Eeek plans! This is a logistically intense journey but oddly enough we have continued to put logistics on the backburner. Months ago we did a ton of research, down to outlining out the exact mileage for every day of this trip. We still follow some of this old planning but beef it up with new information that we get when we enter an area.
Ideally this is done immediately upon getting to town and gaining internet access. However, a couple zero days passed and we did one thousand things before panicking about logistics. So as usual we didn’t call the area east of Nogales, the Coronado Forest, until the day that we were supposed to be entering it. Ahhh!
We were eventually put through to the correct person, Ricky Darren. He was the definition of hiker community and within the first five minutes we were friends. The goal of the phone call was about upcoming water sources and we ended up with information on the Arizona Trail, lakes in the area, the drought this season, rivers with perennial water, and most importantly a potential rendezvous with Ricky!
We crawled out of Nogales. The last few streets we walked down felt like a combination of a strip mall and a marketplace. A group of old men sat on a stone wall smoking pipes and chatting. Moms gripped their kids tightly while they fought to free themselves and chase whatever captured their attention. Couples strolled hand in hand. All the stores were busy, people poured in and out. As we walked, the streets turned residential and got progressively hillier. Our packs were full of water and food and it was not comfortable. We found a good looking road that followed the border fence and allowed us to avoid the highway.
The area was full of little hills and canyons and the wall switchbacked like some kind of crazy zig zag to accommodate the terrain. In some places the hills in Mexico were almost level with the wall because the terrain was so steep. Someone crossing could simply place a 2 x 4 plank from hillside to top of wall and step over.
Sometimes the structure at the base of the wall changed from horizontal to vertical bars creating a small opening, perhaps it was to let animals pass through?
The entire effect of it all was kind of aesthetically appealing, strange as that is to say.
At one point we crested a hill only to see a Border Patrol vehicle with two agents outside escorting a person into the back of their vehicle. We couldn’t see much and wanted to give everyone their space so we stopped about 200 feet away.
After securing the first person in the vehicle the agents began scouring the grass for more, a supposed second or third person?
This was all within 20 feet of the wall and we could see another two men on the Mexican side watching as well. We hesitantly approached, not knowing what exactly we were walking into. As we passed the agents looked up from their search, said hello, and told us we’d be fine to pass but to watch out for traffic as “this was a very busy time for them “. They returned to their search immediately after. We continued on, this time a bit more alertly.
The road was firm under our feet and even paved for stretches, but it tired us out nonetheless. Straight up, then straight down into these little gullies and then back up again. When we crested each hill we could see the next hill and the one after that and the one after that stretching for infinity into the horizon. You get such awesome vistas out here with nothing to get in the way of your view but sometimes it’s best not to know exactly where you’re headed.
By the time we were three miles out of Nogales, we were completely alone. The Mexican side is deserted as well. We cycle through the repetition of up down up down for awhile before hitting a wash that we decide to turn up in the hopes of flatter terrain. And there’s a gushing little river flowing from Mexico into the US! Water rights have been a reoccurring issue of our trip so far, particularly in the Imperial Valley and Yuma, and we’re pumped to find a source that flows in the opposite direction, with Mexico having upstream rights. Something to look up next time we’re in town. The water smelled of sewer but it did seem to support a tiny little ecosystem along its banks.
While on a break we were startled by the sound of a truck that snuck up out of nowhere. It was Border Patrol (no surprise) but a bicyclist led the way. A Border Patrol on two wheels?? That’s new! A young guy stood up on the bike, pedaling hard through the thick grass. He slowed when he reached us and exchanged a quick greeting but didn’t stop.
They decided we weren’t a threat because of...we assume, the color of our skin?
Either that or they already knew who we were. We felt guilty they had gone to so much trouble to follow us.
We continued along the river, following a set of maps with only the vague suggestion that we could make it through and sure enough we started hitting fences marking off private property. They added an additional wrinkle to our navigation as we tried to move around them, sometimes with frustrating results. A fence or two may or may not have been hopped. It’s always a bit of a gamble to figure out which roads have right of way for Border Patrol and which are private property.
Eventually we made it to a road and then an even bigger one, although much later in the day than we wanted. As we began the trek to town, a bunch of Border Patrol came by, presumably leaving for the day at the end of their shift. A couple stopped to check in and make sure we had water. The last agent to come by checked on us like the others, pulled away, then doubled back a few minutes later. We gathered he was the head honcho when he questioned us (very kindly) about what route we’d used to get in and how his guys could have missed us. Since leaving the road we’d only seen the truck and biker from earlier. We told the head BP agent about seeing them but he was unsatisfied, and left us to go back and have a word with his team for not noticing our passage. Sorry guys! Didn’t mean to get you in trouble!
By then we were close to the small town of Kino Springs and we walked our final miles along a sleepy paved road in the light of the setting sun. We kept hitting different pockets of cold and warm air, just in time to cool our sweat or warm us back up. The mountains ahead of us were a magenta purple and the valley in front of them was full of unexpected shadows. A beautiful end to a hard day! We set up camp the second we reached the forest border and barely made it before dark. There were cows all around us but their mooing has become comforting now. Back to early bedtimes, we were tired!