Ruby Road Adventure, Abandoned Mines, A Ghost Town And The Border

Ruby Road Adventure, Abandoned Mines, A Ghost Town And The Border

While visiting our friends Jim and Julie in Green Valley AZ, our hosts took us on several tours around the Sonora Desert. This all day trip was a loop west of I-19 in an area just north of the US/Mexico border near Nogales. We exited I-19 at Valley Manor, heading west towards Arivica. The weather was cool and the sky mostly overcast.

Here is the route map. (click on pics for larger view).

First stop Arivica,  a little deserted town with a couple of bars and a food cart. I imagine it full of bikers on weekends.

A short distance out of Arivica, the pavement ends and the road becomes USFS Road 39. We were in a 2 wheel drive truck, and the road was easily passable. An enduro bike, quad or in a jeep would be a plus as there are numerous washes and canyons to explore with an off road capable vehicle.

The area is rugged, dotted with old mines and signs warn of illegal immigration and smuggling (mostly at night). The Border Patrol is very active in the area. If you’ve seen Border Wars on TV, this is it. We saw no such activity while we were there. We saw this Border Patrol truck and only a few other vehicles.

Next stop, the gravesite of John Lee Poston. According to his gravestone, he was killed by Mexican Bandits in 1861.

Heading west the topography changes as the elevation increases. The terrain includes open desert, rolling hills and rugged rock formations. There is quite a variety of Cactus and even Blue Oak trees. The plant varieties changed with the elevation.

Chollo (Choyo) cactus, one of many varieties

The area is dotted with dangerous abandoned mines. These mines have bottomless holes that you don’t want to fall into. Some are filled with water, trash and debris, presumably left behind by discouraged miners.

We drove down a short steep hill to get to this mine, and I have agreed not to tell you we got stuck. We stuffed rocks under the tires and with some rocking and pushing, got unstuck. In deference to our host, I didn’t take a picture of the stuck truck. He said that people would have paid to see him stuck, as he is an avid Baja racer with considerable offroad experience. But like I said, I agreed not to tell.

More mines:

After the mines, we continued on to Pena Blanca Lake for a picnic of sandwiches and chips. With the Superbowl coming up, football shaped Oreo cookies made an appropriate dessert. After lunch, we posed for a group portrait, and headed for Nogales.

Nogales has the new border fence running right smack through it so there is a Nogales AZ and a Nogales Mexico. We were told that the fence has significantly reduced illegal crossings. The people to the left side of the picture live in Mexico, and to the right, live in the USA.

The people in those houses live in Mexico, just a stone’s throw away.

As you can see, it is a formidable fence. But if it can be built, it can be defeated. People still get through, just not as many.

On the Arizona side there are many cars with Mexico license plates, a number of them models not sold in the US. They come over to visit friends, relatives and to shop. We stopped at Walmart to grab a few things and english was definately the second language.

Next time you are driving through the desert thinking there is nothing out there but sand and rocks, stop and explore. There is much to see. It is a very interesting area rich with wildlife, unusual plants and an interesting history.

More info (LINKS):

Ruby Road Scenic Drive

Mining and Murder in Ruby Arizona

Ghostly Revenge, John Lee Poston

We would like to acknowledge our hosts Jim and Julie of Green Valley AZ for their generosity.


  1. Casey McP

    Great and impactful pictures Dan. I liked the travelogue as I have always been interested in the deserts of AZ & NM. Good stuff, Casey

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