Section 5: Douglas to Columbus
It’s a long drive back to where we left off yesterday but that didn’t stop us from having a cushy breakfast at the Mana Bakery. Burritos and pancakes and plenty of water and coffee. Yum. The mornings are getting colder and this morning the distant mountains have snow on the peaks. Winter is here!
We are still brainstorming options for getting across the Animas Foundation and were holding out hope for a road that travels through their property via San Luis Pass.
Which roads are public, which private?
It popped up on a BLM website and led us to believe that maybe the road isn’t private (wishful thinking), and maybe the lady from the Animas Foundation just doesn't know the roads out here (additional wishful thinking). We flagged down Border Patrol on our morning drive so Kris could ask about the pass. And since conversations are best had in the dead center of a road. The BP car was hitched to a large horse trailer, with a beautiful tan horse sticking his nose out. We know that Border Patrol uses horses to navigate the rough mountainous terrain out here but this was the first time we’d seen it. Not much info from BP, they usually don’t know or don’t share much information about the greater area.
Kris dropped us off as per usual and we headed out. Tonight would be the last night we’d stay in a hotel, after this we enter the remote New Mexico bootheel. Only an hour or so into the day, a white truck labeled Public Programs Personal Services pulled up. The driver stopped and rolled down his window, revealing a smiling face with lots of questions for us. Jamie grew up here and worked for Cochise County as a road engineer, most days he drove down county roads to check their condition. We had heard that New Mexico was cutting funding to county roads and asked him if he knew if the upcoming roads were well maintained. He told us that the county was actually increasing funding out here and that his team was going to be paving many of the dirt roads in Cochise County.
Hmm, curious, maybe for Border Patrol?
Jamie also told us about the area and growing up here, other than the old mining pits there isn’t much in the way of industry. Some people try to ranch but the land is rocky and has very little grass and one cow requires twenty acres a year, compared to Texas where one cow can subsist off two acres. Jamie also told us that his brother worked for Border Patrol and that in the last ten years this area has become much safer. Before that he wouldn’t even drive out here. He attributed much of that safety to Trump, claiming that Border Patrol is finally getting the funding it needs after Obama cut their numbers.
Hmm, that math didn’t quite add up for us, didn’t he just say its been getting better for years? How could an entire pattern of behavior change in just one year?
Despite our differences,we felt a connection with Jamie, he was clearly a compassionate person and he treated us with a lot of kindness. He didn’t seem to be operating out of fear and claimed that he has hope that things are getting better, on both sides of the wall, and that’s what we should all be working towards. Absolutely. Something we can all agree on. If only we could all restructure our thinking so see how much we all share. We said goodbye reluctantly, liking his energy and warmth.
Only a mile down the road we laughed at the sight of his truck parked to the side. He was walking around, inspecting a deep ditch that ran parallel to the road’s edge. The channel directed run-off from the hillside above to a low lying dip, a culvert was needed here.
We volunteered to help with the notes he was taking by measuring the vertical distance from the ground while he stood twenty paces away with a sight level. How did we do?
That was all he needed so after chatting a bit we continued on our way. The landscape was gorgeous, with violet prickly pear cactus everywhere. An entire hillside was covered by it, with clumps of round cacti pouring over on top of each other. Song birds flitted over the tops, dipping low than arcing high. We detoured to an old cemetery by the side of the road; surprisingly well-maintained and full of old family names and dates. Other than Jamie we hadn’t seen anyone out here all day.
Not too far from the cemetery we encountered a collection of buildings surrounding the road.
The largest was a pink, skin toned cottage with elaborate stone work. What is this place?
As we moved closer, it became clear that this structure had been abandoned for a while. Everything slumped to the side, the second story leaned out two feet from its original position. The electric line was cut and two cables dangled loosely above the ground, the propane tank was rusted and several water tanks were long since filled with water. At one point this must have been a very cozy spot, now it felt void of spirit.
Coronado National Forest, again! The forest boundary was marked with a sign and an ominous message, “Travel Caution: smuggling and illegal immigration may be encountered in this area”. We barely paused, the message was common enough, though we did note the specific wording “illegal immigration”. We've heard many variations on this: illegal aliens, illegals, migrants, undocumented. It’s curious who choses to use which wording.
As we entered the forest, the road abruptly switched from perfectly graded to rutted and slanted dirt road. The end of county maintenance?
Each twist and turn brought us closer to another beautiful sight - this place is absolutely gorgeous. Huge cirques and rock formations surrounded us and it felt like we were the only people to see it. This area feels distinctly empty of human stories, like it is still unseen by us.
In the last mile, Border Patrol came flying around the corner. A young Latino man met us with wide-eyed interest. You could tell his keen eyes picked up a lot. They had just caught a group of four not too far away and he apologized for being a little jumpy because of it. He quickly relaxed and chatted with us about what we were doing. Something about him was just really engaging. He had a lot of warmth and interest and we felt immediately at ease. He told us that he was just stationed in this area temporarily but normally worked out of El Paso. We told him we would be there eventually and he promised to watch out for us.
Our nightly update from Kris: when a county stops maintaining a road it reverts to the private landowners. Entire sections of land are then cut off from public access. Eeek.