Traveling to Mata Ortiz
Transportation to the village
When traveling to Mata Ortiz, it is ideal to have your own car. However if that is not possible, the following options are available...
Rental Car - Many car-rental companies allow their cars to be driven 250 miles into Mexico, and it's cheaper to rent on the United States side than in Mexico (companies operating in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, include Hertz 800-654-3001; Budget 800-472-3325; Alamo 800-522-9696). You'll need (1) a letter from the car company authorizing you to drive into Mexico, (2) insurance from the company, running about $30/day for each day in Mexico, and (3) a vehicle permit and window sticker which you'll get at the border (if you overlook this, you'll be stopped at the checkpoint south of Janos and have to backtrack to the border).
Bus - Comfortable new buses run three days/week between Phoenix and Nuevo Casas Grandes (via Columbus), leaving Phoenix from 703 N. 20th Street on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 7 a.m., arriving Nuevo 4 p.m., and on Friday at 5:30 p.m., arriving 1 a.m. From Nuevo leaving MWF 12:30 pm, arriving Phoenix 8:30 p.m. Fare each way $45. Contact Tarahumara Bus Lines in Phoenix (602-765-1863) or Nuevo (636-694-9487). Bus also flag-stops at Tucson at the Chevron Station at Freeway Exit 6, about 9:30 a.m. Fare from Tucson $40
Transportes Nuevo Casas Grandes operates a daily door-to-door van like an airport limo between Phoenix/Tucson and Nuevo Casas Grandes, via Naco, Sonora and is quite comfortable. It takes about nine hours, depending where people are picked up or let off. Fare one-way is US$45. Van begins collecting passengers in Phoenix at 5 a.m., and in Nuevo Casas Grandes at 7 a.m. In Nuevo Casas Grandes, call Olga Saenz Quintana (694-3818). In Phoenix, call any of three numbers: 623-206-0298, 877-5365, or 570-8730.
Also frequent daily bus service between Nuevo Casas Grandes and the border at Agua Prieta (opposite Douglas AZ), Palomas (opposite Columbus NM), and Cd. Juarez (opposite El Paso). From Douglas or El Paso, taxi or bus to the terminal on the Mexican side, in Juarez called the Central Autobuses. Fare to Nuevo Casas Grandes is about $14 (Omnibus has new Mercedes Benz buses). The trip takes about four hours. Vans can be rented in Nuevo to take groups on to the village (contact Norma Delia Solis, Viajes American Tours, Avenida Hidalgo #601-B, at 694-0111 or 694-4888,
Cab - Taxis (called sitios) will take you from Nuevo Casas Grandes to Mata Ortiz for about US$40 one-way or $50 round trip, plus $10/hour waiting (which is negotiable).
Rail - Trains no longer run through Mata Ortiz, but because the tracks are still in place and in good condition, some entrepreneurs offer customized excursion service on motores--gas-engine rail jitneys like glorified handcars--between Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mata Ortiz and villages beyond as far as Cuevitas. They provide protection from the sun and can accommodate several dozen people by attaching more cars. This is totally informal travel, with stops along the way to take pictures or look at flowers, cacti or whatever when requested. The trip originates at the old train station in Nuevo Casas Grandes and takes about an hour to Mata Ortiz. Round trip is 50 pesos per person (approximately US$6) for a minimum of six people and includes a two-hour layover in Mata Ortiz (a longer wait or overnight can be negotiated with the chofer). Contact Javier Pedraza (692-4012 or 698-1557
Air - Nuevo Casas Grandes has excellent facilities for private planes a mile-and-a-half southeast of the city at 4,850' elevation, featuring a 5000-ft paved runway, 75-ft-wide. Look for "NCG" sign on roof. Locked rental hangar $23/day. MMCG intranation calls. GPS locator Nuevo Casas Grandes.
Attractions Going Down
Nuevo Casas Grandes boasts one good pottery gallery, operated by Manuel Hernandez Villalobos (694-0795). On entering the city, look for a sign on the right at 10th Street and turn right to the second house on the right. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
JANOS was the Spanish colonial administrative center for the region and has two Spanish colonial churches, one of them abandoned but worth a stop (just visible from the highway). Just past the vehicle check point south of Janos, turn east (left) to the Mennonite settlements of LOS ALAMOS along the Rio Casas Grandes. Mennonite cheese is famous all over Mexico. See it being made (two queserías are open Mon-Sat 9-2 p.m. but finish cheese making at 10 a.m.) and buy it by the brick or the wheel; it keeps well for days without refrigeration.
