The US/Mexico Border Daily
Section Two: Calexico to Yuma
We had planned to take a day off in Calexico, but after spending the night in a not-so-great hotel with an expensive price tag, we decided to switch things around a bit. The Imperial Valley, which stretches about 50 miles across California’s southeastern border, is almost entirely allocated to the agricultural industry, and we had a hard time imagining where we would camp. Our Lyft driver had some good things to say about El Centro, the much bigger town just north of us, and a quick internet search revealed a number of nicer and more affordable hotels.
We figured we could set up a base in one of the hotels and “slackpack” (hike without most of our gear) across the length of the valley, returning to our hotel at night. Luxurious, right?
This would also give us the opportunity to get some internet stuff done in the evenings, which we desperately needed to do.
The Imperial Valley is irrigated by a network of canals, all of which are fed by the Colorado River to the east. The All-American Canal is the longest of these waterways and the largest aqueduct in the world. It stretches from Calexico’s western edge all the way into Arizona, running parallel to the border. We’d be hiking along this canal for the next several days. As we left our hotel, we observed the now familiar abrupt transition between run-down town where people live, and the pristine, “new money” outlet mall immediately adjacent. Apparently, it’s a big destination for folks on the Mexican side, although it was completely empty as we passed. There seems to be a significant amount of money in trans-border trade, and some areas of town look like they were built yesterday. It’s a strange contrast to downtown Calexico, which feels like a different country.
We join the canal shortly after the mall, hiking west towards the edge of town where we’d been picked up the day before. Gotta maintain that continuous line! We talked to an older Border Patrol agent, who eagerly offered advice on where to hike and assured us that this was a very safe area. He also alleviated our concern about the rules in place for canal land. The canals are owned by Imperial Irrigation System and therefore we have right of way. He had heard of us already, and was extra encouraging. Thanks Agent A Mills!
After what we’d just come out of, isn't hiking along the canal an absolute dream?
The elevated dirt road ran along the canal’s edge and was as smooth as a baby’s butt and just as flat. Right across the canal and directly parallel was the border fence, close enough that you could see the houses pressed up against wall and hear the children playing in the streets. Thick green brush grew along the canal’s lip, providing a pop of color against all the browns and yellows of the desert, and ducks and other birds floated with the gentle current. The area was mostly deserted but it felt alive.
Having finished our first official section, we were both full of energy and excitement about our project, and spent the next several hours brainstorming how we wanted to continue. Nothing makes the miles fly by like interesting conversation that makes your brain work. Our flow of thought was interrupted when we realized the bank next to us was wet. Upon inspection it was obvious that someone had just swam across and exited with wet footprints. The sun is so hot here that whoever it was must have been here only moments ago.
We started passing more and more industrial and agricultural lots on the American side, and it was fun to try and guess what they were building or growing. At one point, we went by an enormous lot with a perfect grid of 3 foot tall silver posts next to a wooden box.
There were several workers with forklifts moving the boxes to the other side of the lot seemingly at random. What is this?
We could not figure out what it was until we finally asked a Border Patrol agent who had stopped to briefly chat. Solar panels! Apparently it’s a big (and growing) industry in the area, and sure enough a few miles later we saw the field of fully assembled panels. The solar farms are pushed to the outer edges of the Imperial Valley to be built on less productive, marginal land furthest from where the canals are concentrated. Solar and water power function here in unison. Cool stuff. At the end of the day we came across a construction team gathered around a huge crane in the process of lowering a giant, concrete culvert into a deconstructed canal. So much in this area seems under development or it already has massive infrastructure in place.
We made it back to our spot from the previous day with minimal fuss. Just a fun, easy day of hiking. Seeing the transition between city, mall, agricultural fields and industrial lots was particularly fascinating. Got a feeling this will be an interesting area. Tomorrow we’re taking the day off so it feels a little bit like Christmas Eve. We get our Lyft back to the hotel and get to work on the the business of relaxing (and working on the blog).