iPhones on the Rio Sonora

Through much of November and December my attention was focused on an iPhone photography course we sponsored in Banamichi, Sonora and that was held at La Posada del Rio Sonora //www.mexicoecoresort.com/

La Posada del Rio Sonora - Banamichi, Rio Sonora

The course was taught by fine art photographer Dan Burkholder – www.danburkholder.com   I’m not going to post any of Dan’s photos into this piece, but if you want to view a good collection of his iPhone images, open any of his mobile upload folders on his Facebook page.  This folder will take you directly to a few of his images from the course, use the arrows to move through the others. //www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2602989926499&set=a.1750983466870.2093893.1607395374&type=3&theater

Dan Burkholder (right) with Tucson photographer Tim Fuller.

The course  went beautifully, without a glitch and when one considers all the assorted details associated with the course like this that could go wrong, it was truly miraculous that everything fell into place.  Have no doubt, coordinating airline arrivals and departures, travel to and from Mexico, rooms and meals at the hotel and activities while in Mexico is no easy feat.  However, when one wants to learn more about iPhone photography from the foremost person in the field without traveling to New York, one goes to great lengths to find an alternative.  A great group of participants, including some old friends, combined with great service provided by all those at the hotel, helped make it all that much easier. 

Dan Burkholder with iPhone course participants.

Perhaps one of the major feats in getting people to go to Mexico these days is overcoming constant State Department warnings and lots of negative press.  From this constant barrage of negative information one gets the impression that merely stepping across the border will result in some sort of catastrophic happening.  The recent construction of what I will call “The Great Wall of the Mexican Border” is unquestionably an admission to the massive amount of fear and anxiety that have paralyzed relations between our two countries.  In addition to the exorbitant amounts of money spent to build it, the effects have been devastating when one considers the meager and vague promises of security and happiness that it supposedly guarantees.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everything is rosy and good in Mexico, but rather that there is a lot of distortion and confusion involved and when it comes to travel, things have been blown way out of proportion.  One of the best articles I have written in some time about the border appeared recently in The New York Times by Paul Theroux about his recent visit to the border town of Nogales, Mexico.


And it just so happens that I was writing this piece, someone sent me a link to a talk given by David Shirk of the Trans Border Institute that is based in San Diego on the history and current status of the drug trade in Mexico.  If you have any interest in what’s happening in that country and how it affects ours, it’s one of those things to which you really ought to listen.  He does a better job than anyone I’ve heard speak or write on that subject.


The Institute’s website is:


Alright, with that said, back to the iPhone course.  Our personal travel in the state of Sonora over the past 3 years has been nothing but pleasant and easy.  The same was true for the course.  Crossing the border at Nogales can be a little intimidating due to the sheer presence of the wall and the massive infrastructure that has grown up around it.  I will say that there is some nice architectural work using wire gabions filled with rocks to create retaining walls and pedestrian traffic ways.

The congestion and frenzy quickly gives way the further one gets from the border.  If it’s lunch time, we often stop in the town of Imuris, about 45 minutes south of Nogales, at one of the numerous tacquerias that line the main road.  And lunchtime it was with our workshop group, so what else to do than to give them a quick immersion into Sonoran culture with a serving of carne asada tacos, grilled onions and chiltepin salsa.  Add to that a Coke, something not normally recommended as a part of a healthy diet, but in case, many would agree, a reasonable exception given the context.

Taqueria - Imuris, Sonora

Just a quick travel note, 15 minutes down the road from Imuris, one comes to the town of Magdalena, where just after the toll booth on the main road, there is an almost indistinguishable road that descends to the right.  That is the exit for the town of Cucurpe to the east, which is the road that leads to the Rio Sonora Valley.  Approximately an hour and forty five minutes later, after passing through a beautiful variation in landscapes, one arrives at the town of Sinoquipe, 10 minutes up the road from Banamichi.  Take that drive someday, and if you listen to David Shirk’s talk above, who recommends that you go to Mexico, you will simply love it.

The view of Banamichi and mission approaching town.

As for the course itself, it went very well.  We used the dining room of La Posada for classes, the space it afforded was just enough to set up a teaching area and for meals.  I could go down the list and tell you things  like the food was great, the rooms comfortable, but all that is a given.   The Posada does a marvelous job. And of course, as one would expect from a seasoned fine art photographer of great talent, Dan Burkholder more than held up his end of the deal.  The course was excellent in every respect.   I think for me, the important thing was that the town and surrounding area afforded an ample amount of photographic subjects.

After hours evening class session serving mescal Bacanora from Destiladoras Tepua.

To be honest with you, there was one thing of which I was a little unsure.  I had no idea of what to expect dropping approximately 15 people with iPhone cameras into the middle of the Baviacora town fiesta on the second day of the course.  The fiesta there is one of my personal favorites and I’ve had nothing but the most positive experiences there in the past.

What happened that day clearly exceeded my expectations.  It couldn’t have been much better had the locals arranged a welcoming party and reception for their American guests.  We timed our arrival to coincide with that of a group of about 500 horseback riders coming into town after a morning’s long ride from further down in the Valley.  These events, that of gathering a large group of riders together in conjunction with some event or festival are called “cabalgatas” and have become very popular in recent years.

Arriving the Baviacora fiesta.
Riders listening to one of the many musical groups on hand while enjoying a Tecate.
Course participants Sue Burnett and sister Linny photographing of the musical groups at the fiesta.