A good hotel, a bit pricey but excellent restaurant/bar, the Hotel Frontera Inn, has opened outside Agua Prieta (opposite Douglas AZ) 1.5 miles after turning onto the Janos road. Tel: 633-331-1765 email@example.com
The Malmedy Restaurant located in a brick Victorian home with gingerbread trim and garden on the right soon after entering Nuevo Casas Grandes offers Belgian cuisine. Better than dropping in, call in advance; they'll prepare something delightful.
The old pueblo of Casas Grandes (three miles beyond Nuevo Casas Grandes) has three restaurants, El Kiote on your left as you enter town, the San Antonio Restaurant on the near side of the church plaza (first plaza on right), which is excellent for light meals, and La Finca de Don Cruz on the left as you leave the pueblo toward Mata Ortiz. We recommend all three.
Phoning Mata Ortiz and Nuevo Casas Grandes
From the United States, call anywhere in the Nuevo Casas Grandes - Mata Ortiz area by direct dialing 011-52 followed by area code 636 and then the seven-digit number just as in the United States. Thus the Hotel Hacienda number is 011-52-636-694-1048. Local calls can be made using the last 7 digits, but calls outside an exchange require the area code.
Phones in Mata Ortiz are changing over from cellular to land line (Telmex) service. If you have difficulty getting through on the cellular (you may have to try several times in succession or later in the day) or if your party does not have a phone, try the casetas. Anyone in Mata Ortiz can be reached through the casetas. Call, ask in Spanish to speak to so-and-so, and someone will take the message and ask you to call back in 15 minutes. If all goes well, the person you want will be at the caseta for your second call. Caseta numbers are: Marta Martínez (by the old plaza and Posada de las Ollas) voice/fax 695-0245; Don Ernesto’s Pharmacy (near the Adobe Inn Hotel) voice/fax 699-3257; Hermanos Store voice/fax 695-0245; Yolanda Tena at Angela’s Store in Porvenir (voice only) 695-0246. Debi Flanigan, next to Angela’s, is usually available to translate for the Porvenir neighborhood.
The Calendar maintains a Mata Ortiz phone book. Included are artists in Nuevo Casas Grandes, where a number of families have moved to obtain a better education for their children. The phone book has grown too large to include in these pages, but we update it regularly and will email it on request.
Postal service is not reliable in Mexico but, for the record, the address for most potters is: Domicilio Conocido, Ejido Juan Mata Ortiz, Municipio Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, C.P. 31861, Mexico.
Attractions in Casas Grandes
Some visitors to Nuevo Casas Grandes might relish a look into the enormous brick oven where pan dulces are baked in the traditional way at the Panaderia La Guadalupana, Avenida Hidalgo #813 in the block behind the Motel Piñón. Founded 60 years ago by the father of the present owner, Luis Antonio Rodriguez.
Among the attractions in the old pueblo of Casas Grandes are the prehistoric ruins of Paquimé, once the largest and most complex community in the Puebloan world; and the Museum of Northern Cultures (10-5 p.m., closed Mondays). Designed by Mario Schetinan, this world-class museum won an international prize for harmonious integration with the landscape. Near the Museum is the Galería de las Guacamayas. Salmon colored with a distinctive key-hole-shaped door, it can be seen in the distance to the left as you exit the Museum gate. This art gallery, bed-and-breakfast, and home of Mayté Luján was built using the same rammed-earth building technique as the prehistoric ruins. Juan Quezada reconstructed the method experimentally and oversaw the initial construction. A couple of miles west of Casas Grandes is an attractive private park built around the Ojo Varileño, the ample spring that provided water for Paquimé in ancient times and irrigates the pueblo today. The park is open from May through September. A small admission is charged, and a limited amount of RV parking is available. Also on this side of the pueblo is the ruin of the Convento San Antonio de Padua, a Spanish Franciscan mission built in 1663. On the other side of the pueblo, about two miles east, is the privately restored Hacienda El Refugio. Permission can sometimes be obtained to visit this remarkable private home from the owner, Robert Whetten, in Colonia Juarez. The roads to these last three places are not paved or marked and will require asking.
The family occupying and caring for the semi-ruined Hacienda San Diego just 15 minutes before Mata Ortiz will serve breakfast or lunch for US$8 per person if you phone ahead for a reservation. The oldest daughter speaks English well and conducts a tour. Donations for the tour are appreciated and go toward a university fund for the three girls of the family. They sell superb Mexican candies and quarter-sized cookies, highly recommended. This fascinating historic setting, one of Luis Terraza’s many haciendas in Chihuahua, was taken by Pancho Villa and for a time served as his headquarters. Contact Sara Ramirez de Acosta (044-636-100-0631), Avenida Anahuac #16, Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, CP 31857.
