Report from Guerrero Viejo
Front Tamaulipas, Mexico
An ideal town which thrived for more than 200 years in Northern Mexico was left to wash away under a government program in 1953.
Guerero was founded in 1750 in the frontier state of Tamaulipas and was known internationally as a fine tourist resort by the early 1900s in an unlikely arid land. From far away European countries came visitors who admired the sculpted stone buildings, arched passageways and rose gardens defined by cemetric stone paths. Near an impressive church and popular central plaza, a hotel was built with thick concrete walls to keep guests cool on hot afternoons.
In this drought-prone land, water, crops and food matter more than pride and tourism, and the U.S. and Mexican governments devised a plan to bring the needed water to the steadily increasing population in the frontera region. The containment of the Rio Grande behind the dam of the International Falcon Reservoir called for the submersion of several towns in Tamaulipas and Texas. Along with residents in Zapata, Texas, the population of Guerrero was asked to move to higher ground. Most went sadly to their new homes in Nuevo Guerrero.
Even as water lapped at the sandstone foundations, a few old homesteaders refused to leave the magnificent town they built. Soon, only the peaks of the tallest buildings were visible.
As the water subsided, due to years of drought, the ruins of Guerrero emerged. Most buildings were reduced to toppled walls resting in mud, as the sandstone foundations had washed out from under them. The facade of the church, Our Lady of Refuge, still remained, though the interior was gone. Faith brought several residents back to rebuild the church.
Most years, barely enough water falls on this region to keep it alive. Little of the water that drains into the Rio Grande in Colorado and New Mexico makes it this far South. During extreme dry spells the Pecos River doesn't even connect with the Rio Grande.
If sufficient rain returns and the government sees the opportunity to raise the level of the precious stored resource, Guerrero Viejo's faith may again be submerged beneath the lake.
To visit Guerrero Viejo (Old Guerrero), cross the border at the Falcon Dam on your way the Nuevo Guerrero. Take Highway 2 North along the border travelling West of the reservoir. Watch for hand-painted signs pointing to a dirt road which passes through several small ranchitos, and the ruins of old stone structures, gradually descending to Old Guerrero behind a gated entrance. The road is about ten miles long, but will require significant time as you may have to open and close gates, wait for livestock to move off of the road, or help older residents with chores.
You must pay to enter, a dollar or two, and you can buy a Coca-Cola from some kids inside the gatekeepers pleasantly cool adobe house. The admission charge is helping to fund the restoration of the church.
On border patrol, Federales frequent the little village, once a ghost town, as there is renewed interest and increased visitation from the outside world. You will also likely find Federales check points on Highway 2, so you will need your valid auto insurance, identification and a tourist card if traveling farther into Mexico.
Also, see Southeast Arizona and El Camino Real.