neighboring towns of Tumacacori and Tubac – both former settlements of the Meso-Pira Indians.
Lying wholly within the Arizona quadrant of Nogales, Tumacacori Mission continues to be of vital importance to natives of Northern Sonora, for it was here the first mission church was sited in 1757. Exploring its red brick portales and semi-ruinous nave, you'll discover a dearth of history within the mission, pointing to its use as a refuge during the Mexican Revolution. Famed for being the only military officer to achieve the rank of General during his lifetime, General John Joseph Pershing left his own mark at Tumacacori during the “Punitive Expedition” in pursuit of Pancho Villa. His name remains as clear as the moment he engraved it. upon the wall of the nave over 95 years ago.
Nogales attractions are largely of the old colonial variety, however a few buildings erected at the height of the Mexican Revolution still remain. Stroll North from the central plaza to Historic Morley Avenue, an avenida often compared to a time portal, such is the overwhelming contrast between old and new. A distinctive life-size statue crowns a monumental domed building midway along the avenue, marking the site of Santa Cruz County Courthouse. The statue is the Lady of Justice, usually exhibited featuring a blindfold across her face demonstrating that “justice is blind”. Lady Justice of Santa Cruz wears no facial covering, alluding to the superior and fair administration of justice maintained by the Santa Cruz Court. Marked by a slew of old cowboy stores and saloons, an afternoon exploring Morley Avenue is an experience not to be missed.
Downtown Nogales remains the hippest part of the city, characterized by tapas restaurants, old tavernas and a sprinkling of new age clubs to meet the demands of cross-border revelers. Vendors from the Mercado Hidalgo swarm to downtown Nogales of an evening keen to exploit their wares, creating a buzzy atmosphere amid the cacophony of bar hopping Americans and bewildered tourists asking for directions. If you can bear to tear yourself from the party hub, Nogales serves up a variety of open air music events at Plaza Municipal – arguably the perfect way to conclude an evening in Mexico's vibrant border town.
Attractions & Things To Do in Nogales
Tumacacori Mission Church – preserved in its present setting within scenic Tumacacori National Historical Park, Tumacacori Mission remains one of the most important Jesuit sites along the American-Mexican border. Tumacacori was the site of Santa Cruz Valley's first Jesuit mission church, erected by Father Kino and his Jesuit followers as a place of worship, as well as the “capital” of the mission network (of over 20 border sites.) The semi-ruinous nave also preserves the wall etching of General John Joseph Pershing, marking Tumacacori as his hideout while in pursuit of Pancho Villa. A small museum preserves the Mission 2000 archives, along with various Jesuit artifacts and art found at the site. Open: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm.