Section 4: Nogales to Douglas
Our first day of hiking on private property. It felt good to feel like we belonged, or at least were expected. Kris dropped us off where he’d found us the day before and we quickly made our way to the start of John Ladd’s property, protected by a heavy cattle gate and several “No Trespassing” signs. Not from us though! We unlocked his gate and followed his instructions to locate the old railroad bed that we’d be following for the six or seven miles through his property and up to the road. We could see his ranch house in the distance but for the most part we were the only ones out there, other than the cows.
As we walked we were surprised to see the usual signs of border security, despite being on private property. Next to a cow trough was a twenty foot tall pole with video cameras on top. The structure was solar powered and surrounded by fencing and a couple nondescript metal boxes. Zoning markers were displayed along our route (we think these signs are used by Border Patrol to communicate locations). A network of digital towers and other tech was scattered throughout his property.
Does border surveillance and the tactical infrastructure installed with it have any limits? What kind of control to landowners have over their property? We’re curious about this - does it vary by state? Is there a hard and fast rule or is it determined by proximity to “high traffic” areas?
Knowing a bit about the relationship between ranchers and the federal government, this has to be a contentious issue. Something to research at the next break!
In yesterday’s conversation, John had relayed all sorts of history about the train bed that we were following.
What info do you have for us?
Eleven years ago the railroad company removed the tracks and wood ties, and the swath of land underneath the rail reverted back to him on the deeds. John and the nine other families whose land the tracks crossed were lucky that their original agreement specified that the land would return to them. All that remained of the track now was a bed of rock that originally functioned to absorb the impact of the train. There were all sorts of rock fragments littering the bed which John called slag (the excess generated during the copper mining process). The rock was beautiful with a turquoise and cobalt-blue patina. We fought our boredom by searching for the next cool rock in the splash of color beneath our feet. John had told us that the railroad originally serviced freight trains hauling product from the nearby copper mine in Bisbee and a lyme quarry. Later it became a passenger rail. And now it’s nothing at all.
A question we like to ponder: would we live here?
So far it’s been pretty 50/50, yes and no. In this particular location, no, as the surveillance seems especially pervasive and it feels like you would be living under its shadow. Video cameras on your property, a blimp hanging in the sky above your house. Street lights are placed along the length of the border wall, powerful beams of light monitoring your land.
Do people living along the borderlands get any kind of control over this constant monitoring?
We finally reached the highway where we left John’s land and followed an inconsistent dirt track along the road’s edge. The occasional car whizzed by but for the most part it was quiet. There are several towns in the San Pedro Valley - Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Douglas being the largest - and we skirted past pockets of homes and churches clustered together. This area feels pretty economically depressed - most of the storefronts are boarded up and many of the houses have a disheveled feel. The two main industries appear to be tourism or the military, and with I-10 far to the north, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for traffic along this highway.
Kris found us again at the end of the day and we relocated to Sierra Vista, the “fancy city” to the north. Normally this wouldn’t be an option for us, but having a car provides us with all kinds of freedom. In contrast to the towns on the border, Sierra Vista is full of brand new buildings and bustling chain restaurants and strip malls. It’s right next to the military base and the mountains and has easy access to Tucson. It’s also a good 20 miles north of the border, which seems to be just far enough to make it “desirable”. And yet - the blimp hangs right over the city providing a constant reminder of the “dangerous threat” to the south.