Section 8: Fort Hancock to Presidio
Ready or not here we go. Thanks to Smiley for driving us to the start of our day. And time to repeat again and again the lock combination that will get us into Craig’s house tonight. Maybe if we repeat it enough we’ll be there before we know it.
The Rio Grande is in poor shape. There is not a single flowing channel of water here, ever since the early 1990s upstream dams and controlled releases have disrupted the river’s natural course. The river no longer has a normal seasonal flux which means that the water and sediment cannot flow downstream properly. This is overly simplified but the gist of it is the river is unhealthy, resulting in a concentration of invasive species and mud banks. Tamarisk (salt cedar) is a bushy mass that is often so thick the light disappears at the center of its mane of branches and leaves. The invasive extends its root system to every water saturated bank it can find, blocking the river’s path and sometimes forcing a reroute. This clogged system results in a football field sized spread of stagnant, turbid water. Yikes!
A couple people warned us the river was backed up and nearly out of its banks in this section and they weren't kidding. Big pools of stagnant water had settled on either side of the road. Blue herons took advantage, they flapped jerkily above us, squawking, warning us away from their nearby nests. Ducks took flight, leaving ripples behind them on the water. Nearby the wall reappeared, seemingly out of thin air. It was in an odd location that didn't feel like the actual US/Mexico border.
Behind it was a strip of land, then the Rio (the actual border). Is the wall built at the high water line?
The first truck we’ve seen came rumbling along. It was George Parada, a rancher who lived only a mile away. He found us strange but didn’t seem too bothered about it and eyed us in a trusting sort of way.
He asked us “do you hike a lot in life?” Why yes we do.
He also told us that he’s never had anything bad happen to him out here but was careful to say you never know. He explained why the river was backed up, there was a flash flood up one of the arroyas and a wall of water washed an enormous amount of sediment into the river creating a natural dam. He added that International Boundary Waters Commission had done nothing to clean up the accumulation.
Side note, arroyos are basically gullies that become raging creeks in times of heavy rain. In this section there are 57 flowing into the Rio from the US and 44 coming from Mexico. An international riparian zone has got to be the coolest!
George offered to let us stay at his place but it was still early and we wanted to try and push to Craig’s. Such generous people out here! We continued on our way. For the first time on this trip we’ve gone miles now without seeing any sign of Border Patrol. It was strangely eerie. We were right next to the river and could see old buildings and roads just across from us on the Mexican side. They all looked long abandoned but everyone has told us that the cartels have a presence out here. It was difficult not to obsess over the feeling that we were being watched, even knowing it was probably just in our heads. We walked for miles like this, fingers on our SOS button, jumping at every crack in the bushes.
Another truck appeared over the hill, the driver was wearing a medical facemask. Lester had told us we might see this man, he was Lester’s brother Wayne and the other half of the Miller brothers. We’re getting a handle on the family trees out here! We recognized Wayne by his face mask which he wore due to a jaw cancer surgery. We waved at each other but didn’t stop to speak.
We had gotten only a vague set of instructions from Craig about how to get to his place but assumed we would find it since there isn’t much out here. We passed several ranches in the morning and early afternoon but pushed on, thinking we still had a ways to go. For the last several miles of the day we saw almost no human structures, other than road and fencing. We kept moving, thinking with every turn that we’d see his place just around the next corner. By dusk we were starting to get nervous that we’d already passed it. Finally after it was dark we finally conceded defeat and crept into the bushes to find a spot. We didn’t want to turn on our headlamps because we felt very exposed and were forced to pitch the tent in the dark. If we had been a bit less exhausted and scared the resulting mess would have made for a good comedy routine. We barely made it in before the rain started, we couldn’t decide if the sound was soothing or anxiety producing as we strained to hear the noises behind it.
Is that the pitter-patter of footprints or rain?
We both wish we could have been inside tonight!