Álamos Food Moments

During the Christmas – New Year holiday of 1992-93 a Film Crew departed San Diego
for Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. All of the crew had a relationship with the comedy,
music and travel program KBCH RadioTV which was produced in Del Mar, California.

This is the crew that captured Alamos Christmas 1992 and their hosts the Nuzums.

From left to right: Chaco Valdez, painting of Christina Vega by Jim Wilson, Anders Tomlinson,
Gary Ruble, Donna Beckett, R. L. Harrington, Robert Ganey, and the Nuzums: Jolene, Kit,
Elizabeth and Pember. At this moment they were all together and thankful.

The only woman on the crew was Donna Beckett who is amongst many things
a musician, entertainer and author of 3 cookbooks including Donna’s Favorite Recipes
of fabulous vegetarian recipes. On this trip she began a journal and here is an excerpt:

Journal of food December 1992 – 1993

I like to eat light on the road. The eight hours in the car: I carry
water, nuts, apples, bananas, fig cookies and crackers. Our first stop is
Tucson, Arizona. It helps to let all people know you are vegetarian because
while others ate: Chorizo pork I had yellow squash, zucchini, peppers,
onions, garlic in a tomato sauce rolled up in a flour tortilla.
While visiting the Tucson folks and touring the National Monument I ate
this vegetable dish for breakfast and dinner.

Puerta Roja, the Red Door, was home for a majority of the crew during their 1992 -93 Holiady film shhot in Álamos, Sonora, México. Photo by Anders Tomlinson..

La Puerta Roja Inn, Red Door, Inn was home for a majority of the crew.


Upon reaching Álamos our hostess Teri Arnold, owner of La Puerta Roja, prepared pasta
with both a meat sauce and tomato sauce. This vegetarian sauce consists of
garlic, onions and mushrooms. Wonderful with baguettes and sliced tomatoes,
sprinkled with olive oil, vinegar tamari and fresh basil leaves.

On day two we took a long hike around the city drank two glasses of water,
dried figs, and prunes and a banana with trail mix.

For dinner we went to a local woman’s unmarked restaurant where she had outdoor
dining. We had tostadas consisting of homemade tortillas vegetarian beans,
avocado, dried cheese, lettuce, tomato and topped with green tomatillo sauce.
Late-night we had papaya, pineapple juice.

It is very hot in Álamos, Sonora, México in December, so it is important to
remember to drink lots of water. We also took multiple vitamins. Afternoon hiking
took us to the mercado where fruits and vegetables abound. Afternoon snack
of prunes. Christmas eve, Teri fixed us a wonderful breakfast of cornmeal
pancakes with scrambled eggs. The pancakes were topped with cranberry sauce
sweetened with maple syrup. Scones seasoned with ginger were an
added surprise with her coffee.

In the afternoon we went to La Aduana to the miracle church where a cactus
grows out of the old church where the Virgin Mary appeared.

One day we took food out to a poor family in the mountains. There were 5 children
and three adults: mom, dad and grandpa in a small hut with a roof of twigs and cardboard
and a little metal sheeting on one side where the wind blows the hardest. I gave
the teenage girl the little blue and white shirt I was wearing. Her father gave
me two pieces of fruit from their tiny tree. The fruit is green and spiny and
cannot be eaten until it rattles when shaken. Very strange looking, it’s hard
to believe anyone would try to eat such an uninviting object. But there wasn’t
much food to be seen on their land and the well had only a foot of water in it
at the most. I ate an avocado and a roll and came back to join the team in a night
shoot in Aduana. They’ve set up a huge pipe organ upon our return, I grabbed the
leftover rice and veggies, and can of vegetarian chili- stirred and
served on a hot corn tortilla.

New Year’s Eve we started the day with water and later coffee. The Nuzums, at
Calle Comercio 2 next door to the Church, roast their own Mexican coffee beans
sprinkled with sugar. They grind them to make a very strong solution of coffee,
of which they pour ¼ cup and then add hot boiling water to make one cup. This coffee
is so good. I drank it black. It is strong, but never bitter. Off to shopping
and later stopped for a fresh squeezed orange juice. At the Mercado, we picked
up a ripe tomato and an avocado. At the bakery I bought negro pan brown
bread rolls and ginger cookies.

In the evening. I just want to relax and listen to the Mexican music coming
from the big dance downtown. There is music to be heard throughout the
city, day and night. Lovely.

Donna Beckett copyright 2017

Teresita's Panaderia y Bistro outdoor dining patio. photo by Anders Tomlinson, 2017.  Álamos, Sonora, México.

Teresita’s Panaderia y Bistro outdoor dining patio.

Teri Arnold has continued her fine tradition of gourmet cooking. The studio in the
back of Puerta Roja where the film crew stayed in 1992 is now home to
Teresita’s Panaderia y Bistro which has an inviting ambiance that is
enjoyed by Álamenses as well as tourists from all over México and the world.

For more Holiday Videos filmed on this trip.

©2017 alamos-sonora-mexico.com and Donna Beckett, all rights reserved.

Atop Sierra de Álamos

Late spring as seen by high up both sides of the Álamos Valley…

Looking at Alamos, Sonora, Mexico from the north.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It was an effort to get this shot. But it was the right season to do it.

I always looked north from Plaza de las Armas at two peaks that reminded me of camel humps. I knew they would provide a wonderful vantage point of Álamos and surroundings. Chon, my guide, and I started up a trail early on an overcast morning. Two others, possibly miners, with a supplies burdened burro, were ahead of us. High up, they took a fork in the trail to the east and we continued climbing to the west.

alamos, sonora, mexico seen from the north, mirador and plaza de las armas are clearly seen, photo by anders tomlinson . 1995.

In late spring, the summer jungle is bendable bare branches.

I was hoping the sun would break through. It didn’t. We reached the top under cool cloud cover. I would later learn this was a blessing. I began to film. We now go back in time to this moment contemplating the big picture. Timeless.

sierra de alamos, towering above alamos, sonora, mexico.  photo by anders tomlinson.  1995

Sierra de Álamos towers over the village wiping sleep from its eyes.


To the immediate south of Álamos is the Sierra de Álamos mountain island. It runs east-west, perpendicular to the coast and the Sierra Madres. It has always taken me and my guides several hours to reach the top from the Plaza de las Armas.
The most comfortable time to start is the cool pre-dawn hours.

View from Gringo Point, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Good morning Alamos from Gringo Point in the Sierra de Alamos.

A week later, Chon and I spent two days and a night atop Sierra Álamos. Gringo Point is a rock outcropping that looks down directly on Álamos. Truly a bird’s eye view. Again, overcast persisted. But what can one do but do what one does?

alamos, sonora, mexico seen fro sierra de alamos in the spring of 1995.  photo by anders tomlinson.

One can almost hear a 1,000 silver mule train leaving Álamos south.

Chon created a fire in the high altitude morning chill, a bed of embers no wider than his palm with a flame no longer than his thumb, and brewed me a cup of tea. I unpacked three bags of camera equipment and began to film. We did not talk. Below, a church bell persistently called for morning mass. And we could hear the past that becomes today and will be tomorrow. I have never forgotten that civilized cup of tea.

pines forest at the top of sierra de alamos overlookiung alamos, sonora, mexico.  photo by anders tomlinson.  1995.

Pine trees rustle in the wind and parrot calls echo off stone canyon walls.


Pine aromas in a dry tropical rain forest, with tea in hand, is truly a top-of-the-world experience. I felt safe with Chon guiding the way. it is always best to travel with a guide so you don’t go where someone doesn’t want you to go. Recently, life had been hard on Chon and these moments above and beyond the village were good for his spirit. And I was thankful for the opportunity to capture scenes from the highest vantage point.

Chon in the red hat behind Kit Nuzum

Chon in the red hat behind Kit Nuzum


Chon was Kit’s right-hand man during much of Pedregral’s early construction in the shade
of the giant fig tree. Chon took pride in doing a job well and enjoyed a good joke and a cold beer.

Sharing A Moment With Chon

We come and go, in the short term, like the birds and in the long term as do mountains.
This video scene celebrates Chon who worked on many projects for the Nuzums including
the strawbale casa on El Pedregal in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico.

Chon   portrait by Kit Nuzum, 2015.

Chon portrait by Kit Nuzum, 2015.


Another day, another smile amongst old friends in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. Time passes,
every moment history, every scene a moment. We are all part of the river of life.

Antonio Figueroa and Mountain , Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A summer return to the northern rock outcroppings.

One of 1996’s summer-photo-expedition goals was to return to the camel humped rocks. Local photographer Antonio Figueroa joined me on an effort to repeat the spring shoot. We knew summer heat and humidity would challenge us. We set off early in the morning. When we left the trail at the base of twin peaks we ran into a dense jungle of tangled vines, limbs, overgrown brush, stickers… We couldn’t get to the top. The air became hotter, oppressive, as the sun climbed into a watery sky. We had to return without our photos. Talk about disappointment, but it was what it was. And it would become worse. On the way down, Antonio ran head first into a hornet hive. If you could see Antonio’s swollen face in the photo on the trail you would realized his pain. As soon as we reached Alamos he went to the hospital for treatment. A tough day was had by all, but none tougher than Antonio’s attempt to capture the big picture. Jungle one – photographers zip.

View from Above

Mt. Alamos is some 6,500 feet above sea level. It towers 5,000 feet above the town of Álamos. It is another world, wild parrots, dry tropical forest, granite and… Up and down is a day’s effort, it is well worth it. To reach the top it is recommended to start hiking early while it is still dark and cool.
Photos and editing by Anders Tomlinson. Music from “Camino Songs” by SonicAtomics.

To see more Alamos Journal pages.

To return Home.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Galeria de Arte

Upon the wall art becomes windows to somewhere else …

View of Galeria de Arte from the Plaza, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Galeria de Arte was in the building to the left as seen from the plaza.

