Section 3: Yuma to Nogales


Day 23

15.0 miles



At about 4am, we woke up to the sound of a car moving down the road. We’d camped only a couple feet off the road, as mandated by our permit, so the car could definitely see us. As it passed it slowed, turned off the road and shone it’s headlights directly on the tent.

It idled for about half a minute, amping up our anxiety level, then shut the engine off completely. Not a great feeling for us. Is this necessary?

The tent screened us from view but it also meant we had no visibility ourselves. As we waited half-crouched in the tent to see what would happen, we heard the faint crackle of a radio and a male voice calling in a description about a green tent. Phew. Border Patrol. We relaxed marginally, but still waited for the lights to leave. And they didn’t! For a full five minutes, as the agent called us in, waited for a response, then decided we’re not a risk, he had his headlights shining straight at the tent. Come on.

Where was the communication?

At this point, at least three Border patrol have seen us and presumably not communicated with anyone that we’re here. Is this just a fluke or do the AZ Border Patrol have something to learn from their Californian colleagues? Furthermore, even without the communication problems, what threat did this guy think we posed? Did he think we crossed the border, ran through the scrub, then got sleepy and set up a tent 2 feet off the road? This isn’t a populated area but it does get recreational use, and there was no way that this was the first tent he’d seen out here.

And why did his headlights need to be right on us? Was he afraid that we’d pop out of the tent guns blazing if he didn’t keep his eye on us? 

We’ve been truly impressed with how professional and respectful Border Patrol has been so far, but this interaction made us grumpy. After he finally left, we managed to fall back asleep until daylight. And then it was up and at it to make it to our next water source, a famous set of seven natural pools known as the Tinajas Altas (our first natural water source of the trip!) that pioneers and other migrants had relied on back in the 1800s. We had way, way overdone it on our water, and Tenny ended up pouring out almost 6 liters of what she’d brought in from town. That’s a good way to piss yourself off in the morning!


The road took us away from the mountains and back into the desert and most of the morning was unremarkable. A couple OHVs passed by sporting the typical three foot pole in the back with an attached flag. Presumably the flags are an obligatory safety feature. Only these OHVs were flying Confederate flags. Yikes.


It was a huge relief to have the lighter packs, however, and both of us were in significantly more pleasant moods than yesterday. By lunchtime, we were back in the rocky fringes of the mountains. We stopped for lunch in the shade of a giant rock that also offered marginal protection from the wind gusts that had been following us all day. Tenny mixed a sugary drink packet into one of her water bottles and we watched as a bee stopped to investigate the rim. Within 10 minutes, there was a swarm of at least 15 bees buzzing around us and all of our stuff. It was annoying enough that we had to pack up and leave. Amazing to see animals communicating out here in the desert, and what sense they have for available water sources!




The rest of the day was spectacular and beautiful as we turned off the main road and hiked along a much rougher trail through the mountains. White granite rock surrounded us and the rock’s many angles caught the sunlight like a reflective prism. The wind must constantly weather these peaks because piles of white sand lay at their bases. It felt like hiking, with plenty of nature to see and be a part of, and no cars or noises to listen for. The mountains cast huge shadows across the valley, which we would enter and exit back into the afternoon sun.


It’s usually easy to see evidence of water sources in the desert and we could see signs of the Tinajas Altas well before we were there. The rock ahead was smooth and undulating from the water’s passage and the plants were distinctly greener. The pools were nestled in a wall of rock, with the cleanest at the very top. Back in the day, the area was supposedly full of the skeletons of people who made it all the way here only to be too weak to climb to the pools.

We got lucky with the second lowest pool, a scummy but deep basin covered in a layer of dead bees. So this is our option, ay?

Beneath the surface were tiny, black, squirming tadpoles that bounced back and forth confused by the commotion we created as we filled our bottles. The water was...not ideal, sludge green in color even after we filtered, but at least our skeletons won’t join the others. We probably won’t even need to drink it with all the water we carried in from town.


Back at the campsite we had our first fire! The wood was hard to find and we scavenged leftovers from other campfire rings. It says much about our level of comfort in this particular location since we sometimes avoid even headlamps at night. No need to make ourselves more obvious. Huddled around the warmth and comfort of our campfire we chipped away at our nightly chores, conducting “office hours” by firelight.