Traffic trickles through Sasabe port

Joan Moreno RIGHT and his work partner bike back to El Sasabe, Sonora, after working at Rancho de la Osa in Sasabe on Sept. 14. MORENO lives in Tucson, but stays in El Sasabe when he works on the ranch. (Photo by Corinna Tellez/ Arizona Sonora News)

“Did you go out to the port in Nogales?”

“No.”

“So, then Douglas?”

“No, not there either. I went out to the Sasabe port of entry.

The Sasabe port of entry is the least-trafficked border crossing in Arizona. The port can be found right on the border of Sasabe, Arizona, and El Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico.

According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, this year, fewer than 1 percent of all personal vehicles crossing an Arizona port of entry have crossed at Sasabe, while 38 percent have crossed at Nogales. For 2017, less than 1 percent crossed at Sasabe while 30 percent crossed at Nogales.

The Sasabe port of entry decreased hours of operation based on the slow traffic from previous years. The hours are now 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays. The Nogales port of entry is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Sasabe port is straight down West Ajo Highway. When you reach Sasabe Road, where one gas station and the most civilization you’ve seen in quite some time exist, you turn left. Then drive all the way down Sasabe Road, where you will see nothing apart from the desert scenery and the millions of bugs splatting against your windshield. You’ll need a car wash after this journey.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection truck drives in Sasabe, Arizona on Sept. 18. Sasabe, Arizona is a border town with a port of entry into El Sasabe, Sonora. (Photograph by Corinna Tellez/ Arizona Sonora News)

Halfway into the hour drive down the narrow windy road, there is a U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint. Border patrol agents will simply wave you through. It’s not until you come back through this checkpoint that the agents may question your citizenship and your purpose for being there. At this point, if not sooner, you realize every single other car you have seen on this trip, though not many, have all been U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents.

“El Sasabe, Sonora, is not a tourist town. It’s a community – living people, working people. People who work hard. There are no tourists that come down here,” said Christina Hughes, a resident of Sasabe, Arizona, who said her closest neighbor is right across the border in El Sasabe, Sonora.

One thing about Sasabe, Arizona is it only has one store – Sasabe Store Adobe and Wholesale Mesquite Firewood. When it’s closed on Tuesdays, Hughes must travel to El Sasabe, Mexico for items.

“I go back and forth maybe twice a month to go get some stuff like sugar or milk because the store is closed on Tuesdays,” Hughes said.

The Sasabe Store Adobe and Wholesale Mesquite Firewood on Sept. 14. This is the only store in the small town of Sasabe, Arizona. (Photograph by Corinna Tellez/ Arizona Sonora News)

The store was built in 1920 by Carlos Escalante and has been run by the Escalante family since. Inside the store, a little bit of everything can be found from quick snacks to cowboy hats to shirts that read, “Where the heck is Sasabe?,” quite accurately depicting what the town is known for: how unknown it is.

Deborah Grider, great-granddaughter of Carlos Escalante, is the third generation of the family who is running the store. Aside from her customers who are second or third generations from families who have always lived in Sasabe like herself, she said about 95 percent of her customers are from Mexico. 

Joan Moreno and his work partner both travel on bicycle from El Sasabe, Sonora, to Sasabe, Arizona, daily to go to work at Rancho de la Osa, a historic guest ranch found there. Moreno is from Tucson, but stays in El Sasabe during his time working at the ranch due to its proximity. His work partner lives in El Sasabe full-time and travels to work at the ranch.

Other border crossers make the drive from El Sasabe, Sonora, to Tucson for their jobs. Another traveler and his wife said they use this port about once or twice a month to visit his wife’s mother who lives in El Sasabe, Sonora. From the time the port opened at 8 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. on a Tuesday, there was only one car that drove from Arizona into Sonora. All other traffic were cars coming north.

Many of these daily commuters into the U.S. will account for most of the traffic crossing back over, as well.

“This is really just a little sleepy town nowadays,” said Hughes.

 

Corinna Tellez is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at corinnatellez@email.arizona.edu.

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