Pssst. If you go to a dentist in Mexico to save money? Awesome tacos afterward.

“Going to the dentist, eh? Where?”

“Mexico. Right across the border in Nogales. It’s a thing.”

“Oh. (pause) Wait. WHAT???”

I’m guessing we’re not the only RV’ers who have participated in a conversation like this.

I know we’re not the only ones who have stayed in a campground, RV park, or BLM area near the border on the US side, and then walked into Mexico to take advantage of professional, efficient, and inexpensive dentistry.

Yes, you can walk in. In fact, it’s the preferred entry method due to ease and convenience — no worries about a potential automobile search at the border crossing, or about a tricky insurance claim should you be involved in a traffic accident on the Mexican side. The dental practices want to make things easy for their American customers, so they are located within steps of the border.

Into Mexico we go. Our friend, Mark, is in the blue shirt, and Tim is in the red one.

We left The Toad at our RV park in Amado, AZ, and drove the BFT about 30 miles south to Nogales, AZ, where we parked at a McDonald’s that was just a quick walk up the hill from the border crossing. The McDonald’s, like other public parking lots nearby, collects a $4 fee (cash only) and gives you a card to leave on your dashboard to show you’ve paid — and to keep you from being towed.

Parking’ll set you back $4, but you can use the ticket to get a free beverage in town!

But… who?

The practice we chose — based on recommendations from others staying at our RV park in southern Arizona — was Dental Laser Nogales*, which offered the following:

  • Comprehensive and informative web site
  • Prompt responses via both phone and email
  • Fluent English (to include office staff, dentists, and hygienists)
  • Payment via cash, debit or credit; some US dental insurance plans accepted
  • A very clean facility, with modern equipment
  • A full range of services including but not limited to preventive and cosmetic dentistry, implants, orthodontia, dental surgery, crowns, fillings, and of course x-rays, exams and cleanings
  • Both pre-scheduled and walk-in appointments

Our dental destination was in a courtyard just a few steps from the border.

We made our appointments ahead of time. Our friend, Mark, who joined us for the adventure, asked when we got to the office if he too could get a cleaning, and despite the busy waiting room (full of other Americans doing the same thing we were), they were able to work him in. We were seen on time, and all three of us were out the door less than an hour later.

Completing intake paperwork is the same ritual in both countries.

The equipment in the building was quite modern, but these stairs offered a little taste of Old Mexico.

And speaking of a taste of Mexico, we walked to a local cafe for a late lunch of shrimp tacos after our appointments!

But… why?

Why go to Mexico for dentistry when we’ve got that here on US soil?

I can tell you the primary reasons we chose to do so:

  • Cost. We opted not to purchase military dental insurance after Tim retired from the Navy in 2013. Paying out of pocket for a dental exam and cleaning (without x-rays) at our former dentist in San Antonio, TX, would have cost us $110.00 each. An exam, cleaning and x-rays in Mexico? $35.00 each. To avoid international transaction fees and potentially unfavorable exchange rates on our credit card, we paid in cash. US dollars were accepted, so there was no need to exchange for pesos.
  • Adventure. We like stepping out of our comfort zone from time to time, and had done enough reading on the subject to determine that this is in fact a pretty safe bet — but we wanted to see for ourselves.

For more information on why Mexican “dental tourism” has grown such a following in places like Nogales and the even more popular city of Los Algodones, I refer you to this article from NPR that helped solidify our decision to make a go of it.

And if you want to read more personal accounts from others who have done so, especially those who make use of their recreational vehicles to get there, you can find numerous true-life experiences on the internet, by using search term strings like “RV dentist Mexico.” I can’t list every blogger whose story eased my mind or made me laugh, but I thank them all for their honest accounts and helpful information.

Mira.
They said not to drink the water.
I am an obedient traveler.

But… how?