Beverly Krucek sent me several emails about the gallery she had on the Plaza Las Armas for many years. The following information is complied from her notes. The photo above was taken during the summer of 1996. Beverly was also a leading member of the Alamos Heritage-History Association, AHA, that meets at the Agave Cafe in the Hacienda de los Santos once a month in the summer and every Thursday morning during the rest of the year.

Galarie de Arte opened on the plaza in 1994 and was run by Bev Krucek for some ten years, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson

At times Alamos itself seems a living work of art and history and futures.

Beverly Krucek opened the Galeria de Arte on the Plaza in 1994. On average 25 artists were shown in three rooms, portal and patio. Artists came from all over Mexico, some from Columbia, as well as Tucson, Phoenix, New Mexico and a couple from France. Some 10 year later, Bev decided to trade up to a gallery in an art mall being developed and promoted by the Franks in the Urrea house on Calle Obregon. Unexpected problems arose that stopped the art mall project from going forward. By that time, Bev had turned her rental lease over to B.K. Hamma for her use as book shop, gift shop, and a new art galley leased to Vickie Lockwood. Upon taking a further look at the situation, it appeared to Bev that the tourist trade, which was her main target for sales, had fallen off so she left the gallery scene.

Galarie de Arte opened on the plaza in 1994 and was run by Bev Krucek for some ten years, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson

Upon these walls, that have seen so much, art speaks of inside and outside.

Beverly wrote about the block that the Galeria was located in,

“The Galleria was on the plaza in the row between the Hotel Alamos and what at one time was the Bank. That strip is now occupied by a games emporium, the Tourist Bureau, (then the Galleria) and a home restoration by the Bours. The strip prior to that, was The Hotel Alamos, The Casino, and I think either a bank or more probably a small residence occupied by the Bours.  The Casino was a club like operation where the men gambled excessively and the women were welcomed on Wednesdays. Some reading offers the information that Alamos was a huge hub of gambling.  Makes sense since most of mining management was an absentee sort of operation there was lots of both time and money.  Cards were big as was cock fighting etc.”

View of plaza from El Mirador.  Location of Galeria de Arte is noted.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

View from Mirador of building where Galeria de Arte was located.

Years ago, when I was in Alamos, Hotel Alamos, also known by many of my friends as the old Miner’s Hotel, was in serious disrepair.

In her emails Beverly addressed the old hotel’s current condition,

“The building part that houses the former Hotel Alamos and to some extent the part that houses the Tourist Bureau is in very bad disrepair and held together in an attractive way by a nice paint job.  Adobe keeps crumbling.  Everyone grumbles about it but no one does anything.  It is owned by Anamaria Alcorn.  INAH in Hermosillo and the local government probably could step in and force the work to be done but who has the money and where does government restoration come in with private ownership?  The end part (corner of Guadalupe Victoria and Comercio) has been well, and I think properly, maintained and restored by the Bours family.”

Casa Nuzum, Calle Comercio 2, from church roof looking east, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Looking down from the church at Casa Nuzum, Calle Comercio 2.

Calle Comerico 2, Casa de Nuzum, recently became an art galley, La Casa del Arte, managed by Tony Estrada and his wife, Lupita. Tony is director of Museo Costumbrista de Sonora, on the Plaza, which features regularly scheduled art exhibitions. Tony is also a gifted sculptor who takes discards and turns them into assembled artistic statements. Beverly commented on La Casa del Arte’s opening night, May 20, 2011,

“Tony and Cammy Nuzum will oversee other areas in the house to be used by artisans for producing their work and selling it from there. It was fun to see Tony’s opening at the Nuzum house where he showed 4 or 5 of the artists I had represented some years ago. It was great to see that they had continued to develop new depths in  their work while still being identifiable in their own style.”

Calle Comercio 2 is across the street from the bank that was next to Galeria de Arte. When I was a guest of Casa Nuzum there were paintings on the walls and art books in the library. I always felt it would be a wonderful gallery space being next to the church and around the corner from the Plaza. Location, location, location… The concept of artists working and showing their work in this historic Casa is profound and hopefully productive. There is a recent history of artisans here, Elizabeth Nuzum hired local women to create her designer clothing line in a wonderful sewing studio in the back pool patio of the house.

Historic footnotes from Beverly that were included in one of the emails,

“There was a Hotel Minero across the Plaza from the Hotel Alamos.  It is the first building on Madero off the Plaza, sort of tucked in at the lower level of the Portales Hotel. It was owned by Palomares (a war hero from the French invasion) and is now called the Hotel Enrique owned by Blanca Quijada Navarro.”

“We still have to add a tiny bit to the Chinese use of the Mexican silver peso…. Alamos did not specifically produce for China… they used the coin that was minted here and identified by A or an underlined A. Kin Rynd who lived there at the time (the 20’s) said it was always referred to as the Mex… much as we would say a buck. It also added balast to the ships returning to China after the deliveries to Northern Mexico.”

Visit one of Bev’s many loves Alamos History Association

To see more Alamos Journal pages.

To return Home.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Elizabeth Nuzum

Elizabeth Nuzum flanked by two men in her life, Kit Nuzum and Pember Nuzum.  photo by gary ruble.  1993.  alamos sonora mexico..

Elizabeth Nuzum flanked by two men in her life, Kit and Pember.

Elizabeth Nuzum was the first person I met after waking up in Calle Comercio 2 after a 900 mile car-with her son Kit Nuzum and his girl friend. Elizabeth was in the kitchen along with her helper Alba. I introduced myself, Anders Tomlinson, and she asked what my full name was. I replied Anders Paul Tomlinson. She looked into my eyes and said that would be a wonderful name for a writer. I was one of many, more likely a multitude, that were greeted, and complimented, by Elizabeth on their arrival to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

elizabeth nuzum in college.  photo supplied by cammie nuzum

Elizabeth enjoying her California college coed days. Photo courtesy – Cammie Nuzum

Elizabeth passed away June 18, 2014 at the age of 93 in Tuczon, Arizona. Her life began in Manila, the Philippines. Her early years were spent in China and Japan. She met, and married, Pember Nuzum while attending Scripps College in Claremont, CA. It was a life of big pictures, details, friends, helpers and those she helped. She was a flower that opened up, blooming every day, to the world.

Elizabeth and Pember Nuzum on their wedding day.  photo supplied by cammie nuzum

Elizabeth and Pember Nuzum on their wedding day. Photo courtesy – Cammie Nuzum

Pember and Elizabeth were part of the fabric that is Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. At times, they had a hand in selecting materials and tailoring of this social fabric. They were colorful, as big as life and up to the countless challenges that comes with building a home in another land rich with history, tradition and culture.

Elizabeth Nuzum at her greeting table. Photo - Joan Gould Winderman

Elizabeth at her greeting table. Photo – Joan Gould Winderman

I appreciate Pember and Elizabeth’s kindness which helped me develop the project that is reflected by the website you are currently visiting. Here are a couple of articles that featured Elizabeth.

99… Elizabeth’s experimental place – garden, El Pedregal… first of two parts…

Big Fig tree at the Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

In a magnificent setting there is this fig tree to admire and celebrate.

Pember and Elizabeth Nuzum owned a lot off a dirt road in the Chaleton area, place of the fig trees, west of Alamos. They planned to built a tennis court on it. One day Elizabeth traveled further west on the road and came across this fig tree. It was love at first site. She coaxed Pember into selling their lot, and it sold unexpectedly quickly. Elizabeth, on her own, purchased the undeveloped three acres with the fig tree from Martha and Al Haywood. Elizabeth christen the property El Pedregal, the stoney place. This was her project, her experimental place to build and plant what she wanted. It was her dream to bring art, community and nature together under the out-stretched limbs of a magnificent fig tree.

El Pedregal's front gate, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Elizabeth loved her big green door that was El Pedregal\’s entrance.

The first thing Elizabeth did at El Pedregal was build a meandering road leading through and around the property to the fig tree. The heavy green gates at Pedregal’s entrance, where the public dirt road comes to its end, were made from old doors Elizabeth collected in town. She had put them together by Nemecio Figueroa in his family’s carpenter shop on the way to the Panteon, cemetery, at the eastern edge of town. Behind these green gates there were, and are, worlds of natural wonder. The seasons pass as birds, insects and mammals come and go.

A straw-bale studio

A small group gather outside the strawbale house built by Elizabeth Nuzum on El Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Elizabeth Nuzum wanted to build a straw-bale house in Alamos. She did.

Elizabeth had read the book Out on a Limb by Peter and Victoria Nelson. It was about tree houses and other construction such as straw-bale houses. Elizabeth decided she wanted to build a straw-bale in her garden of experiments. She contacted the Nelsons as they were preparing to visit Russia and demonstrate straw-bale technology. They recommended that she talk to the authors of The Straw-Bale House, Bill and Athena Steen. Elizabeth felt it was important to build a straw-bale structure as an example of what could be a relatively inexpensive home concept for Mexico. Unable to have an expert come down to build the straw-bale studio she relied on the Steen’s book and hired her son-in-law Chacho Valdez and his brothers to start the project. Chacho would build the basic structure: roof, walls and an unfinished floor.

A palapa for all seasons and reasons

Looking from the south at the Pedregal's Palapa and the Straw bale studio in the background, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The Palapa was the first structure built at El Pedregal. It was a work office.

Before the Straw-bale studio was started Elizabeth and Chacho took a stick and scribed out a large circle as the palapa’s floor-plan. Her intent was to have a place where people could socialize and admire the fig tree. She wanted it to have two entrances and no center pole. Chacho said it could be done and he went about construction.

The amazing hand-woven palapa roof took a crew five months to put together as they had to wait for after full moons to collect the palapa leaves. As work continued on the property the fig tree was host to shamanic dances, earth renewal ceremonies, sweat lodges, barbecues, coffee parties, art classes and…

Chacho Valdez, man of mystery

Chacho Valdez, builder of the Pedregal's palapa, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photos By Anders Tomlinson.

Chaco Valdez, renaissance man, making a spiritual point and jump starting a car.

