Wanderin’ thru the desert on a ripplin’, rollin’ road,
I came upon a river and followed where it flowed,
Thru a sandstone canyon, past mesas and plateaus,
Past old abandoned buildings and places no one goes,
I anchored for a minute at a broken-down old shack,
Tip-toed across the broken glass and made my way out back,
There used to be a mural here, a big white buffalo,
It stood atop a canyon with a river down below,
There were birds and trees and flowers all painted in detail,
Just a pretty panorama blowin’ thoughts into your sail,
Someone came and ruined it, they rammed into the wall,
Seems beauty is a threat to some, they’d rather see it fall,
I climbed across the rubble where the mural used to be,
Got back into my boat to go see what I might see,
My fossilfuelasaurus was aimed at Mexico,
Like the river in the painting, that’s where we’re gonna go.
Fifty-four percent of the people in Mexico live in poverty. Things are so bleak in places that some folks are willing to risk their lives just to get a job in el Norte. There is such a deficiency of desirable ingredients in Mexico that el Presidente George Bush’s economic soup actually looks good. Can you imagine? How bad must things be if the leftover boiled entrails of the rich are a step up on the economic menu?
I was camped out at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, just five miles from the Mexican border in Arizona, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner. The sun was setting on the Sonoran Desert and the saguaro cactus, arms outstretched, seemed to be waving goodbye. The brochures say that the desert comes alive at night. Coyotes and javelinas and rattlesnakes and gila monsters and elf owls and bats and all sorts of fun things can be seen in the dark.
What they don’t tell you in the brochures is that on any given night, up to a thousand illegal immigrants are also creeping around within the park boundaries. Their desperate desire to feed their families compels them to risk everything in an often harrowing attempt to cross the waterless “Devils Highway.”
In the summer, air temperatures can reach 118 degrees F, and ground temperatures have been recorded at 175 degrees F. Many will not survive the long walk across the desert. Last year’s official death toll surpassed 130. Rangers have found many sun-blackened bodies half eaten by desert carnivores. Others were just “collections of scattered bones.”
In the desert, you have to adapt or die. Javelinas have learned to eat prickly pear cactus, spines and all. Mexican immigrants have learned that once they get past the barbs at the border, there’s juicy-fruit-jobs ahead.
Drug smugglers have also recognized the opportunities. They’re known to hire “mules” to carry fifty-pound bales of marijuana on their backs for quick distribution to the U.S. Organ Pipe rangers seized 13,000 pounds of pot in 2001 alone. Several armed conflicts have occurred and several people have been killed.
February’s issue of National Geographic’s Adventure magazine lists Organ Pipe as the most dangerous park in America and refers to it as a “War Zone.”
I pondered these thoughts and others as I sat there eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the dark … alone.
Earlier, Border Patrol agents followed me back to the Visitor’s Center when I made a sudden U-turn at the border. “Just checking,” they said as they peered into my windows in the parking lot with their hands on their holsters. I saw more police vehicles in the final 50 miles to the border than in the previous 950 miles from Colorado.
The nice lady at the visitor’s center told me they had to close half the roads in Organ Pipe because “they were having some problems.” She didn’t elaborate.
After dinner I went for a short walk on a trail to an old mine. Though I didn’t see anything suspicious, everything started looking suspicious in the dark. That’s why it was a short walk.
Morning came quickly enough, and after purchasing some Mexican insurance at a gas station, I crossed over the border. The border agents didn’t even stop my car or check my ID.
It was an hour drive from there to Puerto Penasco and the Sea of Cortez. It’s a beautiful fishing village with crystal clear, warm water and white, sandy beaches where the streets are paved with, well, sand. It’s that poverty thing again. Fear not, gringos. There are beautiful hotels and motels with paved driveways for rich American tourists, and everyone I met spoke English and was very friendly.
After a night on the beach, I drove back to the border half-expecting to get strip searched at the line. I expected with the threat of terrorism and drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, I’d be fully interrogated and inspected. I had my passport, my license and all my papers ready as I drove up to the window.
“Where’d you go?”
“The beach,” I said.
“How long did you stay?”
“Overnight,” I said.
“Did you bring back anything you shouldn’t have? People? Drugs?”
“No, just seashells,” I said.
“Yup,” I said.
“OK, go ahead,” he said. And that was that. They never even asked see an ID. Yessiree, security’s pretty tight at the border.
A guy at the gas station told me that about a mile from the “official” border crossing in Lukeville, there are large SUV-sized holes cut through the fence with lines of fresh tracks passing through both ways, from Mexico to the United States, from the United States to Mexico.
“Welcome to America,” I mumbled, “Welcome to America.”
Silt resident Bernie Boettcher’s column runs every other Thursday.
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