  • Ask other RV’ers in your park who they recommend. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of a border crossing, you will not have a problem finding someone who has been there, done that.
  • If you’re still nervous, ask that person to accompany you, and offer to buy his or her lunch as thanks. Seriously, who turns down tacos?
  • Take your passport.
  • Park on the US side of the border in a designated lot, and walk through the border crossing (see above).
  • Know your cell phone plan, and your service provider’s rules for use in Mexico. We chose to avoid the risk of surprise international charges by putting our phones in airplane mode. For the brief time we were across the border, they served as timepieces and cameras only.
  • Find out beforehand what methods of payment the dental practice will accept, and in which country’s currency. Some practices accept US dental insurance plans, so ask.
  • Be prepared: vendors on the Mexican side will approach you and ask if you’d like to buy whatever merchandise it is they’re selling, or to come into their store, bar, or restaurant. There’s no need to be afraid or rude; it’s how business is done there. We were approached at least three times, but declined each vendor with a “No, gracias,” and were not bothered further.

Back to the US we go…

But… was it worth it?

Yes. And we’d do it again, without hesitation.

It was a convenient, professional experience, and we love that we saved so much money. Also, at the bargain price of $150, a teeth-whitening trip to Mexico is in my future!

Clean smiles

*Disclosure: We were not compensated in any way by Dental Laser Nogales. This was our first and only experience with border town dentistry, and all opinions are our own.

Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Home is… where the cave is?

Two days before Christmas, we took a 30-mile road trip from our RV park in Pahrump, NV, to the old mining town of Shoshone, CA, established in 1910, and boasting a population of 31 people according to the 2010 census.

Shoshone is easy to visit if you’re touring the southern end of Death Valley National Park. If you’re coming from Nevada, it’s about an 80-minute drive west of Las Vegas; from CA it’s about a 2.5-hour drive northeast of the Barstow area.

The miners and prospectors who lived here back in the 1920’s didn’t have access to a lot of building materials, so they dug cave apartments into the surrounding clay hills. The guide we picked up at the local museum reports that this area, called Dublin Gulch, has been uninhabited since the 1970’s. It definitely felt a little spooky, and reminded me of my trip to California’s Bodie Ghost Town in July.

I’m gonna let my photos tell my story; if you’d like a little more history, go here.

Condos in the cliffs.
Hello, Fred Flintstone?

Close-ups of some of the doorways

This one had a little shrine outside, containing lots of objects that are full of sentimental value — and probably tetanus.

There was even a 1-car cave garage at the end of the row.

You can peer inside the abandoned dwellings. Several still contain old bed springs, rusted stove pipes, and other evidence of habitation.

The miners were messy. But I guess if you don’t have weekly trash pick-up, you create your own garbage dump by tossing your pork-n-beans cans out the door when you’re done with ’em.

Meanwhile, in downtown Shoshone…

Don’t blink because you’ll miss it, but do park your car and get out to explore. The museum is free (donations gratefully accepted), and the walking tour can be done in less than an hour, depending on how long you like to linger.

This old thing?
It sits in front of the Shoshone Museum, which served as the town’s general store and gas station back in the day.

This structure was built from adobe brick made on site, although the year is not given on the walking tour hand-out.
The original building, a restaurant, burned down in 1925, so it was sometime after that.
Now it’s used by the Inyo County sheriff and the BLM.

Heading east of town just half a mile, you’ll come to another canyon with a few more cave condos. Watch for the dirt pull-out on the north side of Hwy 178, and tread carefully, as the sandy-pebbly surfaces are a bit slippy.

This former home is called “Castle in Clay,” and boasts what appears to be two stories of living space. Potential real estate description: rustic 1BR, 0BA, EIK with sedimentary rock countertops, natural HVAC, no HOA, no need for lawn mower.

We thank our friends, Dan & Lisa, for alerting us to this place. They’ve got a blog too; check them out at Always On Liberty.

Looking into the canyon from the highway…

… and looking out toward the highway from the canyon

We were able to climb up the loose hillsides to peer into some of the caves.
That upright shrub below the cave is actually Tim on his way back down.

Of course our 19-year-old, who was visiting us on his winter break from UT-Austin, had to go to the tippy top. If you’re humming, “All by myself… don’t wanna be… all by myself, anymore…” I’m right there with ya.

To put it all in historical perspective, Fred Flintstone and his friends in Bedrock were out of production by 1966. Those caves in Dublin Gulch? Abandoned four years later. Guess it took a while for news to reach Shoshone that stone age living was no longer trendy.