Chacho Valdez stands in front of his new home under construction, Alamos Sonora Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson

I always thought of Chacho as a rock n’ roll medicine man. He looked like a pirate with long flowing hair and beard, bandanas and hats. One day Chaco looked at me with one eye somewhere else and stated, ”if you stare at a cloud long enough it will disappear…” This is an anthem-theme that I use whenever I speak of Alamos.

Chacho and Cammie, his former wife, were instrumental in creating the Children’s Kite Festival held in the spring. Chacho, a bit of a mischievous child himself, loved children. He also loved to sing in his big booming voice. The last time I saw Chacho he was building a circular two-story house on the well-traveled entrance road up to the top of El Mirador. The site doesn’t seem like it would be conducive for privacy during park visiting hours but, my oh my, what a magnificent awe-inspiring view! …

98… Returning to El Pedregal’s ever-present spirit… second of two parts…

Drinking beer in the late afternoon outside El Pedregal"s strawbale house, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Here is a place to come together and be a warm late afternoon dream.

Liliana Carosso, on the right, and Ginny Brown, along with an unidentified woman in the middle, enjoy a natural moment. Lilliana is a prominent Alamos real estate agent. Here, one is in another world. Time loses importance and nature, and a couple of beers, encourages relaxed deep breathing.

Kit Nuzum returns to Alamos

Pedregal under construction, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From dirt and straw and other natural elements a large studio is born

Elizabeth’s son, Kit, returned from one of his many global travels and took over the task of finishing the straw-bale studio. He also managed the digging of a well at the spot chosen by a water dowser. A solar pump was installed and irrigation began with water from beneath El Pedregal”s surface. Elizabeth purchased indigenous and rare trees and plants. And as the nature is for these parts some took, and some didn’t as any Alamos gardner has experienced.

Elizabeth Nuzum and her son Kit with the construction team and the Friedlobs, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Most of construction team and advisors gather around Elizabeth Nuzum.

Kit had no prior working knowledge of straw-bale construction and “just went for it” with the help of Chone, a cousin of Chacho. They poured an earthen adobe floor with the help of Steve Frielobs. The windows were made by Angel Rosas. The adobe interior walls that made the kitchen and bathroom was there but unfinished. Kit and Chone, along with several others, finished the walls and the loft decking as well as the grand stair case, designed by Alamos resident Irmine Stelzner, with wood from the old Boors monastery on the southwest corner of the Plaza. The original douglas fir came by train from Oregon in 1910. Irmine’s husband Allen Stelzner designed and made the iron latch on the front door.

Creating color pigment from nearby hills

Finished exterior of the straw bale studio at El Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

The finished exterior blended in with the surroundings.

Elizabeth’s straw-bale studio was originally painted with a palette of colors made from dirt in the surrounding hills. The soil that would be used to make the paint came from a spot that was along a long walk that Chacho took me on the last day of my first visit to Alamos. Chacho said it was a local custom. As we were returning to Alamos I asked Chacho if the earth was purple and he nodded yes. In this one area there was literally a rainbow of dirt. Fifteen years later, Kit and I, along with a couple of assistants and a wheel barrow, set off to find this magical place. We found it not far from El Pedregal along with shards of am old pottery. The work crew spent the morning gathering earthen colors from the area as I filmed. Later, Kit mixed the earth-toned dirts – pale green, red, blue, green, ivory, white and lavender with prickly pear and agave goo called baba. The solution sat for a week before glue was added and wiped onto the interior walls: home made paint.

Later, author Paul Molyneaux, seeking a quiet harbor from his noisy young children, finished his book The Doryman’s Reflection, a Fisherman’s Life in the serene straw-bale studio. Tony Estrada, director of the Museo de Costumbrista and artist, sculpted a centaur for Elizabeth that was placed beneath the fig tree.

View of Tecolote Hill from El Pedegral, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The morning begins with seeing where we will be in a couple of hours.

On this summer day in 1996 I would go on a hike with Chacho, his young son Sereno, his girlfriend and Chone to the top of Tecolete Hill, seen here sun-capped. Sierra de Alamos rises up in the background. We would leave from El Pedregal at sunrise and be atop Tecolote Hill in a couple of hours. This turn out to be a day of exercise and aroma therapy in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

El Pedregal today

Elizabeth sold El Pedregal to Jennifer and David MacKay in 2005. They added another 17 acres to what is now El Pedregal Nature Lodge and Retreat Center. They have also upgraded the infrastructure and added a couple of casitas. Today, they offer lodging, nature tours, sunday brunches and yoga lessons amongst many other activities that they are involved with.

Bird bath at El Pedregal, Alamos Sonora, Mexico

Elizabeth\’s intent was to have both a nature preserve and artist studio

I recently enjoyed watching David Wilson’s Big Birding Day on PBS’ POV, point-of- view, series. The 2011 12-minute film features David Mckay as a birding guide for several birders intent on a big birding day. The film documents the world of competitive bird watching where one tries to see, or hear, as many bird species as one can in 24 hours. The opening scene takes place under the Pedregal’s palapa as they prepared for a day of ambitious adventure. I was struck by David’s curiosity and connection to his environment.

I had spent nine years filming wildlife on the Tulelake, Lower Klamath, Clear Lake, Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuges along the California-Oregon border. If David had come and spent a couple of days in the field with me he would have had a wonderful time. And I am equally sure I would enjoy spending a couple of days with David Mckay in Alamos and surrounding habitats. Both of these regions are known for diversity of flora and fauna, especially numbers of bird species. There are birds that visit both Alamos and Tulelake on their yearly migrations.

Elizabeth Nuzum placed this bird bath on Pedregal’s giving ground for her small friends to use, just as she built the straw-bale studio and palapa for friends to visit with friends, even if it is only communing with one’s self, alone.

This entry was aided by notes from Elizabeth Nuzum, Kit Nuzum and Joan Winderman.

78… A rooftop that lives and breath all things Alamos…

Nuzum roof top garden across the street ffom Bishop Reyes Catheral, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Elizabeth Nuzum\’s garden across the street from Bishop Reyes Cathedral.

Here, in the shadow of cathedral bells and angelic choirs was a multi-purpose rooftop garden. A narrow wrought iron caracol, snail, spiral staircase led one up from a back patio with a small pool to an expansive array of raised planter boxes. Elizabeth Nuzum enjoyed people, her home, her gardens and life in Alamos. For many, her husband Pember and Elizabeth were Alamos greeters, welcoming visitors inside the old wood doors on Calle Comercio. Elizabeth designed and managed her gardens while Pember kept an eye on the household finances.

Flowers and Sierra de Alamos from Nuzum's roof garden, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

20 feet above the street one can hold a conversation with passing clouds.

The roof top garden and its 360 degree views was a special place. The sky at night, with stars there to be touched while one laid back on a substantial Sonoran cot, was a connection to all things in all places. Rooftop eavesdropping on the comings and goings along Calle Comercio and Calle Guadaloupe Victoria tuned one in with the heartbeats of Alamos: Bishop Reyes Cathedral, Palacio, Plaza de Las Armas, Mercado, all points of the compass and all events past and present.

Nuzum roof top garden looking east at Mirador, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Mirador voices, at times, arrived here with a favorable wind.

Let me count the sounds I heard up on the roof: uniformed school kids walking in groups, talking, laughing, singing, stepping off rhythms, kicking balls, kids being all things kids. Occasional horse hoofs echoing on cobblestone streets. Music from rattling car and truck radios ricocheting off narrow streets. Surround sound bird songs and calls punctuated by barking dogs, working hammer and saws and distant braying burros. All combinations of people passing by: one, two, or three generations together talking, workers, errand runners, neighbors en-route to visit neighbors or hang out in the Plaza, shop at the Alameda and Mercado or attend to business at the Palacio or… This garden overlooked the center of Centro Alamos’ rainbow of expression: joy, surprise, acceptance, expectations, anger, yearning, anticipation. greetings, farewells…

Christina Vega on Nuzum's roof garden, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A young girl picks flowers on the roof, a simple moment, a simple smile.

Christina Vega, daughter of Chacho and Cammie, sister of Gaspar, walked in all worlds Alamos. Her Mexican blood was Chaco’s large family and her American blood was Cammie’s parents Elizabeth and Pember and brother Kit who came to visit from his world travels. Cammie and Chacho lived modestly on Calle Ninos Heroes, a short walk from the grand roof top garden on the the other side of Guadaloupe Hill.

Christina Vega and church from Nuzum roof, alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

What does Christina see, and hear, on this spring day in 1984?

The roof’s northwest corner, with a view into the Plaza and Gazebo, was across the street from the bank. At opening time a line of people would be waiting sharing conversation. Daily masses brought people to the church’s eastern door. Funerals processions would leave the church and passed by as they headed east to the Panteon – Cemetery. Police headquarters, at times busy, were three houses to the east on Calle Comercio. Tourists speaking English, French, German and other languages would stop and chat as they headed to and from surrounding lodging. At night, one could listen to quitar playing coming from Polos restaurant’s kitchen as well as the Estudiantina practicing at the Museum. At this moment Christina is listening to the public serenade that is Alamos.

Pember told Anders, “always call us Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.” And Anders has.

Pember and Elizabeth Nuzum were a major part of the North American Community for decades. Their casa next to the Church on Calle Comercio #2 greeted many many who visited Alamos, including Anders. It is not uncommon to have rain squalls in December. And it was common to hear Pember playing his theater organ in the Nuzum music room. Those days are gone. But the spirit lingers, it always does.

This is the crew that captured Alamos-Christmas-1993 and our hosts the Nuzums.

A film crew embraced by the Nuzums’ hospitality
From left to right: Chaco Valdez, painting of Christina Vega by Jim Wison, Anders Tomlinson,
Gary Ruble, Donna Beckett, R. L. Harrington, Robert Ganey, and the Nuzums: Jolene, Kit,
Elizabeth and Pember. At this moment we were all together and thankful. This is an example
of the Nuzums reaching out to others and their love for Álamos, Sonora, Mexico.

