Defending the border in southern Arizona

Sometimes certain realities take longer to sink in than others. With the exception of distinct regional accents, I never thought of Americans and Canadians as being that different from one another. Most Americans comment on the fact that we don’t sound “Canadian”, so I guess we blend in.

We’ve been to the U.S countless times but this was the first time it really struck us that America is a military nation. While the role of the United States as “the world’s police” does not come as a surprise, seeing it in action is new to us.

Southern Arizona is home to a number of military installations, including the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range and eight border security stations. In our first week here, we have heard the roar of fighter jets, seen planes fly in formation over the desert and heard bombs drop (not on citizens, there is a practice area not far from here) .

The 262-mile Arizona border has become increasingly militarized, with over 4200 agents covering eight stations. The white and green Border Patrol trucks are ubiquitous and this morning a helicopter flew low over the desert in front of our campground.

We are currently 10 miles from the Mexican/U.S. border and this is a common sight:

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While truck patrol is the first line of defence, the region is also covered by agents who ride out into the desert on ATV’s.

Signs like this one are posted throughout the desert.

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Seriously, if you managed to flee your country, travel hundreds or thousands of miles and cross the border, only to have to cross a mountain range like this one, you should be given automatic entry. Your perseverance, bravery and strength of character could only be considered assets to the country.

There are hundreds of migrants who die each year in the desert, from exposure and dehydration; in 2017 there were 294 recorded deaths, but actual numbers are much higher. There had been a lot of controversy in the past couple of years over the treatment of humanitarian workers who had been leaving water in the desert, to try and prevent more deaths.

There was huge outrage after a video showed border patrol agents deliberately kicking over gallon jugs of water left behind by aid workers and harassing them about leaving “garbage” in a pristine area.  A number of workers were arrested and posters like this one began popping up:

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Interestingly, in Republican Arizona there appears to be a shift in mood in some quarters. People mention “the wall” with an eye-roll and a shrug – apparently many border patrol agents believe the money could be better spent in improved technology. We can’t know the behind-the-scenes machinations of border security, but this was a heartening sight. There are several of these bright blue water stations, marked with a flag. The border officers know about them and they have remained in place.

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We ran into a couple from B.C. who were boondocking in the desert.  They work actively in the desert – picking up garbage and clothing left behind by migrants and helping migrants with food and water if they see them. They told us that there are boxes of unclaimed human remains in Tucson; heartbreaking in that their journey ended with such suffering and their families have no way of identifying them.

In the context of Trump’s government shutdown, this manufactured fear of desperate migrants seems pitiful. We have to assume the real criminals have easier channels to the U.S. than having to crawl through the desert.

Also in the context of the shutdown, we spoke to a number of National Park rangers who were discreet but clear in their views about this administration. I have learned (I think) to allow others to lead the conversation if it takes a political turn. When the talk turns to Trump, we smile ruefully and nod in agreement and say little and that seems to work.

And so…on to the beauty of the Sonoran desert. We began our time in Arizona in the small town of Ajo (Ah-jo). a sweet little place that became prosperous with the copper mine that operated from the 1890s to its closure in 1985.

We were able to see the vast open-pit mine from a fenced-off viewing area. There is a greenish lake at the bottom, about 100 feet in depth.

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With the mine closure came a reversal in fortune; the town has seen better days.  The central plaza is beautifully preserved though and the buildings around the downtown are worth a look.

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One of the churches:

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This old school has been converted to an artist’s community, with thirty low-income apartments. There was a quilt show on while we were there; the organizer told me the artists take turns setting up events.

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These homes are typical of the miner’s cottages that line the streets of Ajo.

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As we headed south from Ajo, we passed through the tiny crossroads called Why, pop.2. The name came about because it is situated at a Y-intersection. Since places are required to have a proper name (not a letter) and no-one appeared to be too inspired,  Why was born.

We stopped for gas at the Why Not:

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We camped for four nights at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, at the Twin Peaks Campground. The Park is named for the Organ Pipe Cactus, (which resembles the pipes of an organ) and is found in Mexico, but only in this area in Arizona.

These cacti are about 6-10 feet tall.

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The campground is set high on a hill, with gorgeous views of the mountain ranges. We have not witnessed one of those technicolour Arizona sunsets yet as the weather has been a little unsettled. Our first night here was lovely – the sunset cast a pink glow over the mountains.
The view from our trailer:

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There are a number of hikes and scenic drives from the park; here are some images of this landscape.

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The desert flowers are not quite out yet in their full splendour, but we walked past many poppies – the first of the season.

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We go to sleep at night listening to the owls and wake up in the morning to a wild chorus of birdsong. This little cactus wren has the most beautiful voice.

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Tomorrow we drive three hours to Tucson, where we will camp at a county campground about 20 minutes outside the city. We have a few things to take care of – oil change for the truck, haircuts, repair a broken latch for the trailer, etc. We plan on being in the Tucson area for about a week – so much to see in Old Tucson as well as the surrounding areas.

