Whatever I'm Thinking

Christmastime in Nogales, Arizona

December 29, 2022
(Photos and memories of January 26, 2007, December 14, 2012, and December 14, 2022)

Looking north on Grand Avenue in Nogales, Arizona, with the international border crossing just behind me.

Christmas scenes usually feature idyllic images of Northern winters with snow-covered fields traversed by old-fashioned horse-driven sleighs. Meanwhile, millions of Northerners prefer spending the holidays in Southern climes, where they expect warmth and sunshine.

Welcome to Nogales, Arizona! With a population of about 20,000, Nogales, Arizona, lies on the northern side of the United States/Mexico border, with the city of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, on the southern side of the fence. Nogales serves as the county seat of Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

Santa Cruz County within the State of Arizona.

Nogales is about as non-Northern as can be found in the Continental U.S. What follows is a look around town during some holidays past, starting at the Mexican border.

The U.S./Mexico border crossing for vehicles. Nogales, Arizona / Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
The border crossing for pedestrians. Mexican hillside homes can be seen beyond the fencing. Nogales, Arizona / Nogales, Sonora.
A historical sign on the U.S. side explains the history of the Nogales border crossing.

Once through the turnstiles at the pedestrian crossing point, a traveler from Mexico lands at the end of Morley Avenue, the primary shopping street for Nogales, Arizona. The window displays are vibrant, and the avenue is busy with shoppers.

I was struck by what I saw the Mexicans shopping for — American apparel with American brand names such as Nike and Wrangler or luxury items such as perfume, formal wear, and wedding dresses. I also saw a store advertising “tactical gear,” which might be illegal on the other side of the border. Up and down Morley Avenue for five blocks, merchants sold all sorts of items to customers, most of whom had crossed the border from Mexico.

I’m all for it — why not? But I’m just curious why these items aren’t also available across the border in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, a city of 220,000 that is ten times larger than Nogales, Arizona? Could Mexican taxes or prices be bringing Mexican shoppers to Morley Avenue north of the border? I don’t know, but I have a guess.

I contend that the market for sweatshirts with “Texas” or “USA” emblazoned on the front is evidence of the cachet that the United States has built over the past century. Wearing American brands or American clothing is a world-recognized fashion statement. That’s what I see sold on Morely Avenue in Nogales — genuine Americana for the tourist who wants something “from America.”

To bring Christmas cheer to their customers, Nogales merchants have set up a “Christmas town” in a city park along Morley Avenue, just three blocks from the border.

Santa Claus waits for “customers” under the Christmas tree in Nogales’ shopping district.

Nogales, Arizona, is a city of some 20,000 people, so there is more to the town than just the shopping district across from the border crossing.

Below is the old Santa Cruz County Courthouse, built in 1904 and still looking like a landmark. The old courthouse now serves as a museum, and its functions have been replaced by a new county administrative and justice complex a few miles away.

The Historic 1904 Santa Cruz County Courthouse. Nogales, Arizona.

Finally, I have to tell a little story. When I was in Nogales in 2007, I was taking photos of the county government center (above, left) when a group of teenage girls sitting in a station wagon stopped me and begged me to take their picture. (I think they thought I was a news reporter.)

“Why do you want me to take your picture?” I asked.

“Because we are beautiful,” the most forward among them quickly responded.

So, I took the photo.

“Are we gonna be in the paper?” they asked. I had to tell them that I wasn’t a news reporter. But now, 15 years later, these girls can be famous in my little blog and show the world they are beautiful.

Five girls wanting their picture taken — probably waiting for their parents who work in the county government offices.

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

All photos were taken by the author on January 26, 2007, December 14, 2012, or December 14, 2022.

My lifetime hobby is traveling to all of America’s county courthouses, and each month I post about a visit to a scenic or interesting county seat. It’s a hobby, and donations are greatly appreciated to help cover my costs.


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