To see Elizabeth and Pember’s Alamos home visit Calle Comercio 2

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Casa de los Santos

32 … Christmas on the road came home at Casa de los Santos

Living room at Casa de los Santos, 1992, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Gary Ruble.

A quiet moment in a beautiful space, the workers are gone for the holidays.

Years of neglect during the 20th century chipped away at Calle Molina #8, yet another grand Almada family mansion turned to ruin. Jim and Nancy Swickard purchased what was left standing in 1988, a central section minus two wings that once surrounded the courtyard on three sides. A four year renovation effort commenced with as many as twenty workers on site at any given time. When we arrived in 1992 the project was nearly finished, a new spirit had taken up residence in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. Our photographic crew of five, led by internationally renown Gary Ruble, prepared to light the living room, kitchen, interior portales and pool area. Casa de los Santos was ours for a couple of hours.

Kitchen at Casa de los Santos, 1992, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo Gary Ruble.

A maestro was brought in to create a dramatic domed brick kitchen ceiling.

Kitchens are the engine rooms of Álamos. Here, is where living starts anew each day. Here, is physical and social sustenance. What struck me about Casa de los Santos was its majestic scale anchored by reverent detail. There was much to see but nothing was crowded, everything had its special place, space flowed from here to there as the interior decorating became a pilgrimage in and of itself.

Interior portales at Casa de los Santos, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by gary Ruble.

The inside portal, and climate, provides an inside – outside way of life.

The interior portals are an Álamos way of life. Arches support roofs without exterior walls and protect residents and casa from the elements. Here, under shade, gardens, views and furnishings come together providing living and dining areas. Imagine sitting here, outside the wall are the muffled sounds of town, a dog barks, children play… Inside, bird sings and wings flutter, breezes come and go, water features provide soothing sound, music and guest voices travel across the courtyard. This is now and then, Álamos, Sonora, Mexico.

Pool area at Casa de los Santos, 1992, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Gary Ruble.

It is still, a winter squall has passed. Breathe deep, relax.

Our crew was staying at Puerta Roja Inn on Calle Galeana and Casa Nuzum on Calle Comercio. Though we were separated by only a short walk, mere minutes, we were worlds apart. And this another aspect of Álamos, behind each front door is a social universe unto itself. And it is easy to become lost in the moment and swept away by chance meetings and impromptu invitations. I, as director – producer, was starting to lose control of our efforts. The photo shoot at Casa de los Santos was the first time in days we were all together and on the same page. This moment was my Christmas, we were doing what we came to do. December 1992, Casa de los Santos, and our team in action, priceless.

Hacienda de los Santos 2015 Update

Everyday is history, here the Hacienda's main pool lives on.

Everyday is history, here the Hacienda’s main pool lives on. Photo: Amy Haskell

Casa de los Santos has grown over the years, expanding into other colonial mansions
all interconnected by walkways and maturing gardens.

casa de los santos, alamos, sonora mexico. the largest fountain which was originally the sugar mill's 'Mill'.  It had oxen and a stone wheel to crush the sugar cane.  The operation went into bankruptcy in 1710 and we are the second owner's of record.

Listen closely and one may hear the past come alive. Photo: Amy Haskell

“The Hacienda goes back into a construction mode in July, 2015 with some remodeling work on the sugar mill property to create a true, and long awaited, gift shop adjacent to the Cafe Agave. A new Spa will be ready to open in the Fall and the present spa. We hope to have three totally new Master Suites for next season, plus two inner connecting Hacienda Guest Rooms for families. Our total room and suite count will be 32 for next season. We will have some exciting news this summer about some international recognition for Hacienda de los Santos…” Jim Swickard

To see it as it is today visit Hacienda de los Santos Resort and Spa.

For more 2015 summer updates visit Jim Swickard notes

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Baseball & Rodeos

70… I say baseball, you say beisbol and it’s three strikes and you are out…

Baseball in the streets of Barrio Barranca, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Arroyos-roads will do for makeshift baseball fields.

Baseball is not Mexico’s national pastime, and it is no longer the USA’s, but it is popular, particularly in the northern states. Beisbol was introduced to Mexico in 1847 by American soldiers during the Mexican War. Americans overseeing railroad construction also encouraged Mexican workers laying track to play beisbol. On July 4th, 1889 work stopped on the Monterrey-Tampico railway in Nuevo Leon to celebrate the holiday as Colonel Joseph Robertson and his workers played baseball. Organized beisbol started in 1925.

Dugouts at the ball park, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The sweet smell of neatly groomed dirt, batter up.

It would not be surprising to think that there are kids who dream of playing professional baseball as they take to the field at the Alamos ball park halfway between the Plaza and the airport. The Mexican Pacific League is the premier Mexican winter league. 27% of its 445 players come from Sinaloa and 20% come from Sonora. Teams close to Alamos include the Yaquis de Obregon, Mayos de Navajoa, Caneros de los Mochis – the Sugarcane Pickers and Naranjeros de Hermosillo – the Orange Pickers. Fernando Valenzuela, who took Los Angeles by storm as a successful pitcher for the Dodgers, Fernandomania, was born in Etchohuaquilla a small town near Navojoa. One of the allures of baseball is so much of the game takes place in the mind as one waits for the action to come. Baseball is a game from dreamers.

baseball park in Alamos, Sonoroa, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Build it at the foot of Sierra de Alamos and they will come.

The warrior that is always looking up at the western sky atop Sierra de Alamos can hear the roar of fans when a run scores in a big game for the home team. The photo on the left was taken in the spring, the photo on the right was taken in the summer. This is a ball park with a wonderful view. Sierra de Alamos is a magnificent hitter’s background.

Summer rodeo at the ball park, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

They play more than baseball at the old ball park, root root for the cowboys.

The rodeo had come to town. The event had fallen behind schedule and the crowd grew uneasy waiting for the show to begin, and they waited and milled as summer clouds came and went. And when it started it was hard to tell it had started. Unorganized is a polite term to describe the promoters. The posters around town publicized this event as a rodeo – music concert. The headline singer, who was backed up by a local band that provided the sound system and stage, also was late arriving. More clouds came and went. More drinking. More huddling. After the rodeo finished the cowboys stood in a line to thankfully pray that no one had been seriously hurt. And then it was time for music and dancing horses. For more on the band visit Journal entry 33.

A summer rodeo – music concert with trained horses dancing the two step.
Throughout the summer there are activities to enjoy in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. On this day the rodeo came to town along with a Mexican pop singer who was backed up by the local “Halcon de Sierra Alamos” band. The stars of the show were the dancing horses.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Estudiantina de Alamos

15 … Making music a way of life and continuing traditions…

Estudiantina de Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

One step into the past is three steps into the future.

I heard of a tour that the Estudiantina de Alamos had made to San Francisco and Los Angeles. It would be wonderful if this organization of young men could retrace de Anza’s steps in California. Just think, Estudiantina de Alamos performing in San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. It would make a beautiful poster. Natural sponsors would be these cities’ Historical Societies. Cultural roots are most clearly understood through music. Wherever these young men stroll singing they are Alamos ambassadors.

Estudiantina de Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

They play often in many places, they are part of Alamos' heart.

On this evening the Estudiantina de Alamos was playing on the steps of Old Hospital ruins left standing as part of a restoration into a hotel.
A bus load of Copper Canyon tourists were being entertained and dining. And then a murmur swept through the bustling patio, heads turned and whispers followed. Carroll O’Connor, actor and Alamos home owner, had entered the room which rose in a standing ovation.

Estudiantina de Alamos performs before a packed Plaza as a film crew captures the event.
It is a big day in the Plaza. A TV crew has come to town and is filming a music concert. Estudiantina de Alamos, a crowd favorite, is performing. They will also back up several other acts. The bandstand is surrounded by adolescent girls and an scattered smiling mothers. Video…

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Mirador Kite Festival

101… On Mirador for the kite flying contest.

Kite festival in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Kite flying is a popular past times for the children of Alamos.

The winds of Álamos more come than go and when they are blowing kite flying takes place across the barrios. Sticks, paper, string are a child’s opportunity to take flight and be one with the elements. The child in all of us enjoys watching children enthralled with their kites dancing on a breeze.

Participants in the kite flying contest parade through the town on their way to and from El Mirador, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Many of the festival's colorful kites parade proudly through Alamos.

On the day of the festival kites, and their builders-owners, are seen on their way to and returning from El Mirador. Colorful pennants snapping in the winds on El Mirador announce to the people below that today celebrates a special event.

Kite flying participants atop El Mirador, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

This is the place to be: a windy day on top of the world with friends.

The kite flying contest was started by Cammie Nuzum and her then husband Chaco Valdez. These photos are from the 1996 festival. The recent 2012 contest was sponsored by Cammie and Elizabeth Nuzum. Kites were not always a place for children’s imaginations to soar. One of the first written records of kite flying is from around 200 B.C., Chinese General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty wanted to know how far his troops would need to tunnel to enter a rival city. He flew a kite to measure the distance. With this information in hand his army was able to surprise the enemy and capture the city.

Detrails of competing kites flying in the Alamos kite Festival with Earle and Joan Winderman watching, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  photos by Anders Tomlinson.

The kite festival is a colorful event to attend with all of Alamos at your feet.

Joan and Earle Winderman, that is a nice kite flying name, enjoyed a sunny day on El Mirador. Besides myself, they were the only gringos I saw at the festival. Whether one is flying a kite, or a spectator, everyone watches the kites.

Close-up of a festival kite's construction, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It is colorful and well constructed but it will if fly with grace and agility.

The kites become what their builders want them to be. Days of design and construction lead up to contest. There is much to learn building a kite. Natural science, mathematics, aeronautics, history, culture, art and crafts come together as a flying objects and opportunities for self-expression.

Kite being presented to a judge for judging, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A kite awaits inspection by a judge. The event was organized by the Museo.

