I didn't want to be on the roads far away from home after dark, so we decided we would leave around 4pm. We actually got going around 3:30pm, but it took 30 minutes to pack up and make a couple trips up to the car. After the first trip the guard at the entry point wasn't going to let me re-enter, saying the beach was closed. I explained best I could that my family was on the beach and we were packing up. He understood and let me back in. It was nice to finally get back in the car and on the road. We were covered in sand and salt and felt dirty, but needed some food and gas. We filled our gas tank in town (cost about 750 Pesos which we calculated to be about $35) and spotted a Burger King and stopped there. Everyone needed to go to the bathroom. We masked up and went inside and everyone inside was also wearing masks, including the workers. Good! Getting food took a long time. This, and getting the gas/petrol, set us back about an hour of time.
Rain clouds in the distance – flash flood at border town
We retraced our steps and drove the hour back up to Sonoyta. There were storms in the distance and at Sonoyta the road was a little wet in spots, but we never saw actual rain. About 1.3 miles from the U.S. Border though we encountered a problem. We noticed a property on the side of the road was inundated with water. There were some guys trying to shore up a wall with sandbags, attempting to prevent water from coming in to their courtyard, but it didn't look like their efforts were going to work. There was a lot of water. Then we noticed about 100 yards ahead of us there was what looked like a river running across the road. Wow! Flash flooding had submerged the only road back to the U.S. Traffic was backed up, but not far, so this must have started only a little while before we arrived. We were about 10 cars back from the rush of water and some larger SUV's and trucks were still crossing. It looked dangerous, and I have seen enough tv shows and news reports to know you should never drive into water such as this. We pulled over and stopped the car to take pictures and a video (see below). A lot of people did the same. We watched the waters go by for a bit, but the conditions were getting worse, so we decided to turn around. The water was still rising near us, the other lane of our road was now partially submerged.
We backtracked a bit and did something adventurous. Looking for an alternate route, we headed uphill into the surrounding neighborhood to the west. We weren't alone. We were driving a small SUV and there were other trucks and cars also heading up into the hilly area. We followed a few vehicles with AZ plates that looked like they might know where they were going. They didn't. The paved roads turned to dirt roads, and we zig-zagged up through the neighborhood. It was one of the most interesting parts of our trip - seeing houses off the main road and how people lived. A lot of people were outside watching the commotion. They seemed friendly. Every turn we took eventually led us back to the flowing river, the flash flood. We didn't see anyone make an attempt to cross. Eventually the vehicle we were following turned around. We talked to them asking if they knew a way across and they said no and we just had to wait for the waters to recede. It was an interesting situation for us. We saw a lot of stray dogs while driving the backroads. We nicknamed a happy looking one that followed us 'Buddy'. We returned to the main road where there was a long line of cars now heading towards to the flooding area, towards the border. We decided to get in the line, and after about 10 minutes got back to the problem area where cars were now crossing . The waters were high but they receded enough to let regular cars across. We figured we'd be in good shape since we driving a SUV, and we made it across without incident. The flooding persisted further up. For about a mile the road in general was under water by at least few inches. It was as if our SUV was a boat. We followed directly behind the car in front us figuring if there was trouble they would hit it first. They were following closely behind the car in front of them.
We made it to the border in one piece. There was short line at customs, and we made our way across with little questioning at about the same time the sun set. Now, we were quite a bit behind schedule.
Back in the U.S.A!
On the American side there was no flooding, no standing water. I felt bad for the town of Sonoyta. I'm not sure how often that type of flooding occurs, but it didn't seem like a regular event. Maybe there was a spate of recent building or lack of environmental planning, and the regular flow of the water was disrupted and funneled into areas it doesn't normally go. A lot of that water seemed like it was coming from the foothills and mountains on the American side. Driving home we decided to take a different route due to storms in the distance north of us – visible by the frequent and large strikes of lightning ahead - we wanted to avoid any more dangerous flooding conditions. At the town of Why we branched off to the east on AZ-86. After about 40 miles we turned north on to Indian Route 15, which would eventually rendezvous with the I-10. This was a nice road, well paved with wide shoulders. The speed limit was 55mph which I thought was odd, low. There was very little civilization bordering this road. We did 70mph, but doing 55 on this road at night is probably recommended. With the storm far away to the northwest of us we thought we'd be safe from it's affects, but weren't We hit a part of the road that came upon us suddenly, a dip, and at the bottom was mud and water. Our SUV hit this hard and we were going fast, and we barreled through it and thankfully made it to the other side. It was a harrowing experience and we slowed down after that. There was no indication prior to this area that there might be a problem. The road was in perfect condition and dry until then. About 15 minutes later we hit another problem area: standing water for about 100 yards. Again, since it was night time and dark it was hard to see this until we were right on top of it. This was why I wanted to be much closer to home when the sun set. We managed to make it across this stretch of submerged road also. Once you commit you don't want to slow down and stop, so we pushed forward. There were headlights from another car on the other side and we aimed for them. That car was stopped - they were contemplating whether to cross or not. On the other side we were cautious about what might be up ahead. We had about 25 miles left to go until the I-10 area and civilization. A few miles up though we came across another border patrol security checkpoint. They stopped us and asked a few questions about where we from and where we were going. I asked about the road up ahead and they said it was good, which it turned out to be. I let them know about the poor road conditions behind us.
And that was it! We made it back to I-10 in one piece and from there it was an easy ride back the Phoenix area and home. We got back much later than I wanted to (about 10:45pm) but it was a fun and adventurous day. I'm still amazed we were able to drive from Phoenix to the ocean, spend a good amount of time at the beach, and make it home again all in the same day.
Here's a few important things to consider for a road trip to Mexico
- Printed map in case phones don't work
- Mexican Auto Insurance – can buy for one day or more as needed (A must have)
- Have one phone set up for international data – other phones go on airplane mode at border.
- Let other people know your plans, where you are going, when you are expected back.
- Extra set(s) of clothes.
- Have a little knowledge of Spanish
- When traveling anywhere it is important to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense – driving into Mexico is no exception.
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