Photo Essay: Six days behind the wheel in Mexico

We’re back from our visa run to the Texas border.

The term “visa run” connotes a quick border trip, but from our house deep in central Mexico, the journey was a 10-day undertaking, including our stay in Texas.

Six days behind the wheel enhanced our positive impressions of this beautiful country. Rolling hills covered with aloe vera, forests of Joshua trees as far as the eye can see, breathtaking landscapes, exquisitely preserved colonial towns, delicious food from an array of roadside vendors, and warm people. Mexico’s got it all.

A drive through Mexico

Lunch stop at a local taqueria



Back-country libre roads, surprisingly smooth and often deserted


A drive through Mexico

Vast, soul-stirring natural landscapes


A drive through Mexico

Rusted ranch sign on gate, Mexico

Love this ranch gate


A drive through Mexico

Roadside altar, a common sight on Mexico’s roads


A drive through Mexico

Who needs fence posts?


A drive through Mexico

This big tree spoke to me. In Spanish.


A drive through Mexico

Roadside cross


A drive through Mexico

Stone wall & prickly pear (and just out of the frame, a coyote trotting off)


A drive through Mexico

A remnant of last-year’s presidential election



Zacatecas’ historic downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was (embarrassingly) a complete surprise to us. We’d picked the town solely as a spot on the map, a convenient overnight stop. But an impromptu visit to the cathedral on the hill revealed a portal into the past.

We parked and strolled around the Centro Historico, where the narrow alleys, colonial architecture, and cobblestoned streets instantly transported us to 18th-century Spain. There was so much to see and do there, but without much time, we just gawked in the central plaza, spent a few minutes the great cathedral, and enjoyed breakfast at a proper restaurant for a change.

We’ll definitely go back one day.

A drive through Mexico

Zacatecas in our sights


Zacatecas UNESCO World Heritgage site

Zacatecas’ colonial downtown is a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site


Zacatecas colonial downtown UNESCO World Heritage site

All the store signs are painted in black, with no modern signage anywhere


Zacatecas Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritgage site)

18th-century red-stone cathedral



Zacatecas' colonial downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site

The cathedral’s ornate facade.


A drive through Mexico

LOVE this massive cathedral door.


Historic restaurant in Zacatecas

Breakfast at the historic Café Neveria Acrópolis


Joshua trees in Mexico

 Forests of Joshua trees


A drive through Mexico

A drive through Mexico

The best tamales we’ve had yet came from this truck by a Pemex station in Nuevo León


A drive through Mexico

More crosses


A drive through Mexico

When driving in Mexico you’ve got to be careful of all the livestock on roads. We had to slam on our brakes when this hobbled donkey crossed in front of us.


A drive through Mexico

Blue agave farms blanket Jalisco

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Medsger March 24, 2013 at 11:34 am

Hi, Renee, Mark, Emma, and Archie,

Loved this account! Renee, you are right: Mexico has it all. I have been homesick for Querétaro ever since I got back to the States on February 23. I’m going back in Feb 2014 with Global Volunteers, but may go on my own before that. That was such fun seeing you all there. So glad that it happened!

I’ve not been to Zacatecas, but have been to Leon and Dolores Hidalgo, plus Guadalajara, Mexico City, Mazatlan, Acapulco, and more. So much to see.


2 Renee March 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Tom, yes, there’s so much to see here in Mexico. It’s a wonderful country. Shame about all the bad press that keeps so many people away.


3 Mark March 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Tom, have you ever thought of visiting Ajijic and the Lago de Chapala again? Of course, there are so many places in Mexico to see. You probably should go someplace new. I would to back to Zacatecas again, only to stay a bit longer and soak up the ambience of the place. We passed through so quickly. Though I am glad we saw el centro. Querétaro is another place I want to see again.


4 March 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Beautiful pictures. Glad you enjoyed your trip. There are so many hidden treasures in Mexico, if only people could take the time on their travels to see these gorgeous sights. We have spent 5 winters now in Mexico and have just about traveled through every state here and we are still finding new things to see.


5 Renee March 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I sure wish we could have spent more time in Zacatecas. The town deserved it, but you know how it is on a visa run. We had to make time. 🙂


6 Jason March 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Great photos! We keep seeing “hobbled donkeys” here in Morocco.


7 Renee March 24, 2013 at 3:58 pm

We’ve seen tons of hobbled livestock here too, but the way this one was inching its way across a busy road was amazing. And kind of scary!!!


8 Syd March 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I just stumbled on your blog and love it! We’re actually following in your footsteps in about month….we’re driving into Mexico with our dog and have a home rented in Ajijic. Your account of crossing the border, dealing with bringing the dog in, and getting the vehicle certificate was all very reassuring and helpful. Thanks for the heads up on difficulty finding hotels that will accept dogs….I’ll start doing my research now!


9 Susan Ramirez July 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Share, please share information you have found on pet friendly lodging! We’re on our way, with Quincy the Pom Tzu in tow! 🙂


10 Living Outside of the Box March 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Beautiful desert photos! I’ve always failed to capture the beauty of it while driving…but then again, we’d do that drive in 4 days or less (2 days each way)…the photos turn out blurry 😉

Always wished we wanted to stop in Zacatecas and check it out…but never wanted to stop when it came down to it!


