Section 4: Nogales to Douglas
Happy New Year! We somehow miraculously made it to midnight, lying in the tent swaddled in everything we own.
Isn't a backpacker's bedtime eight?
Claire has taken to reading books out loud and we spent hours in the dark waiting for midnight. We had positioned our tent on a hill overlooking a popular lake and we expected to hear a whole hootenanny all night long but it was dead quiet and our halfhearted “happy new year!” just after midnight was the only sound we heard. After staying up way past bedtime we turned off our alarms and decided to just wake up when we felt like it. Setting a good tone for the new year!
We hung out in the tent all morning, eating extra food and enjoying the strong cell signal. We were close enough to the lake that we felt like we had to check it out but far enough that it was still an ordeal. After waffling all morning long, the thought of beer, treats, and procrastinating on hiking won out and we stashed our bags in the bushes, ready to head down. We were surprised to see the dirt road wound down through a small, tight-knit community. The houses here were staggered, one on top of another down the slope. Each had two levels with a porch wrapped around, a solar panel in the yard or on the roof and some model of boat displayed out front. They all fit the aesthetic of a house nestled on the coast of Maine. Everything about the community was very different from anything we had seen out here. We ended up bushwhacking through some private property with clear “No Trespassing “ signs but luckily no one shot us and we arrived intact at the lake.
The store was not exactly the bustling market we’d been led to believe it would be but we were happy enough to find a couple snacks and a picnic table.
Right as we were sitting down, grumbling about the lack of beer and food, a couple came over and asked, "do you want our extra food?"
They were there with their family and had plenty of extra that they were just packing up. A little embarrassed at the desperate homeless vibe we must be giving off to prompt such a thought but not too embarrassed to say no. Thank you Drew and Lea! We feasted like queens.
And then...we sat there. And sat there. It was absolute heaven to be surrounded by people just out to enjoy the outdoors, with plenty of food and nowhere to be. The crowd was a bit eclectic - a camo-wearing kid shooting a bow and arrow, an old long-haired man wearing a gross shirt depicting a woman with her underwear at her ankles, a truck driver spouting toxic fumes from a truck that wouldn’t start - and it made for some great people watching. We sat at the scene for so long that Drew and Lea returned from their own hike to find us in the exact same spot. They live in the nearby town of Sierra Vista and knew a lot about the area. This is an unusually lush area and all the water pouring out from under the mountains creates large lakes (like Patagonia Lake just northwest of us). As a result fishing, water skiing and recreation are popular. Recently Patagonia Lake was stocked with 30,000 trout. And they mentioned this community was entirely solar powered. Ya!
Drew told us that he works for Cisco, an IT company, that tests its equipment through a third party certification that the local military base of Fort Huachuca offers. Apparently many companies do this. According to Drew, the military base specializes in intelligence and drone training. The military, Border Patrol and Customs, the FBI, the Department of Defense and local law enforcement all operate in the area and often work together. Drew also solved the mystery of the mysterious blob in the sky.
Finally! What is the blob!?
It’s a blimp called Aerostat and it monitors a 327 km radius, including a large section of the border. Iterations of this blimp have been surveying the area for decades. Drew also told us there were drones flying all over this area, impossible to see from the ground. So many questions. We wanted to ask Drew and Lea if people minded being under such scrutiny or what kind of regulations were in place to protect them. Could local law enforcement, for example, use surveillance data in the community? It’s a scary thought but we didn’t have time to ask. No wonder this section seems so sleepy in terms of border activity. Why haven’t we seen this type of surveillance and technology in other parts of the border?
Eventually we had sat too long, even for us. We dragged our overstuffed selves up the hill and back to our bags and started walking. The road was good and led us up, over and then along a ridge paralleling the border. Everything looked peaceful and pastoral with milling cows and we could see no evidence of a wall. The mountains reared up just to our right and it was strange to think that they belonged to a different country than the ones we were in. We stopped high on the ridge out in the open with a panoramic view of the Mexican horizon. We’re completely exposed but with the tourist activity from earlier in the day and the quiet beauty of the fields we’ve never felt more peaceful.