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.

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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.
You can see Anders art at artfeats.com.

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