Besides the hotels in Nuevo Casas Grandes, good accommodations are available in the old pueblo of Casas Grandes and in Mata Ortiz itself. Comfortable hotels in NUEVO CASAS GRANDES include the Motel Casas Grandes 694-4844, Hotel Hacienda 694-1048, Hotel Villa Colonial 694-3520, Hotel Piñón 694-0655, Hotel Paquimé 694-4620, Hotel California 694-1110, in that order as you enter the city, and Motel Las Fuentes 694-5441 and Motel Cabañas 694-0624 on the east side of the city (Cabañas is our favorite budget motel in NCG). RV parks include RV Park de Dublan los Metates 694-1203; RV Park Pistoleros 694-2964; and on the east side of the city RV Park/Hotel Los Arcos 694-4250. An attractive RV possibility is Ojo Varileño in Casas Grandes (see paragraph just above).
LAS GUACAMAYAS ("The Macaws") near the Museum in the old pueblo of CASAS GRANDES three miles beyond Nuevo Casas Grandes, besides housing a fine art gallery offers 11 attractive bed-and-breakfast units for $40 single, $50 double, and $20 each additional person. Owner Mayté Luján's dining room, La Tertulia (the word means a gathering of friends for recreation/conversation) is open for breakfast to guests 8-11 a.m. Mayté is a former curator of the Museum. This is an artsy place to stay (see description two paragraphs above). Make arrangements directly with Mayté, in English, at Voice/Fax 011-52 (636) 692-4144 or by email at
DONA MARGARITA MARTINEZ (692-4053) offers two pleasant, clean rooms, each with its private bath, in the old pueblo of Casas Grandes. She rents either one for $20 a single person, $25 for two, or $30 for three. Breakfast is available for $3 additional. One block before the La Finca de Don Cruz Restaurant, turn right onto Avenida 16 de Septiembre and park on the left. Enter a gate, walk in six feet, and ring the bell.
ADOBE INN (Posada de los Adobes, known locally as "the hotel") in Mata Ortiz before crossing the tracks. $45 single, $70 double includes three meals. 15 large rooms surrounding a large garden courtyard, queen-size beds, private bath with shower. Reservations 800-765-6271 (Jerry Boyd) or direct: 011-52-636-694-6283 (Jorge Quintana--Spanish only). Owned and operated by master potter Jorge Quintana and trader Jerry Boyd.
CABANITAS LA SIERRA. Miguel Angel Tena has completed two of five studio units just west of the rodeo ring, each unit with two beds, hot water, shower, and a stove for cooking (no refrigerator as of this date). Single occupancy $25, double $30. Contact Amelia Martinez de Tena (636-699-3257), Farmacia Paquimé, Mata Ortiz., Chih., Mexico.
CASA DE MARTA. Marta Veloz, who has worked at the other inns and is much beloved by visitors for herself and for her cooking, now has her own inn in the heart of ‘downtown’ Mata Ortiz. A visitor writes: "she is a most gracious hostess, the beds are firm, the bathrooms state-of-the-art, the whole place spotless, and the food is the best in town." Marta accommodates up to a dozen people by making both her home and her new ‘wing’ available (6 double beds, 4 rooms altogether). When there are guests, she arranges complete privacy by staying at her brother's home across the street. $35 per person includes 3 meals. Fax reservations to Marta Veloz (011-52-636-695-0245 or 3257) specifying number of people, date, arrival time, and return fax number. Faxes are readily translated at that end, but if language assistance or information is desired, Sue Ann Hanning (505-521-9180
POSADA DE LAS OLLAS, a block north of the old plaza. $39 single, $59 double + $5 tax includes three meals. Five comfortable rooms, each with private bath. Reservations by voice at 011-52-636-698-6410 or by fax at 0245. The first inn established in Mata Ortiz, the Posada is pleasant and newly renovated. Centrally located near the plaza for comfortable walking in the village. Faxes are readily translated at that end, but if language assistance or information is desired, Jim Bruemmer (505-589-0801
And Where to Eat
Day visitors can find meals at any of the three inns by making arrangements ahead of time. "La Pasadita," a tiny, clean restaurant in the caseta/store owned by Antonio Domínguez and Marta Martínez de Domínguez (695-0245) a few doors north of the Posada de las Ollas, serves excellent sandwiches and hamburgers from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. María's on the NE corner of the plaza from April to November offers ice creams and also hamburgers, nachos. At the southern extremity of the village across the arroyo in Barrio Porvenir, Debi Flanigan (698-9159) serves good lunches @ $7/person (reservations required for groups). Two other places in Porvenir we're told are good but haven't yet tried are (1) Angela's Tienda immediately around the corner from Debi Flanigan and (2) a tiny place said to have good salsas directly opposite Macario Ortiz' house.