11 Renee March 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Haha, yes it alwyas helps to stop the car and get out to take photos. 🙂 We almost didn’t see the Wold Heritage part of Zacatecas. We only pulled off the freeway on our way out of town on a whim. It was so beautiful!!! I wasn’t kidding when I said it felt like Europe.


12 Living Outside of the Box March 25, 2013 at 9:21 pm

A lot of Mexico’s downtown areas remind me of Europe. Perhaps that is one reason I was so shocked to make it to Spain and it seemed like nothing was as spectacularly “European” as we had seen in Mexico! Hahahaa!


13 Renee March 25, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Spain was disappointing for us too, though I’d like to go back and spend more time there. There’s got to be something I’m missing.


14 michael June 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm

We tend to forget just how devastating the Spanish Civil War was, as a vicious dress rehearsal for WW2. So much of the old cities were destroyed.

I would like to mention one incident that occurred to us in Madrid. My wife is a demure, well-educated Mexicana, but I thought I was going to have to tackle her to prevent an international incident when an OBNOXIOUS Madrid couple, upon discovering that Lorena is Mexican, began making comments about dirty, ignorant, uncivilized Mexican colonials. Whoa!!!

15 Rhonda@Laugh-Quotes March 25, 2013 at 3:11 am

Wonderful collection of photos. I have never seen a joshua tree, although I have been in places I expected too. Thank for sharing.


16 Mark March 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’ve been to Joshua Tree National Forest many times… But I wasn’t expecting to see a joshua trees in Mexico. Though I guess it makes sense, the geography and climate are very similar. It’s just an extension of the same terrain. There were so many!


17 Incatrailz April 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Looks like a nice trip for a visa run. I used to have do a visa run from Peru to Bolivia every 3 months and I loved the excuse to pack up and spend a couple of days away from work. Luckily it was only a 12 hour journey to cross the border so not quite such a mission as you put in.


18 Renee April 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Yes, I’m glad to be forced to stop working and drive around, but we could use a shorter drive. We’re planning to relocate a bit closer to a border.


19 Kimberly, The Fur Mom April 8, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Wow! I’m going to love following your travels. This is amazing. The pictures are gorgeous. What did you have for breakfast?


20 Renee April 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Hey, Kim. Welcome! My husband, Mark, and I had an amazing house-special huevos rancheros. My daughter had the chilaquiles. Archie had a napkin-full of bacon I smuggled out in my pocket. Squeeee!


21 michael June 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Renee, this brought back bittersweet memories. I have driven this route so many times. Did you take the cable car to and from La Bufa in Zacatecas? Are you aware of Santa Anna’s legacy in Zacatecas? As a native Texan descended from the Old 300, this fascinates me.

Per Wikipedia:
“Several states openly rebelled against the changes [Santa Anna’s dictatorship]: Coahuila y Tejas (the northern part of which would become the Republic of Texas), San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. Several of these states formed their own governments: the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Republic of Yucatan, and the Republic of Texas. Only the Texans defeated Santa Anna and retained their independence. Their fierce resistance was possibly fueled by reprisals Santa Anna committed against his defeated enemies.[11] The New York Post editorialized that “had [Santa Anna] treated the vanquished with moderation and generosity, it would have been difficult if not impossible to awaken that general sympathy for the people of Texas which now impels so many adventurous and ardent spirits to throng to the aid of their brethren”.[12]”

After Santa Anna conquered Zacatecas, he allowed his troops 48 hours to “punish” the populace of Zacatecas in an orgy of murder, rape, and pillage. News of this preceded his advance to Texas and explains the steeled determination of the Alamo defenders and fueled the panic of the Runaway Scrape when the Alamo fell and the Texians at Goliad were massacred. Several of my ancestors were involved in both, and undoubtedly my wife [Guadalajara, Ameca, and Tepic Jal.] had family in the Mexican Army. (Consequently, my dual-citizen daughters have very convoluted connections to those histories.)

When Pancho Villa later captured Zacatecas, his troops basically captured the city until they starved the Federal forces out of La Bufa.

Between Zacatecas and Saltillo, you passed by Angostura which was the most southern advance of the US Army under Winfield Scott in the Mexican War. There is an nondescript concrete marker that commemorates Patriots defending Mexico against invading forces without even naming the Battle of Angostura (MX) aka the Battle of Buena Vista (US). We don’t even know where most of the dead are buried to this day. Again, I had ancestors present there, and surely my wife did as well on the opposing side.

[My wife is related to Juan Escutio of Los Ninos Heroes fame, so I know our ancestors opposed one another at Chapultepec.]

Saltillo, by the way, was the capital of Coahuila y Texas, one heck of a long way from Nacodoches, TX, let alone San Antonio.


22 michael June 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

By the way, have you ever been to the old mining ghost town Real de Catorce just west of Matahuala? It takes some effort to get there (with a long drive over cobblestones), but it is definitely worth it!


23 michael June 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I love your site. The last photo, though, is of blue agave that tequila is made from. (Have you been to Tequila, Jal.?) Aloe Vera is a succulent “fat, squishy” leafed plant.


24 Renee June 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Yikes, I wrote that accidentally and then corrected it immediately. I guess it didn’t save properly..thanks for the catch. 🙂 Yes, we love the blue agave fields everywhere. So lovely.


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