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August 8 - Mexican Border & Tombstone
After spending the night in Las Cruces, NM, I drove south to El Paso, Texas, and decided to investigate the Mexican/US border. I headed west, following the lonely New Mexico Route 9 for 100 miles along the border.
I was about 30 miles from any town (marked as "Malpais" on the map) when Route 9 meandered to within a mile of the Mexican border, so I decided to take one of the many dirt trails I saw down to the very edge of the United States. Here, I ran across (almost ran over) my first snake of the trip, pictured below. I don't know what I was expecting, but this border was definitely a lot less substantial than I would have thought — not much more than a flimsy barbed wire fence. (Yes, I did stick my foot through the fence to touch the Mexican side!) A straight dirt track followed the entire length of the U.S. side. (Nothing of interest could be seen on the Mexican side.) Periodic white stone markers explained how this is the end of the U.S. on one side, and the end of Mexico on the other. I turned west, and decided to drive along this track paralleling just feet from the border.
Though there weren't too many other tourists like me, the border
certainly wasn't quiet. The U.S. Border
Patrol is extremely active in this desert wasteland. My first
evidence of the Border Patrol was constant helicopter patrolling — I'd
see a helicopter pass overhead at least every 15 minutes or so.
Therefore, I wasn't too surprised when a helicopter spotted me, and
stopped following its patrol in order to hover directly over my car. I
knew I was doing nothing illegal, so I didn't have anything to worry
about, but it was still extremely intimidating to have this loud
thumping aircraft right above me, following my every move as I drove
along the dirt track. They must have radioed ahead, because after 20
minutes, a Border Patrol truck appeared on the road ahead of me. I had
a friendly chat with the officers, who asked me why I was here
(tourist) and why I chose this particular road (my map). Apparently I'd
chosen a route popular with drug traffickers.
The border police quickly realized that I was, in fact, a harmless tourist, and sent me on my way.
The border is much more substantial in towns, like in the border town of Douglas, Arizona pictured below. (This was the southernmost point in my road trip.) in this town, the border consists of a 10+ foot high steel fence, a 10+ foot deep (and wide) moat, spotlights, and parked Border Patrol SUVs (with people watching from inside) every block or two!
Further down the road, I also ran across this group of captives with their Border Patrol hosts.
Heading northwest, away from the border on Arizona Route 80, I passed through the quaint old mining town turned artist town of Bisbee. Except for a gross open pit copper mine at the entrance, Bisbee is very cute, almost European — with its network of windy one-car-wide steep streets on the hillsides. (I got very lost.)
Tombstone, Arizona is a well-preserved (and somewhat corny) old-west town, with many stories to tell.