The following are available locally to assist by guiding and translating and are well recommended. Please let us hear of your experience with anyone who has helped you in this way. The going rate is $30-$50/day or $10/hour.
JOHN HATCH (www.gavilantours.com), in the Mormon community of Colonia Juarez, is highly knowledgeable about local Mormon, Apache and Chihuahua history.
CESAR DOMINGUEZ JR. (694-6208), son of César and Gaby Domínguez in Nuevo Casas Grandes comes highly recommended.
DEBI FLANIGAN (698-9159) is married to Enrique Bugarini in the Porvenir (southernmost) section of Mata Ortiz. Debi guides and translates for $10/hr and also serves lunch @ $7/person (reservations required for groups). She's next door to the caseta (695-0246) and can translate or carry phone messages in the Porvenir neighborhood.
FRANCISCO and YOLANDA GALLEGOS (698-5434) on the river road a quarter mile north of the church in Mata Ortiz, are recommended by photographer Sandy Smith (author of Portraits of Clay). They retired to the village after spending most of their grown life in the United States where their three children still live. Francisco is the brother of master potter Hector Gallegos.
JUANA JURADO's house is located alone off to the right of the road before crossing the tracks on entering the village. Many people including Walter Parks rely on Juana. Find her by inquiring or reach her by phone through one of the casetas.
MAYTE LUJAN (voice/fax 692-4144), in the pueblo of Casas Grandes, is excellent. She has a gallery and bed-and-breakfast, “Las Guacamayas,” near the Museum, of which she is a former curator. firstname.lastname@example.org
SUSANA NAVA DE MOLINAR (phone 694-2600 or 2748) in Nuevo Casas Grandes at 1401 Hidalgo, a couple of blocks before the Motel Piñon on entering town and one block west. Susana is trader Herman Knechtle’s sister-in-law and acts as his buyer. She has an excellent eye for pottery and knows the market. She can track down any artist in Nuevo Casas Grandes. She also handles shipping of pottery to the United States.
NELDA WHETTEN (695-0293), in the Mormon community of Colonia Juarez, is highly knowledgeable about local Mormon, Apache and Chihuahua history although less expert on pottery than some others. She is available to guide or speak to groups. Turn right a long block after crossing the bridge; her house will be at the end on the right.
Shipping Pottery Back Home
Plans are for Mail Boxes Etc. to come to Nuevo Casas Grandes. Meantime, Susana Nava (see just above) makes weekly trips to the border and can handle pottery shipments to United States addresses. If returning to the El Paso airport, the Postal Annex (Mgr. Pete Carrasco 915-585-0045) at the Crossroads Shopping Center (8001 N. Mesa, Ste E) may be convenient.
Days of Celebration
While traditional and colorful Matachín dances are held in the village several times during the year, only two dates are definite: May 15 (San Ysidro ) and December 12 (Virgin of Guadalupe).
March 19 - honoring San José, patron saint of Mata Ortiz; Matachín dancing likely but not definite. The church is decorated, and there will usually be a parade with pick-up-truck floats.
March 29 - Good Friday is generally observed in Mata Ortiz with a parade winding through several barrios of the pueblo and ending at the church.
>MAR 31 - Easter (movable date) Matachín dancing likely.
>MAY 15 - San Ysidro, patron saint of agriculture. Mass in the capilla de San Ysidro; Matachín dancing.
>JUN 15 - San Antonio; Matachín dancing likely.
>SEP 16 Dia de Independencia. Parade in the morning to the plaza for coronation of queen and princesses, a jaripeo (rodeo) in the afternoon, and a public dance to live music in the evening at the salón de bailes, celebrating the "Grito" of Father Hidalgo which launched the 1810 revolution of independence from Spain.
>NOV 20 Constitucion del Pais. Similar to Sep 16th, celebrating Gen. Francisco Madero and the revolution that overthrew dictator Porfirio Díaz. Rodeo is usually held.
