A BRIEF HISTORY
OF ROCKY POINT, MEXICO
60 miles from the US/Mexican border, Rocky
Point, Mexico could have been an Arizona seaport, but history and great negotiating by the
Mexican government in the mid-1800's made it a part of Mexico.
In 1846, the US/Mexican war
ended, and a joint commission was set up to establish where the new border between the two
countries would be. Negotiations went on until 1853, when James Gadsden, a South Carolina
railroad promoter, was authorized by the US Congress to make 5 different secret offers to
the Mexican government, for which we would pay from $15 million to $50 million. Each
option included enough territory for the US to have a southern railroad route to the
Pacific ocean, and a seaport on the Sea of Cortez. The President of Mexico, General Santa
Ana (of Alamo fame), didn't want to give up the territory connecting mainland Mexico with
the Baja peninsula. Through his envoy to Washington, he lobbied Congress to come up with
an offer for land that did not cut off his land bridge to the Baja. In 1854, Congress
agreed to Gen. Santa Ana's demands and paid $10 million for the territory that now makes
up the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona. Known as the Gadsden Purchase, this
land includes both Tucson and Yuma, but did not include access to the Sea of Cortez. Thus,
Arizona lost the chance to have it's own beach front property.
In the 1920's, two wandering fishermen, Victor
and Benjamin Bustamante, discovered huge schools of beautiful blue shrimp in the waters
off a "rocky point" known as Cerro de Penasco, and when other fishermen moved
in, the town now known as Puerto Penasco was established. Rocky Point had one major
problem...there was no fresh water. Thus, it appeared destined to remain a small temporary
camp for Mexican fishermen.
In 1929, a US Mafioso named John Stone (an
associate of Al Capone) saw the potential of the area as a resort destination and built a
hotel and drilled a well for fresh water. Guests were flown in for fishing, hunting,
gambling and (remember, it was during Prohibition) drinking. The availability of fresh
water attracted more Mexican fishermen to the area, and the town began to grow. By 1931,
Stone had managed to alienate many of the local Mexican government officials, and lost his
license to do business in the area. Before departing, Stone burned his hotel and dynamited
the well, leaving Rocky Point once again without fresh water. The Hotel was rebuilt by the
Bustamante brothers and re-opened as the Hotel Penasco. The building itself still remains.
In 1936, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas
visited Rocky Point, saw that the area had tremendous potential, and ordered a pier
constructed for the local fishing fleet. He also began construction of a railroad to
connect Rocky Point with Mexicali and the border.During World War II, the US Corp of
Engineers, with the cooperation of the Mexican government, built a paved road from the
Arizona border to Rocky Point. The US feared attacks on it's west coast ports by the
Japanese, and wanted access to a port on the Sea of Cortez as a backup for shipping.
In 1955, the shrimp industry started to boom.
Markets in Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were developed, and
Rocky Point was finally on it's way to becoming something more than just a fishing
village. By the early 1980's, over 80% of the economy was based on the fishing and
shrimping industry. Then the government made a mistake--they allowed Japanese and Korean
trawlers into the Sea of Cortez. They began using long drag nets, and almost wiped out the
fishery in the entire area. After five years, the Mexican government kicked the trawlers
out, but another disaster occurred--the shrimp got a disease which decreased their
fertility, and the shrimp industry almost died. In the early 1990's, the shrimp began a
comeback. Eventually, the harbor at Rocky Point housed over 200 fishing vessels. Then, in
1994, Mexico declared the entire northern part of the Sea of Cortez and the Pinacate
Volcano area to be an International Biosphere Reserve. Commercial fishing could no longer
take place north of Rocky Point. This put lots of fishermen out of business, and over half
the fleet was sold to fishing operations in Guaymas, to the south. In 1989, the fishing
industry was estimated to bring in up to 80% of the income earned by Rocoportenses (what
the people of Rocky Point call themselves.) Today, fishing accounts for less than 50% of
the local income, and tourism makes up the most important economic sector of the economy.
The shrimp season lasts from October to May.
Before Rocky Point was settled by Mexicans, the
Seri Indians wandered the local deserts. A sub-tribe of Arizona's Tohono O'Odam
Indians, the Seri were rumored to be cannibals, and early Spanish explorers were
constantly on guard to protect themselves when traveling through the territory. In the
1940's, a Seri (later called by his friends "the rich one") began carving small
statues of local animal and plant life out of ironwood, a small tree with extremely hard
and dense wood that only grows in the Sonoran desert. Other members of the tribe saw that
he was doing well selling the carvings, and began to carve their own statues. Today,
ironwood carvings are perhaps the favorite souvenir purchased by tourists in northern
Sonora. Other craft and art items available in the Rocky Point area are small carpets,
blankets, jewelry, ceramics, hand woven baskets, hammocks, and the ever-present T-Shirt!
Another interesting and unusual feature of the
Puerto Penasco area is the extreme tides produced in the area. In Cholla Bay, five miles
from the heart of Rocky Point, the difference between low and high tides can be as much as
Also nearby is Mount Pinacate, home of 9 major
volcanic craters and over 400 volcanic vents. In the early 70's, Apollo astronauts trained
for their moon-walks on this mountain.
Today, people visit Rocky Point for the sun,
sand, sea, fishing, and just general relaxation. It is not a Mazatlan or Puerto
Vallarta, and most visitors are eternally grateful for that fact.
For information or reservations,
Reservations, Inc. for all your Rocky Point needs.
Local 480-994-4475 or National
Rocky Point and Mexico