Wandering Along the Border with Mexico

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With all the hoopla and now a government shut-down about a border wall, my dog Petey and I spent a couple of days wandering along the Arizona – New Mexico border last summer to see what was actually on the border with Mexico.

We began our journey in the Bisbee area in southeastern Arizona and headed east. If you were to take a similar jaunt, the first thing you would notice is that Border Patrol agents and vehicles seem to be everywhere.

A good place to begin your journey is at Jimmy’s on the west side of Bisbee. There you can get an authentic Chicago Style Vienna Hot Dog, and if you’re there at lunch time, you’ll probably meet some Border Patrol agents grabbing a bite to eat.

From Jimmy’s it’s only a ten minute drive to the border crossing at Naco. From there you can drive on a gravel road that is very close to, or right on, the border most of the way to Douglas, Arizona.

The historic border station at Naco is no longer used. It has been replaced with a more elaborate structure just out of view from the picture.

As you can see, the border fence is quite tall at the Naco crossing. With Mexico not wanting guns, there is the possibility for contraband to flow in both directions.

As you go east from Naco, the border fence remains quite tall. It will remain tall well beyond Douglas.

As you can see the border fence varies as it continues east. If you look closely, you can see a Mexican rail line on the other side of the fence.

This portion of the fence (or the big beautiful wall, if you will) decided to participate in the annual Red Nose day.

Here is the fence looking west back toward Naco.

If you look through the fence, you can still the original monuments marking the boundary.

If you somehow managed to get over or under the fence, you would still have to navigate your way through the Sonoran Desert.

When you reach Douglas, the streets of the Mexican city of Agua Prieta come right up to the fence.

When you get well to the east of Douglas, the fence is much shorter. The barrier is strong enough to prevent cars from punching through.

If you decided to cross here, you would have to cross some very rugged country before reaching safety. Geronimo was able to hold off both the Mexican and United States armies in this rugged terrain for months.

The Geronimo Surrender monument is a couple of dozen miles away on Highway 80 near the Arizona – New Mexico boundary.

In addition to rugged country, a potential border hopper would have to avoid the Border Patrol. You can’t go more than a few minutes without a Border Patrol vehicle passing by. It’s also quite common to see Border Patrol agents with backpacks following footprints leading from the border fence.

In addition to Border Patrol agents and vehicles, there is plenty of technology deployed at the border.

As you travel along the border, you’ll see many items of cultural interest.

The borderlands have a wonderful blend of Mexican, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures as evidenced by Jimmy’s hot dog stand in Bisbee and this Hispanic cemetery just outside of Douglas.

You’ll also see several monuments erected by the Mormon Church to commemorate Mormon Battalion which marched near the present day border during the Mexican War of 1846 – 48.

For almost the entire way, you will be near the route of the former El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. The railroad was built by Phelps Dodge Corporation to haul copper. The line was eventually taken over by the Southern Pacific and later abandoned.

The borderland was also an early aviation route as evidenced by this concrete airway navigation arrow just north of NM Highway 9 near Rodeo, New Mexico. You can also find concrete arrows near Hachita and Columbus, New Mexico. Columbus is famous for being the site of Pancho Villa’s raid during the Mexican Revolution in 1916.

You’ll even pass several Descansos. Descansos are roadside monuments built by families of highway accident victims. They are quite common in New Mexico and are protected by law.

As you drive along NM Highway 9, you’ll be within one to five miles of the border. The only exception is when you are directly above the boot heel of New Mexico. There are, however, several dirt or gravel roads leaving the highway that can take you right to the border.

But what is most interesting is that both sides of NM Highway 9 have what amounts to a gravel frontage road that are tire-dragged by the Border Patrol to make it easier to spot footprints. With the ruggedness of the country and the absence of water, it is good that Border Patrol tries to find people on foot before they die from the elements.

Here is the gravel frontage road on the south side of NM Highway 9.

And here are the tires used to drag the road to make it easier to spot fresh footprints.

There is some irrigated land west of Columbus right on the border. If you look closely you can see the yellow blossoms on these cotton plants.

And on the other side of the cotton fields, the border fence is quite different. Although the border is easy to cross here, there is no way you could make it on foot. The only way to make it would be to have a vehicle waiting for you. And then hope that you and the vehicle are not spotted or stopped at one of the many check points on roads leading away from the border.

To make it away from the border on foot means hiking through the Chihuahuan Desert where every plant has thorns or something else that can hurt you.

Don’t let the blossoms on this mesquite bush fool you. Every branch is loaded with thorns.

And this barrel cactus in bloom is covered with thorns.

As you continue east, you’ll soon be reaching the St. Teresa border crossing west of El Paso. This is the location of the most recent border wall construction.

This is where construction stopped last summer in extending the tall fence west from St. Teresa.

Regardless of where you stand on the wall debate; it is an interesting place to wander! And as I hope you can see, the border is not open or easy to cross! Even where the fence is short, there are too many obstacles for it to be easy.

4 Comments

  1. David, I enjoyed the photos and commentary.

  2. I live in Naco, three short blocks from the border. I’ve been here since before the wall and its accompanying nonsense. It’s the quietest and safest place I’ve ever lived.
    I have never had a problem with the migrants who rarely pass. I’ve only had trouble with border patrol agents.
    By the way, we now have a new cafe in Naco called the Borderline Cafe. It’s wonderful to have a cafe/hangout here! Let me know next time you’re around and I’ll buy you breakfast or lunch.

  3. Interesting and informative piece, as usual, David.
    Such a beautiful landscape, such heartbreak and cruelty.

  4. David, Thanks for sharing your travels along the border and your accompanying photos. I live in West Texas an have spent a lot of time in El Paso (one of the safest cities I’ve ever visited) and several other towns along the border and have never experienced any problems.

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