The Sonoran people, as I suppose is true of many people around the world, love to have their photos taken, especially when sitting on their prized horses, adorned with their finest hats and of course, and even more so after several cans of Tecate beer or sips from their flasks of local mescal Bacanora.  Everywhere I looked, our participants were immersed in Sonoran hospitality and could be seen taking photos amidst a sea of white cowboy hats, sitting up on the horses of newly found friends, sharing beer and Bacanora with the locals or feasting on tacos, huaraches or fiesta foods of many sorts.

I personally want to thank the Maldonado family who reside in various small towns around the Baviacora area.  Primarily Chay and Armida Maldonado of La Estancia and their son Mauro who took Athena and I to their family’s cattle roundup last fall and where we met many other members of the family.  I’m mentioning this because everywhere I seemed to turn at the fiesta, there was someone from the family welcoming us, which when mingling in crowds where one knows few others, is a great feeling of comfort.

It was an afternoon that exceeded my expectations and I have to say, extracting our participants from the fiesta was nothing resembling easy.  The group seemed to be just getting up to speed after 2 ½ hours when it was time to leave.

Listening to music in front of the Baviacora church.

The nice thing about having a course where everyone stays in the same location is that is possible to come back after an outing and continue working for as long as anyone likes into the evening especially with drinks and snacks available.  The spirit of the fiesta came home to the classroom with local mescal Bacanora available to all.

I think I can safely say that all had a great time and I don’t think I would have to work very hard if I wanted to talk them into coming back.  We concluded the weekend with a dance performance by the Xunutzi dance group on the old town plaza in front of the La Posada hotel.

Lupita Ceron and Cesar Villa of Grupo Danza Xunutzi performing on the Banamichi plaza.

Teacher Dan couldn’t have been any more perfect for an instructor to bring into the Rio Sonora context.  In short he soaked up everything Sonora threw at him.  If there was a star to the show, I would have to say that it was our 11 year old son Kalin, who spent most of his time explaining to the participants what Dan was trying to teach during classes.  Whenever there was a break, he could be found conducting private tutoring for all those with aging mental faculties.  The photo above was taken by one of the course participants, only I haven’t been able to track down who as of yet.

I would think it a very strong possibility that we’ll repeat the course sometime during the next year.

Dan enjoying the hot springs at Agua Caliente, Aconchi, Sonora.

Whenever there’s a chance, I love to take advantage of whatever the primary activity and to make as many things happen as possible on the side.  One of the class members was 17 year old Catherine Gustafson from Tucson, who had attended our straw bale workshop last spring and who is currently building her own little straw bale cottage.  Rather than have her book a room at the hotel, I thought it the perfect opportunity to house her with one of the girls from the Xunutzi dance group who lives just around the corner from the hotel.  Their adventure alone would make a great blog post.  In fact, recent developments in their relationship will make that possible in the near future.  The short of the story is that Georgette Jackeline Sinotez – aka “Jackie,” and her sidekick – Lupita “Pita” Ceron, became great friends.  From an outsider’s perspective, Google Translate did an admirable job to make up for the difference in languages with Facebook and sharing music making up for much of the rest.

Lupita Ceron (left), Catherine Gustafson (center) and Jackie Sinotez

We spent a couple of extra lovely days along the Rio Sonora taking Dan to Agua Caliente hot springs outside the town of Aconchi, savoring Sonoran hot dogs, attending a Xunutzi dance practice, driving the old road in and out of the river north of Arizpe.

Do it again?  Sure thing, it was great fun.  As for the iPhone, I’ve written about it before, after the class, it’s even more fun now.  To be fair, much the same can be said for some of the Droid phones, only thing there are less apps to choose from.  Lighter and smaller cameras, smartphone cameras, tablets instead of computers is where it’s all headed.  Quickly for that matter.  I think it a good guess that it won’t be long until the current generation of DSLR (full sized digital SLR cameras) will be perceived much like the old Graflex Speed Graphic cameras are viewed now.

Many great images were created during this course and impossible it is to show them all here.  In addition to the ones above, here’s a sampling of images taken during the course.

The San Lorenzo mission of Huepac, Sonora
Green House in Arizpe, Sonora.
Old House, Arizpe, Sonora
Kalin busy with his iPhone tutoring.
Symetrical image of La Posada courtyard - Athena Steen
Banamichi irrigation canal - Lori Pond
House ruin, Banamichi, Sonora - Livia Pontual
Old flour mill, Huepac, Sonora
Small chapel, Buenavista, Sonora

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  1. Bill & Athena:
    Love all photos. Your blog panorama is beautifully expansive Sonoran Desert.Who is standing in the middle? Buena Vista Church, the blue dapple horse and rider, Tacqueria are my favorites.

  2. Is it possible to be homesick for a land that you’ve only seen once? Your incredible
    images, Bill, cause that gnawing feeling in me–return, return!

  3. What FUN to see these lovely images! and to know that you and Athena are still doing vital, fun teaching and learning! Is there still room in the iPhone class Nov. 30-Dec. 2? I don’t know if I can do it, but it sure would be terrific…

    • Wynne, wow, nice to hear from you out of nowhere, we think of you periodically and wonder how you all are. Yes there is room and it looks like we have a really interesting group of people. YOu’ll love it.

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