16 thoughts on “Defending the border in southern Arizona

  1. Denise Carson Wilde February 13, 2019 / 7:18 pm

    Another wonderful post, thanks so much. I love your honesty and your appreciation of beauty.

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  2. Maggie and Richard February 14, 2019 / 1:18 am

    A very different experience than we’ve ever had in Arizona, or my eyes were just cllosed to it all. Thanks for writing about this.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 14, 2019 / 7:08 pm

      It may be a little accelerated at the border since you’ve last been here. We had to pass through two secondary border inspections on our way north to Tucson from Organ Pipe. It was funny – in both cases, the officers seemed surprised to see Canadians! In both cases they waved us through with a smile – no inspection of our trailer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Joan Fisher February 14, 2019 / 1:55 am

    Trip of a lifetime but certainly not the only one for you guys. Beautiful pictures and spectacular scenery. Sad stories of those who try to enter the US, but the people trying to help tell us there is hope for humanity. Don’t blame you for not getting into political discussions. Safer that way! Just enjoy it all.

    We are still in HK but leaving for Thailand on Monday for three weeks. J

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 14, 2019 / 7:13 pm

      I understand border security, but not cruelty toward desperate people. Hopefully that tide has turned. I can also see how one’s perspectives might change when your job is to “hunt” people and keep them out. You might become predatory without realizing it – it must be a very tough balancing act between doing your job and remaining humane.

      Have fun in Thailand!

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  4. Chris February 14, 2019 / 8:20 am

    Always look forward to reading about your exploits, so interesting and illustrated. Keep going! Regards from Chris and Jacqueline.🇬🇧🇨🇦

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 20, 2019 / 1:53 pm

      Thanks Chris – nice to hear from you and we’re so happy you’re following our blog!

      Like

  5. Cindy Dupee February 14, 2019 / 7:42 pm

    We had a great California family visit, but are finding Coastal weather to be challenging for heading North. We have been in Arizona since Tuesday and keep thinking about where you might be. Check out Barrio Bakery in Tucson and oh the awesome BioDome is nearby. Happy Valentine’s Day. Can’t wait to see the haircuts. just a hot shower is a bonus for us on this chilly grey rainy day.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 15, 2019 / 5:31 pm

      Cindy – great to hear from you. We’re staying at the Gilbert Ray Campground, just outside of Tucson in the Tucson Mountain Park. It’s lovely here, although they do not have hot showers! Come on over, if you’re in the area! We spent the day at the University of Arizona – two museums, both great, and I got a haircut. Nothing exciting – just about a couple of inches cut off and a pound of hair thinned out.
      Happy Valentine’s Day to you both – safe, warm travels.

      Like

  6. Brittanny Tran February 14, 2019 / 10:46 pm

    What a wonderful blog, so happy to have found you. Found you upon researching Guerrero Negro as my husband & I are headed that way tomorrow. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this latest post & couldn’t agree more about your perspective on our militant nation & loved the line about their perseverance could only be seen as asserts to our country 👏🏽

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 15, 2019 / 5:38 pm

      Hi Brittanny – nice to meet you and thank you for following us. I hope you have good luck with your whale-watching trip.

      Considering the current political climate, we were worried about how unsettled it would be down here for tourists. We had nothing to fear – all the Americans we met have been fantastic – so warm, so welcoming, so friendly – their usual selves! Everything else has nothing to do with us, but we can’t help but observe.😏

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  7. Heather February 17, 2019 / 6:34 pm

    Can’t help but see the contrast between the beauty of the Arizona landscape in your pictures and the site of water barrels for those poor souls fleeing their country, hoping for a better way of life. Will the day ever come when there is no need for borders or walls or “steel barriers” or “partitions” or whatever name is used to separate us from one another?

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 19, 2019 / 9:53 am

      We can only hope. We spoke to an American man who almost had tears in his eyes as he talked. He wondered how his country has forgotten where they all came from; how did a land of immigrants decide to change that narrative. Hopefully those voices will prevail.

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  8. Don Southern February 18, 2019 / 10:03 am

    Good Morning from Nanaimo…Nancy and Dave ( our mutual amigos) put me on to your site/blog. Many thanks for the great read, and of course the travel information. We are headed south this coming weekend ( from The Island) and hoping to make it to the Tucson area to meet up with friends, so your info was quite helpful. Perhaps our paths can cross.
    Don

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 19, 2019 / 9:55 am

      Hi Don – nice to meet you! Your timing is perfect – by the time you arrive, the weather systems will have passed and the weather will be warming up. You will likely get here in time for the desert flowers – I’m sure after all this rain and snow they will be out in full force.
      Tucson is a lovely city- no end of things to see and do.

      Like

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