The Museo Costumbrista de Sonora displays the kites after the contest. For centuries kites were used by only by the military. Around the year 600, during the Silla Dynasty of Korea, General Gim Yu-sin’s troops refused to continue fighting because they has seen a shooting star and believed this was a bad omen. The General sent a fire ball into the sky with a large kite. The soldiers, seeing the star return to heaven, rallied and defeated the rebels.

Buddhist monks brought kites to Japan around the 7th century. They were thought to be able to protect rich harvests and deter evil spirits. During the Edo period kite flying became very popular when Japanese people below the samurai class were allowed to participate. The Edo (now Tokyo) government tried unsuccessfully to discourage this pastime as “too many people became unmindful of their work.”

Kite Festival in action, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Amongst all that is going on a flyer must keep his focus on his kite.

Álamos is a wonderful place to fly kites especially from El Mirador up high and open to the winds that carry molecules Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci and Marilyn Monroe breathed. There is a timeless quality to kite flying. It is as as much about the flyer’s thoughts as it is about flying.

Kite flying began in Asia and slowly word spread to Europe. Marco Polo, around the end of the 13th century, brought back to Europe stories of kite flying. Period Illustrations showed military banners with non-flying dragon kites. 16th and 17th century sailors brought kites back from Japan and Malaysia. Kites at first had little impact on European culture and were regarded as curiosities.

Flyers work their kites on a western wind, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Boys and their flying machines work winds off the Sea of Cortez.

Standing with their backs to the Sea of Cortez, the kite-flyers work the western on-shore winds and the drafts that come from the eastern Sierra Madre foothills.

As time marched on kites became universal and many used kites as scientific research tools.
In the 18th and 19th centuries men like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Wilson learn more about the wind and weather used their knowledge of kite flying. Airplanes came about with the help of kite experiments by Sir George Caley, Samuel Langley, Lawrence Hargrave, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright Brothers.

A young boy flying his kite at the Alamos Kite Flying contest, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

And all the world, this very moment, is in his hands and in his control.

Here atop El Mirador the Sea of Cortez is some fifty miles to the west and the Copper Canyonlands are some fifty miles to the east. One could say the kite-flyer’s feet mark the center of the universe and their kites announce ownership of the moment.

Warmth Radiates off of Adobe Walls as Another Winter Day Begins.
Kite flying is popular in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico. Drinking beer outside the pickup with friends is popular. Fun and work go on side by side as we visit a wood shop.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Barrio El Barranco

A little blue house in Barrio El Barranco…

Barrio El Barranco, Alamos ,Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Bird's eye view of country life mere minutes from Plaza de las Armas.

The sun has just climbed over Red Cross Hill and reached Barrio El Barranco. Everyday details emerge as dark shadows quickly recede into bright sunlight. Notes and rhythms of farm animals, human voices, song and foraging nature presented in rural surround sound replaces town’s sonic-scape of commerce, government, religion, education and tourism.

Barrio El Barranca, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Living on a road that ends in the steep hills that become northern mountains.

These roads are traveled on foot, bicycles, cars, trucks, horseback and with burro. Soccer and baseball are played in the open areas. Laundry is washed in a tub by hand and then hung on a line to dry. Leisure time bows to the necessity of thrift and exercise is a healthy by-product of doing without the grid for certain essential tasks.
Life here is not a step backwards from the modern world, it is a life of contemporary balance, reality, and family. Laughs here are as loud as any in Centro Alamos.

House in Barrio El Barranco, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Built high above the road protects from marauding animals and flash floods.

Here is a close-up of the casa featured in the preceding photos. The paint is new and adds vibrant visual interest to those passing by on Calle 16 de Septiembre.
The homes are small, families are large with numerous pets and much of the heat and cooking comes from wood. Sticks are a way of life for many.

Children playing in Barrio El Barranco, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Kids playing on the roads of Barrio El Barranco.

El Mirador is seen in the background, south, as Calle 16 de Septiembre bends to the left, west, on its way out of town. Soon there will be no road, only a path headed into the surrounding wilderness. The road is filled with kids playing and the oldest care for the youngest. The young boy is serenading the young girl, each with an infant in their arms.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

El Pedregal

99… Elizabeth’s experimental place – garden, El Pedregal… first of two parts…

Big Fig tree at the Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

In a magnificent setting there is this fig tree to admire and celebrate.

Pember and Elizabeth Nuzum owned a lot off a dirt road in the Chaleton area, place of the fig trees, west of Alamos. They planned to built a tennis court on it. One day Elizabeth traveled further west on the road and came across this fig tree. It was love at first site. She coaxed Pember into selling their lot, and it sold unexpectedly quickly. Elizabeth, on her own, purchased the undeveloped three acres with the fig tree from Martha and Al Haywood. Elizabeth christen the property El Pedregal, the stoney place. This was her project, her experimental place to build and plant what she wanted. It was her dream to bring art, community and nature together under the out-stretched limbs of a magnificent fig tree.

El Pedregal's front gate, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Elizabeth loved her big green door that was El Pedregal's entrance.

The first thing Elizabeth did at El Pedregal was build a meandering road leading through and around the property to the fig tree. The heavy green gates at Pedregal’s entrance, where the public dirt road comes to its end, were made from old doors Elizabeth collected in town. She had put them together by Nemecio Figueroa in his family’s carpenter shop on the way to the Panteon, cemetery, at the eastern edge of town. Behind these green gates there were, and are, worlds of natural wonder. The seasons pass as birds, insects and mammals come and go.

A straw-bale studio

A small group gather outside the strawbale house built by Elizabeth Nuzum on El Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Elizabeth Nuzum wanted to build a straw-bale house in Alamos. She did.

Elizabeth had read the book Out on a Limb by Peter and Victoria Nelson. It was about tree houses and other construction such as straw-bale houses. Elizabeth decided she wanted to build a straw-bale in her garden of experiments. She contacted the Nelsons as they were preparing to visit Russia and demonstrate straw-bale technology. They recommended that she talk to the authors of The Straw-Bale House, Bill and Athena Steen. Elizabeth felt it was important to build a straw-bale structure as an example of what could be a relatively inexpensive home concept for Mexico. Unable to have an expert come down to build the straw-bale studio she relied on the Steen’s book and hired her son-in-law Chacho Valdez and his brothers to start the project. Chacho would build the basic structure: roof, walls and an unfinished floor.

A palapa for all seasons and reasons

Looking from the south at the Pedregal's Palapa and the Straw bale studio in the background, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The Palapa was the first structure built at El Pedregal. It was a work office.

Before the Straw-bale studio was started Elizabeth and Chacho took a stick and scribed out a large circle as the palapa’s floor-plan. Her intent was to have a place where people could socialize and admire the fig tree. She wanted it to have two entrances and no center pole. Chacho said it could be done and he went about construction.

The amazing hand-woven palapa roof took a crew five months to put together as they had to wait for after full moons to collect the palapa leaves. As work continued on the property the fig tree was host to shamanic dances, earth renewal ceremonies, sweat lodges, barbecues, coffee parties, art classes and…

Chacho Valdez, man of mystery

Chacho Valdez, builder of the Pedregal's palapa, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photos By Anders Tomlinson.

Chaco Valdez, renaissance man, making a spiritual point and jump starting a car.

Chacho Valdez stands in front of his new home under construction, Alamos Sonora Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson

I always thought of Chacho as a rock n’ roll medicine man. He looked like a pirate with long flowing hair and beard, bandanas and hats. One day Chaco looked at me with one eye somewhere else and stated, ”if you stare at a cloud long enough it will disappear…” This is an anthem-theme that I use whenever I speak of Alamos.

Chacho and Cammie, his former wife, were instrumental in creating the Children’s Kite Festival held in the spring. Chacho, a bit of a mischievous child himself, loved children. He also loved to sing in his big booming voice. The last time I saw Chacho he was building a circular two-story house on the well-traveled entrance road up to the top of El Mirador. The site doesn’t seem like it would be conducive for privacy during park visiting hours but, my oh my, what a magnificent awe-inspiring view! …

98… Returning to El Pedregal’s ever-present spirit… second of two parts…

Drinking beer in the late afternoon outside El Pedregal"s strawbale house, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Here is a place to come together and be a warm late afternoon dream.

Liliana Carosso, on the right, and Ginny Brown, along with an unidentified woman in the middle, enjoy a natural moment. Lilliana is a prominent Alamos real estate agent. Here, one is in another world. Time loses importance and nature, and a couple of beers, encourages relaxed deep breathing.

Kit Nuzum returns to Alamos

Pedregal under construction, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From dirt and straw and other natural elements a large studio is born

Elizabeth’s son, Kit, returned from one of his many global travels and took over the task of finishing the straw-bale studio. He also managed the digging of a well at the spot chosen by a water dowser. A solar pump was installed and irrigation began with water from beneath El Pedregal”s surface. Elizabeth purchased indigenous and rare trees and plants. And as the nature is for these parts some took, and some didn’t as any Alamos gardner has experienced.

Elizabeth Nuzum and her son Kit with the construction team and the Friedlobs, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Most of construction team and advisors gather around Elizabeth Nuzum.

Kit had no prior working knowledge of straw-bale construction and “just went for it” with the help of Chone, a cousin of Chacho. They poured an earthen adobe floor with the help of Steve Frielobs. The windows were made by Angel Rosas. The adobe interior walls that made the kitchen and bathroom was there but unfinished. Kit and Chone, along with several others, finished the walls and the loft decking as well as the grand stair case, designed by Alamos resident Irmine Stelzner, with wood from the old Boors monastery on the southwest corner of the Plaza. The original douglas fir came by train from Oregon in 1910. Irmine’s husband Allen Stelzner designed and made the iron latch on the front door.

Creating color pigment from nearby hills

Finished exterior of the straw bale studio at El Pedregal, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

The finished exterior blended in with the surroundings.