>DEC 12 - Virgen de Guadalupe, following nine days of processions. Matachín dancing.
Seasonal Weather in Mata Ortiz
At 5200 feet, Mata Ortiz is high desert. An ideal season to visit is late September to early November, when the weather is most dependable and calm and the country still green from rains that fall during most of July and August. Also generally good is March through early May. Walter Parks has encountered ideal weather on some January trips. His least favorite season is late May to early July. Wind/dust storms are frequent around Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter), as rains are in July and August. If readers will let us know their experiences with weather, we’ll treat the subject more thoroughly in future "Calendars." However, weather is not the only thing you may want to consider. Traveling off-season can yield better than usual pottery buys!
Last Minute Thoughts
Avoid driving at night. Because roads are narrow and lack a shoulder, a disabled vehicle may be unable to get off the highway. You might encounter a truck stopped on the road without lights—or a cow crossing the road since the range is frequently unfenced. Bring boxes and bubble-wrap for pottery. Dollars are accepted everywhere, and if you need extra cash, there are ATM machines in Nuevo Casas Grandes. Bring along Mata Ortiz books that you might like the artists to sign.
Mexican tourist cards can be obtained from a Mexican consulate or at the border. For a tourist permit, you will need a current passport. Lacking that, you will need photo ID plus birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or military ID (certificates must be original or a certified copy). Lacking all these documents, photo ID plus notarized voter registration or a notarized affidavit may suffice (no guarantee). Anyone under 18 not accompanied by both parents will need a notarized letter of permission from the absent parent. The three requisites for a vehicle permit are car registration, driver's license, and a credit card, and all these documents must be in the driver's name. In addition you must have a letter from the owner of the car if it is not your own, or from any lien holder, giving you permission to take the car into Mexico (we recommend it be notarized). U.S. car insurance is not valid in Mexico, but Mexican insurance is readily available from an auto club; at the border where you get your vehicle permit; or by phone from Palms Mexico Insurance (800-666-4778). Call any Mexican consulate if you still have questions before your trip. For a directory of consulates, see:
Before re-crossing the border, you must visit a bank and pay a $20 fee for the tourist permit you received and get the permit stamped. All permits for persons or vehicles must be canceled at the border before the expiry date. Keep all canceled or expired permits or receipts, as the Mexican government computer system cannot be relied upon and this could mean lengthy delays on a return trip.
A free tourist permit good for seven days is available for the asking to visit Paquimé, now a World Heritage site. But you will still need a vehicle permit, and that will only be good for those seven days.
To return to the United States without quarantine, pets must have proof of rabies inoculation.
Pottery is duty-free but must be declared. Keep receipts (just any notation of amounts with the potter's initials and Pagado—"Paid"—will suffice). Under $800/person, no entry paperwork needed. From $800-$2,000/person an informal entry is sufficient (this may be waived if the agent takes your word that the pots are for personal use and not for resale, but no guarantees), and above that, a formal entry using a customs broker. Each pot intended for resale must be labeled "Mexico;" this can be written on "safe release" Scotch tape, which is unlikely to mark the pot, or, with the eraser end of a long wooden pencil, you can press a sticker onto the bottom inside of the pot. What's an "informal entry?" Obtain ahead of time Customs Form No. 7523 (080295), enter on it the District Port Code (2406 for Columbus, 2601 for Douglas), identify the pottery as "Decorative art pottery from Mata Ortiz" (identified, if the question arises, as TSUS No. MX6913905000). No informal entries (they're called "commercial declarations") on Sundays (remember "Never on Sunday") and only until 2 p.m. Saturdays (other days to 5 p.m.). How much of this is necessary, of course, will depend on the individual Customs agent. If you'd like a copy of the Customs form, ask us and we'll send it to you without charge. For information on the various ports of entry, see
News of the Crossings
Crossing at Naco, just southwest of Bisbee, AZ (check your map), has little waiting. Douglas/Agua Prieta is usually not bad either. Emi and I often fly to El Paso and rent a car but never cross there because of the border congestion and navigating Juarez. Instead take Exit 8, Artcraft Road, from Freeway 10 and go west 12 miles, turn right onto Route 9 and continue west 60 miles, paralleling the border, to Columbus/Palomas. A good crossing point, open 24 hours daily (commercial entries 9-5 Mon-Sat). Palomas open 24 hours daily for tourist permits, 8 a.m.-midnight for vehicle permits. Enjoy the Pink Store in Palomas for food, drinks, and an outstanding selection of Mexican crafts.
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