Also known as Rocky Point, this Mexican resort town lies 60 miles south of the Arizona border, on the northwestern coast of the Gulf of California by the Sea of Cortez. Not counting the throngs of seasonal tourists, the town's population is about 26,000.
After the Mexican-American War ended, the U.S. government spent the late 1840s and early 1850s trying to buy enough land from Mexico to have an American seaport on the Sea of Cortez, as well as a shortened railroad route to the Pacific Ocean. James Gadsden, an American statesman and railroad executive, acted on behalf of the U.S. government and made several multimillion-dollar offers for Mexican land to General Santa Anna, but was unable to convince the Mexicans to sell enough land to give America that seaport, especially since it would sever Mexico's land access to the Baja peninsula. Had Gadsden succeeded in buying the port, the South would have had its own railroad route to the Pacific, and thousands of Arizona teenagers wouldn't need to buy Mexican car insurance before driving to the closest beach for spring break.
By the 1920s, Mexican fisherman who were attracted to the bountiful blue shrimp off the rocky point of Cerro Peñasco were well acquainted with the port, but none could stay permanently, since there was no local source of fresh water. An Al Capone soldier named John Stone had the first well drilled there in 1929 so the mobsters could fly in any Americans who wanted to fish, gamble, or drink during Prohibition. After the gangsters were run out of town, local officials finally realized the potential of the sleepy little town, and focused on developing Puerto Peñasco's seaport.
The biggest boost to the popularity of Puerto Peñasco came during WWII, when the US Army Corps of Engineers paved the entire path to the town as a contigency if America lost its west coast to the Japanese and needed a backup port. To this day, the road is still paved and well-maintained, which plays a big part in its appeal to tourists.
Arizonans are particularly fond of Rocky Point, since it's at least two hours closer than any beach in California. Tourists typically divide their time between the small-town businesses in Puerto Peñasco and the beach scene a few miles away at Cholla Bay. Since a great many mullet-wearing rednecks enjoy riding their paddle-wheeled ATVs all over Cholla Bay's hills and dirt roads, the resulting washboard road from Puerto Peñasco to Cholla Bay can be particularly annoying for people with smaller cars. However, there is a brief window of opportunity most mornings when a local guy who drives some kind of converted snowplow or bulldozer will smooth out the dirt road enough to make the daily sundries commute bearable, at least until lunchtime, when the rednecks shake their hangovers and start tearing it up all over again.
While the motels in Puerto Peñasco are generally cleaner and quieter than the ramshackle houses built by the gringos on rented land in Cholla Bay, staying right in Cholla Bay can be much more convenient for people who plan to drink themselves silly at J.J.'s Cantina and don't want to drive drunk across the unlit washboard road back into town. Besides, after your fifteenth Tecate, you'll be happy to pay too much money to crash on the carpet at some casa del gringo loco instead of trudging five miles back to a motel. Hell, you probably won't even mind if you end up passing out on the beach.