Elizabeth’s straw-bale studio was originally painted with a palette of colors made from dirt in the surrounding hills. The soil that would be used to make the paint came from a spot that was along a long walk that Chacho took me on the last day of my first visit to Alamos. Chacho said it was a local custom. As we were returning to Alamos I asked Chacho if the earth was purple and he nodded yes. In this one area there was literally a rainbow of dirt. Fifteen years later, Kit and I, along with a couple of assistants and a wheel barrow, set off to find this magical place. We found it not far from El Pedregal along with shards of am old pottery. The work crew spent the morning gathering earthen colors from the area as I filmed. Later, Kit mixed the earth-toned dirts – pale green, red, blue, green, ivory, white and lavender with prickly pear and agave goo called baba. The solution sat for a week before glue was added and wiped onto the interior walls: home made paint.

Later, author Paul Molyneaux, seeking a quiet harbor from his noisy young children, finished his book The Doryman’s Reflection, a Fisherman’s Life in the serene straw-bale studio. Tony Estrada, director of the Museo de Costumbrista and artist, sculpted a centaur for Elizabeth that was placed beneath the fig tree.

View of Tecolote Hill from El Pedegral, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The morning begins with seeing where we will be in a couple of hours.

On this summer day in 1996 I would go on a hike with Chacho, his young son Sereno, his girlfriend and Chone to the top of Tecolete Hill, seen here sun-capped. Sierra de Alamos rises up in the background. We would leave from El Pedregal at sunrise and be atop Tecolote Hill in a couple of hours. This turn out to be a day of exercise and aroma therapy in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

El Pedregal today

Elizabeth sold El Pedregal to Jennifer and David MacKay in 2005. They added another 17 acres to what is now El Pedregal Nature Lodge and Retreat Center. They have also upgraded the infrastructure and added a couple of casitas. Today, they offer lodging, nature tours, sunday brunches and yoga lessons amongst many other activities that they are involved with.

Bird bath at El Pedregal, Alamos Sonora, Mexico

Elizabeth's intent was to have both a nature preserve and artist studio

I recently enjoyed watching David Wilson’s Big Birding Day on PBS’ POV, point-of- view, series. The 2011 12-minute film features David Mckay as a birding guide for several birders intent on a big birding day. The film documents the world of competitive bird watching where one tries to see, or hear, as many bird species as one can in 24 hours. The opening scene takes place under the Pedregal’s palapa as they prepared for a day of ambitious adventure. I was struck by David’s curiosity and connection to his environment.

I had spent nine years filming wildlife on the Tulelake, Lower Klamath, Clear Lake, Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuges along the California-Oregon border. If David had come and spent a couple of days in the field with me he would have had a wonderful time. And I am equally sure I would enjoy spending a couple of days with David Mckay in Alamos and surrounding habitats. Both of these regions are known for diversity of flora and fauna, especially numbers of bird species. There are birds that visit both Alamos and Tulelake on their yearly migrations.

Elizabeth Nuzum placed this bird bath on Pedregal’s giving ground for her small friends to use, just as she built the straw-bale studio and palapa for friends to visit with friends, even if it is only communing with one’s self, alone.

This entry was aided by notes from Elizabeth Nuzum, Kit Nuzum and Joan Winderman.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Carmen Portillo

63… A little village of potters do as it has been done…

Carmen Portillo at work in her La Colonia de Uvalama studio-home.

Carmen Portillo, matriarch of her Uvalama pottery family, died in 2004. She had been making pots since she was 12. Her grandaughter, Carmen Tomasa Ayala, continues the traditional craft, selling her own creations from the studio and at Uvalama Pottery in Alamos on Calle Obregon and Guerro near La Casa de los Tesoros. Years of taking clumps of clay and creating shape and function has it rewards. Artists know when they have got it right, and this moment of recognition and acceptance, priceless, warms the soul and perpetuates the process. Carmen Portillo had this moment, handfuls of times every day, for each day, each year, each decade and each generation of her life as a potter. And she was one with all those from the past who took clay in their hands and formed balanced objects for reflection and service.

Carmen Portillo making pot in La Colonia de Uvalama near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Carmen's pottery is the product of water, earth, fire and handed down traditions

The car ride to Carmen’s house, a couple of miles west of Alamos and south a mile off the highway, in La Colonia de Uvalama was a drive back to another era. The Uvalama turnoff, as I am consulting with a Google satellite map, may be Arroyo Encanto. La Colonia de Uvalama was a small community with a house here, a house there, a primary school, countryside and a road that was a wash. When we arrived at her house a younger woman came to greet us. She went back into the house and Carmen, along with several family members, appeared moments later as we all converged at the work table in the front yard.

Carmen Portillo at work, La Colonia de Uvalama near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.olonia de Uvalama

How many years, and pots, had Carmen worked-created at this table?

The clay Carmen uses is this land, Uvalama clay, these potters live at the source of their material. There is no need for electricity. The clay is hand coiled and shaped. It is then fired for nine hours in a wood oven that can reach 1000 degrees C. So simple. So universal. So true.
Prayers of labor, meditations of perfection: each finished pot joins a long procession of pots as the skills, desire and discipline are passed from one generation to another. It is the Mexico way. It is the human way.

Carmen Portillo family in Uvalama village, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

This is a Portillo family portrait from the new Alamos slide scanning effort

One of the reasons I am writing this journal is to identify what slides will be in the next batch of scanned images, and what stories, of the thousand of stories and photos, will need further illumination and illustration. In this spirit, today, I will look for a couple of family portraits of those who posed for my camera on this day in Uvalama. And above is one of these newly processed images. This is a good example of the Journal being a work towards an end.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved

Woodworkers

62… Working in wood is a long standing Alamos tradition …

Martin Rosas in family workshop, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Martin Rosas at work at his families' Carpenteria Rosas.

Martin Servando Rosas was a busy man on a mission. He taught carpentry at the elementary- junior high school. He managed the well-laid-out Carpenteria Rosas, off of Calle Galeana, where his brothers Germain and Carlos worked. Martin was involved with the “Hands across the Border” program which took 20 to 40 kids north for two to four days and a Discovery tour program that involved ten adults at a time. He was running a business, hand crafting wood and sharing his experience-skills with the next generations. Martin expressed his faith in Mexico’s future through his strong belief of the necessary good community service provided. As I was leaving Carpenteria Rosas I turned back and saw Martin focused on a project at hand, there was a production schedule to be met.

Ramon Nicholas Figueroa Castro with one of his carved doors, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

To have a wood door built and carved by Ramon Figueroa was a big deal.

Ramon Nicholas Figueroa Castro was one of the most respected artists-craftsmen in Alamos. Members of the North American community spoke of him in hushed tones reserved for masters and maestros. Any visitor that asked about local creative talent would learn about Ramon and his growing reputation outside of Alamos. Many locals recognized a Ramon carved door as a collectable piece of art, hard to come by for a variety of reasons: he works slow, he is busy with a growing client waiting list, needed materials were hard to find, he is expensive because of his rising profile and, or… If one managed to purchase a Ramon it became the opening to countless conversations.

The Ramon I met was quiet spoken with a soft smile and simple gestures. It seemed he did what he did because it was what he did, there was a simplicity to his movement. Everything else surrounding his work was what other people did because it was what they did. Ramon hoped they would pay him what they had agreed to pay him and he would be left to his work, after-all, it is what he does.

Figueroa brothers, master wood workers, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Ramon together with his wood working brothers at their shop.

The brothers Figueroa all worked with wood on their family property on Calle de las Delicias.
Manuel, Emir Yonolan, Wilson, Paul, David and Ramon, not in the other of the above photo, shared a sprawling work space both open air and under roof. There were few walls: nature came in and their wood creations went out. Trees provided shade for craftsmen making tables, chairs, windows, doors… On this day Ramon was finishing a beautiful bureau. Its elegant turnings and graceful details stood out in sharp contrast to the dirt floor.

Art and music is a family thing in Alamos. Many of those around the Figueroa brothers probably will work in wood themselves. The creative skills are past down from father to son, mother to daughter, uncles and aunts to nephews and nieces. As an example, the Quartet de Alamos performed at Casa de los Tesoros for as long as I had known Alamos. On my last visit the bass player’s son was playing bass for Estudiantina de Alamos. I could imagine the son replacing his father in the Quartet, or playing in his own band, someday, somewhere in Alamos or…

Margo Findlay & James Wilson

24 … Two studios, two artists, two approaches, one town, one world…

http://jamesfwilson.com/index.php

Margo Findlay with her art exhibited in her home - gallery.

This is what one was greeted to as they entered Margo’s home from the street. The space was her work, her moments. Here, Margo had all she needed. The expansive walls and high ceilings of Alamos provide wonderful studio – gallery space for artists.

Margo Findlay painting, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Far removed from the outside the artist goes inside..

Margo Findlay was born in Lewiston, Montana, 1906, and spent her childhood on cowboy ranches in the American old west. At the age of 17 she started to illustrate children books and then across a life that lasted 104 years she traveled, danced, and did what she what she did. After knocking on her door and coming in for a brief visit, and these photographs, I understood her way was not to talk about art, it was to do.

Margo Findlay at her easel, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

She is in control, she paints her world, her imagination, her colors...

I could not find much written about Margo Findlay. In one piece she was described as “expressionist artist”. She came to Alamos in 1964 with her artist husband, Harold Findlay. She never left. She is buried in Alamos, she is part of Alamos. Think of all the hours she spent painting, alone in her thoughts and technique. The artistic life requires self-discipline. A drive to create-make-reflect-share-react. An artistic life is one of being the art. Margo.

James F. Wilson painting in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Here is the office, workspace, and kingdom of a productive artist.

James Fenimore Wilson escaped from the New York art scene to spend six months in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. The year was 1990 and he felt a need to recharge his creative powers. Here he found another life. He met his future wife Lourdes, born and raised in nearby Navajoa, at the Plaza while she was visiting Alamos. They had two children and left Alamos in 2000 for Jim’s college teaching – painting position in Missouri.

James F. Wilson and painting, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Alamos became a part of Jim and Jim became a part of Alamos.

When I visited with Jim during the 90’s he was the most visible of the town’s working artists. His work was seen in homes throughout Alamos. His portraits became integral to the families that commissioned them. Jim’s extensive art background allowed him to talk with in-depth knowledge of art. Over the hundreds of years, Alamos has given refuge and wings to the creative spirit. It is as much a part of the landscape as the mountain.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Sadnah, Chivo, San, Karen and T.J.

57… Music in Alamos is a many rhythmic thing…

Home of painter-musician Sadnah, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Thursday night in Barrio Las Higueras, at Sadnah's home, is drum night.

Every inch of Sadnah’s casa was textured, patterned, colored, imaged and emotionalized. Her paintings were everywhere as were her drums. Barrio Las Higueras – The Trees, was on the southern side of Arroyo Agua Escondida. Sadnah’s casa was on the personal side of human expression, a ride into something ruled by the creative spirit, itself driven by a love of humanity. Call it a hippie house if you wish, but it is “hippie” in the best sense of the word and world – Sadnah was more a creator than a consumer. These drum sessions were spirited and brought folks together from different elements in search of the universal one-and-two-and… much like Alamos itself.

Drum maker Eusevio Cortez, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Many of the drums at Sadnah's were made by Eusevio Cortez.

I met “Chivo”, Eusevio Cortez, near the cemetery in Barrio La Compana on a bright Spring mid-morning to photograph him with a couple of his handmade drums. “Chivo” was highly respected by Sadnah, they were part of the same set of intersecting social groups. Being a drummer myself, one in a hundred people are, I respected what he was producing, the craftsmanship was excellent and the resulting tone strong and true. We were in the northwest corner of La Compana which is higher up a slope from the arroyo. It was as if I was in another land from where I awoke on Calle Comercio. Alamos Centro has an international – Spanish vibe. La Compana was Mexico. An Alamos experience is defined by where one is staying, who they are visiting, who they are related to and the activities-interests they are pursuing. Serendipity occurs if the spirit is willing and if one wants to shut out the outside world they can, it is their call. One barrio is a world separated by arroyos, roads, and hills from other barrios, they are little villages.

Painter-Musician Sans Sanchez, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. photo by Anders Tomlinson.

San Sanchez looks up to the mountain he loves, hikes and paints.

San could reach the top of Mt. Alamos faster than anyone else who accompanied me to the highest of high grounds. He flew across the trails, along with his dog, with the grace of the colorful parrots he admired and painted. It was a thrill to see this majestic birds flying across the canyons, a daring red flash of movement with bright rainbows of shimmering accents that caught any eye’s attention.

San lived with his girlfriend Karen in La Compana, lower and closer to the arroyo and cemetery than where I had met Eusevio Cortez earlier in the day. San was living the Mexican existence, life was hard, one had to maximize all available resources and waste none in a modest home with a couple of rooms in a neighborhood of working class casas. When I visited he was working on a panoramic detailed painting of being atop of Mt. Alamos looking southwest. It was a view that few have seen and there, of course, he had his beloved parrots flying.

San and Karen were also getting ready for a band practice with their bass player, T.J. Cook. T.J. had a long walk to La Compana from the other end of town west of the airport. This was serious business. They had a booked a gig to play at a gringo party. San showed me their playlist of ambitious and challenging tunes. It was if they were getting ready to play at Carnegie Hall and they wanted to let the world know they were at the top of their game. The heat of a late Spring mid-day hit me in the face as I left their darken house, dark to protect and preserve every bit of cool they could, on many levels.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Doug Riseborough

56… Art in Alamos is a many splendor thing…

Doug Riseborough in his art studio, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

Artists and their studios share a relationship where one becomes the other.

I was always interested in the progress a space was making one block off the Alameda on my favorite Alamos thoroughfare, Calle Francisco Madero. The narrow gently rising one-way street leading to the plaza has an old world sensibility, all homes are connected rooms sharing a common hallway, the street. And here on a corner was a place that had colorful trompe l’oeil beach murals on its walls. My first thought was these heroic scaled figures were part of Mediterranean scenes, but on lingering examination I realized it was Southern California. I could see through the partially opened wood shutters that the space’s floor was always empty, as if it was waiting for a business to move equipment in and entertain its patrons. Was it going to be an intimate disco-bar? An upper-end beauty salon? A self-help retreat run by transplanted beach gurus? So quiet. So strange. So… well, Alamos where many worlds can be one.

Doug Riseborough at home with his mural, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Doug Riseborough, noted international muralist, relaxing at home.

Sharon Bernard Harrison, aware of my interest in documenting artists of Alamos, arranged a morning coffee meeting with the painter Doug Riseborough. A dapper gentlemen dressed in white greeted me at the door and welcomed me into his home. His art was everywhere, including a large work on canvas over a couch seen in the photo above. The painting style was familiar, I had documented a couple of days earlier a mural at the Palacio by Doug featuring interaction between Conquistadors and Indians. One of Doug’s famous commissions was a mural displayed on the Avenues of Americas for the 1962 World’s Fair, The Ascendance of Stone Age Man to their Present State…. In it Chief Tarire was depicted severing the umbilical cord that connected him to his past. Doug traveled to the small Indian settlement where Chief Tarire had lived as research for the mural.

Doug Riseborough with a friend, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Born in Canada, living in Los Angeles, Doug is at ease in Alamos.

Doug, a small man in stature and a monumental presence with brush, projected an assured confidence. Aware of the camera, he collected his being and created a pose for each shot. I am sure Doug knew his best photographic side. One rule of thumb for an artist is make your money on the road and Doug had done his share of traveling including a four story mural in Hawaii presenting the creation of Maui. Other commissions took him to Rockefeller Center and a Saudia Arabian Prince’s palace.

Doug thought it would be a good idea to photograph him at work in his studio. We left his house and walked down busy streets. And there we were. The mysterious space I mentioned at the start of this story was his paint studio. The only furniture was his easel and a table. His studio, with tall walls, allowed his imagination to soar and his subjects to come alive with each transcendent brush stroke.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Tebeto

strong>43 … Tebeto, the most viewed artist in Alamos …

Tebeto with school kids and his mural, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

Every playground in Alamos had a Disney-like mural painted by Tebeto

On any given school day more people, kids are people, view Tebeto’s work than any other artist in Alamos. It is safe to say more his work is seen by more than church, museum, gallery or home art. Tebeto’s sister worked as a hospital administrator and was instrumental in getting him the playground art grants. These kids look up to, and at, Tebeto and his work.

tebeto with playground mural and guitar, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Tebeto loved and rocked his passion - American Rock n' Roll.

Viva Musica! Mexico is a musical lifestyle. English says music, Spanish says musica. The language is lyrical. Expressions, emotions, and gestures take on import akin to a music conductor’s energetic direction. Tebeto, a quiet man with a quick smile, expresses himself in many medias and none is more important than song. He knows his way around a guitar. His favorite bands, at the time, were Pink Floyd, Beatles and Rolling Stones. Coming off the mountain late one afternoon we were greeted by three generations of women sitting on their humble porch, first house on the trail to town, no electricity, listening, magically, to Canned Heat. Musica was, and is, everywhere.

Tebeto working on the Baron's mural, Alamos, sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A patron employed Tebeto year-round to embellish his mansion.

Baron Richard Flach de Flachslanden, born and raised in Minneapolis, was Tebeto’s patron. The house had Tebeto’s work at every turn, wall, nook and cranny. The gregarious, fun-seeking Baron was known around town for his yearly Costume Ball. Tebeto enriched the Baron’s lifestyle, such is art’s nature. Chon, who guided me up the mountains several of times, was Tebeto’s brother. In a future post we will visit Chon as he worked restoring a ruin on Calle Arroyo Barranquita for Tebeto to live in. Their family home, where the brothers lived, was a short distance away.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Antonio Figueroa

90… Part One: On Easter Sunday in the Country…

There are some days one never forgets. Easter Sunday 1995, on the Figueroa family ranch was one of those days for me. Unfortunately my workbook for this period of time is not to be found, so the names of Antonio’s parents, wife, daughter, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews are not at hand. It will be hard to tell a story about a large family without their names but I will do the best I can. This story will be told in two parts.

Alamos photographer Antonio Figueroa, wife and daughter outside his home.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tmlinson

Antonio invited Anders to join his wife and daughter for a weekend trip.

Antonio Figureoa had been inviting me for several weeks to spend part of Easter weekend at his family’s ranch east of town. I appreciated Antonio’s friendship and was honored by his hospitality but I would not confirm that I would make the trip. I explained to him that I was dealing with a couple of health issues that would such a trip problematic. Antonio persisted. On the Wednesday before Easter he asked me again. He talked of his family, ranch, countryside, history, views and the… I answered yes. Antonio flashed his big Figueroa smile and thanked me. I learned the plan was we would take a taxi from the Alameda Saturday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon. And off he went, a happy man crossing the Plaza on his way to his home at the northern foot of Guadaloupe Hill. At the time, Antonio was renting a three room apartment with a large backyard on Calle Aquiles Serdan for 400 pesos a month, $60 or so.

Taxi stand in the Alameda, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From here all of the town and surrounding countryside can be reached.

Immediately I started to have reservations. Over the next couple of days I went back and forth in my mind, should I go or should I stay? I was not feeling good and the concept of being in close approximation with four people inside a cab, including a sniffling kid did not bode well. In defense of the sniffling child, everyone here in late spring had a sore throat, cough, sniffles, or all of the above. Late Friday night I decided I would go. Saturday afternoon was noisy and colorful in the Alameda, as is it is on most weekends. There was much to see and many to be seen by. The bus station was extra busy with relatives coming and going to join their families and friends for Easter.
Street carts cooked fragrant food. The cab reserved by Antonio was waiting for us. We all hopped in the cab. The trunk lid and doors were closed, the engined started up and we headed east on our journey away from today and towards yesteryears.

Unfinished water treatment facility upended by Summer storm.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Unfinished, upended, water treatment facility rests in arroyo east of town

As we left the cobblestone streets of Centro Alamos and traveled on dirt roads that connected the surrounding barrios and campo I thought of the arroyo we would be crossing that carried raw Alamos sewage towards the Cuchujaqui River. I looked up and there in the Arroyo de la Aduana, east of Arroyo Agua Escondia, Arroyo la Barranca and Arroyo la Aduana’s confluence, was the beached remains of a future-to-be wastewater treatment plant that was under construction when Hurricane Fausto destroyed it the preceding summer. I understood that when completed it was designed to reduce raw sewage that had been free-flowing east for a couple of centuries. And so it was, the technological future had yet to arrived as we prepared to travel back in time to when and where Spaniards irrigated their 18th century orchards with foot-wide-brick-lined aqueducts.

late spring in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico is a hot, dry, dusty season.  Photo By Anders Tomlinson.

The arroyo, carved by seasonal rains, snaked through dry dusty hills.

We passed the cemetery and Ida Franklin’s house and made a turn to the right on the narrowing road and we were immediately in the country. The town was behind us, the Sierra Madre foothills ahead. The rutted road traveled next to the arroyo that we would have to cross from time to time. When we did I would hold my breath to avoid sewer gas wafting up from the tainted runoff. Every once in awhile we would pass modest dwellings. The farther east we went the greater distance between humble ranches. After a fifteen to 20 minutes ride we arrived at our destination, gathered up all our bags and started a short walk through dried orchards up to the house. We were greeted by Antonio’s mother and two brothers. One brother was the family comedian who worked in town as a laborer and the other Moro who lived on the ranch. Moro spoke only to animals. Antonio’s father was there but I never saw him in person. One of Antonio’s sisters and her husband and daughter would arrive later from Navajoa. And here we were, here where Antonio was raised as the youngest of 17 children.

Clothes line and blue pipe bring water to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Cows are interested in a little one on one football as the clothes dry.

We were here, unconnected from the 20th century. The Figueroa ranch was above and a good distance from the arroyo. Behind it was a large hill that we would climb the next morning. One of the points that Antonio made was we would have a good high ground view of Alamos from the east. Though the house was not connected to any wires or modern sewer lines it was connected directly to the big blue water pipe that brought water a good distance from the Cuchujaqui River to the east near Sabinitos. An author’s aside: this is the same Cuchujaqui River that Alamos sewage was headed towards. When the blue pipe reached the Figueroa ranch the builders wanted to keep it running in a straight line run through a barn and corrals behind the house. The workers put a faucet into the pipe in exchange for damaging Figoeroa property. When we arrived I was cautioned to be careful when I turned water on because of the great pressure coming from the big blue pipe, unrestricted, to the sink or shower. On being connected, one can always be disconnected.

Watching TV powered by solar panel on a ranch outside Alamos, Sonra, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Time for a hour or two of solar panel powered TV. Grandmom keeps cooking.

The brothers and I went out to watch the sunset and arriving stars. They were playing a game they always played when together on the family ranch. Who would see the first passing satellite that evening? As we searched the heavens for the hand of man I noticed how quiet it can be away from the city. Centro Alamos is not a quiet place: church bells on the quarter hour, radios, televisions, cars, trucks, humans, dogs, cats, burros, city bred farm animals, native birds, insects… Here at the ranch, warm soft breezes rustled dry grass and branches as crickets fiddled. We concentrated on the sky. And the game was done, Moro spotted the first satellite. The comedian brother turned to me and said Moro always wins this simple but cosmic game. We retired to the house and awaiting dinner. Antonio’s mother was dishing up food off the big wood burning stove. The women and daughters were watching, more listening, to a TV. This was courtesy of a small solar panel provided by a government program intending to give all the rural off-line ranches access to solar generated electricty. Modern times allowed this household to chose between a radio for eight hours, a light for three or four hours or the small black & white television for an hour or two. Or some combination of electrical appliances at night for as long as there was stored energy. Choices, choices, choices.

I knew I would have a good sleep and I looked forward to Easter morning with the Figueroas in the Campo.

91… Part Two: On Easter Sunday in the Country…

There are some days one never forgets. Easter Sunday 1995, on the Figueroa family ranch was one of those days for me. Unfortunately, my workbook’s location, for this period of time, is unknown, so the names of Antonio’s parents, wife, daughter, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews are not at hand. It is hard to tell a story about a large family without names but I will do the best I can. This story is told in two parts.

Figueroa family ranch east of Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Step outside from under the supported roof and one is in thick outback

The morning began with a tour of the brothers’ bedroom. While going to school the brothers had lived on the ranch and the sisters lived in town. It was a long country walk to and from town for the boys. There had been seventeen sisters and brothers. Now it was the father, mother and Moro. Over the years, mother, who could not read, had acquired a large library of books and drafting tables for the boys. As I walked into their room, isolated from Alamos by distance and geography, the world was in their hands by picking a volume off the book shelfs. Antonio and his brothers were proud of their childhood bedroom. They knew this was a special place. I remember the moment as a hopeful dream with knowledge being the coin of the realm and all that is good in command.

Two Figueroa children at their grand parent's ranch.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Two girls and their uncle, in the back rest reading, after breakfast.

We all went into the kitchen to join mother cooking breakfast. There was no TV, radio or computers but there was paper and pen. And so the Figueroas entertained themselves by drawing caricatures of each other. There was an innocence in the room as they showed their cartoons and the others laughed. Joyous home entertainment without electricity.

Outside, the only sounds were time passing by as these humans reenacted a common thread throughout all of mankind from the creation of paper to the power grid. So much had changed so quickly. The world Antonio knew is not the world his father knew. Many call this progress. Few ask of unintended consequences. I felt at home in a world I understood.
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Grandfather on his daily walk to town from his ranch.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Every day he walks the long walk from the family ranch and returns.

Antonio’s father, as a young man, held a infant girl in his arms. This baby grew up into a young woman and the now aging man married her. Together, they would have seventeen children. Antonio was the last born born to an elderly man who now hardly, if at all, recognized his youngest child.

I had seen the father in the late afternoon walking into town. I asked Antonio where he was going and he answered ” to church and then he turns around and walks back to the ranch.” Walking is the form of transportation that most people use in Alamos. Elderly people on their daily walks are a common site. In many cases one could tell time by their passing by. The father’s walk from the ranch is another leap, as far as walking goes, in magnitude order. I am sure there are well-worn foot paths through arroyos and over hills, as old as man, that cut the actual distance compared to the many miles our taxi negotiated in reaching the ranch from town.

Spring time, looking west from a dry distant hill at Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It is late Spring looking west at Alamos from the ranch's high ground.

Antonio and I hiked after breakfast to the top of the hill the ranch sat on. The hills and valley were dry. The sky was dirty with dust and smoke from burning farm fields surrounding Navajoa to the west. This is the way it is in late spring. Alamos is two hills to the west and Cacharamba crowns the western horizon. Beyond that the Sierra Madre foothills descend to the great agricultural flood plains and the Sea of Cortez. In the distance a young boy was playing stick with his dog. It could have been Antonio’s ghost from 15 years past. From here, a place to take in what living really means, the struggles and rewards travel on the wind. We, as one, are the past, present and future.

Two Figeroa Brothers, one a photographer the other an architect-artist.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Two brothers raised on the ranch, a photographer and an architect-artist.

The seventeen Figueroa children went their own ways. A brother became a priest, a sister worked in the Vatican. Some became teachers. Some did not marry and those that did planned to have two children, no more. It is an amazing step forward in one generation, 17 children to two. Much of this deals with economies. Modern children are an expensive investment and for some marriage is an economic challenge. Above, Antonio poses as a drunk outside an Alamos bar and his brother, an artist-architect working in Guadalajara, stands next to one of his murals he painted while in Alamos. Both of these brothers are skilled and accomplished. I think back to their bedroom on the ranch. This is where they came from, a room of books and drafting tables.

Antonio Figueroa taking late afternoon pictures of Alamos, Sonora, Mexcio.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Antonio Figueroa doing what he loves, taking pictures with nature's warm light.

A photographer and his town. A man in the moment. A father seeing the future. A husband embracing the present. A son understanding the past. This photo of Antonio, at work, is a portrait of all these moments and much more. Summer comes once a year, ten times a decade and a hundred times in a century. Each summer washes away the previous seasons and starts many growing cycles anew. Nature’s cycles are meaningful, as is Antonio taking sunset pictures of summer Alamos from high ground.

22 … Mexico’s best friends are its hard working photographers…

Antonio Figueroa, photographer in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Antonio Figueroa sets up for a sunset shot ending a brilliant summer day.

Antonio, I am glad to hear, remains a professional photographer in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. He was of great assistance during my 1996 summer shoot. His enthusiasm for what he was doing, and eagerness to try new things, made him a great working companion. Antonio Figueroa knows he lives in a special place filled with family, friends, man-made and natural beauty.

Antonio Figueroa photographing roses in the plaza, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From the macro to the micro it all has potential in Antonio's eye.

If American photographers think life is hard try stepping into a Mexican photographer’s shoes. The market is limited by the their customers incomes. And most of these people can only afford photos of turning points in their family life. For artists like Antonio, it is a balancing act to pursue his love of landscape, light, form – magical moments camera lens create and capture – with little market demand for these efforts. These were the days of film cameras which costed much more in Mexico than the USA. Antonio did not have access to the film stocks I was shooting. In some cases he would need to ride a bus for half a day to find film for a shoot, and there was no guarantee it was on the shelves. I hope the digital age is making life easier for professional Mexican photographers.

Antonio Figueroa and his photos on display.  Alsmos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It was a proud moment for Antonio to display his work at a photo exhibition.

Antonio was part of fotoseptiembre which ran for the month at the Museo Constumbrista de Sonora in Plaza de las Armas. He is seen here with his work. It took a great effort to frame his pieces as he did. No shortcuts. I have selected twelve events or people as subjects for short Alamos essays. Antonio is one of these amazing stories. More to come.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved