comments: Ginger is a Dallas resident who lives in Pleasant Grove.
09/24/03 Ginger's Excellent Adventure
Last Spring, I had to be in El Paso for a week and most of my time was tied up
in the office while there. However, I did have all afternoon Saturday and
all day Sunday to myself.
Because I had kept up with news about conditions on our border, I chose to not
participate in typical tourist attractions marketed on the border and went
looking for the holes.
I don't have any investigative skills, not any kind of law enforcement, no
special training, no military, no expertise in security whatsoever. I am
just an average American who couldn't slap my butt with both hands and a road
map, for the most part. I want you to understand I did not exercise any
kind of special powers of observation in my trip. I simply ended up with time on
my hands and a predisposed interest in my country's inability to control our
I was originally only going to go down to the border in El Paso and observe,
just wanted to see a POE and the fences separating us from the third world.
About 10:00 am, Sunday morning, I went south on Avenue of the Americas and then
west on Highway 375, the Border Highway. As I cruised west, there was not
a lot to see; double fences and a concrete ditch in the middle of them
containing water. As I neared the west end of the highway, I saw a pull
out where TX DOT stores sand, gravel and road repair materials. The
concrete had changed to natural embankments somewhere. Directly across
from the pull out, there were people on the Mexican side of the border playing
in the river.
Being the good tourist, I wanted to snap a few photos. I parked and got
out of my car to mount one of the huge boulders placed there as decoration to
get a better vantage point for my snapshot. As I stood on the boulder
trying to get my camera working, a man charged the border fence and dove under
it, running across the 4-lane highway, passing within about 15 feet of me and on
up the embankment behind me.
A Border Patrol pulled up and stopped on the shoulder of the highway about 100
feet from me (I am terrible at guess-timating distances). He was watching
me, and didn't seem to see the man dive under the fence. The Mexican fence
diver evidently saw the BP, because he ran back down the embankment, back across
the highway, and dove back under the fence.
I was in shock when he crossed to the US side and didn't react fast enough to
get my camera into action, but I did get a picture of his rump headed back to
Mexico. The BP watched him dive back under the fence, sat there a few more
seconds as I took his picture and finally drove on. I snapped a few more
pictures and also moved on down the highway.
The highway eventually becomes Paisano Avenue. At one point, a train trellis
crosses the roadway from north to south for freight trains to enter the US from
Mexico. The visibility is limited as the train comes out of the mountains
in Mexico before it enters the US. I wouldn't have noticed the train
trellis if there had not been a train crossing into the US while I was
there. I parked for more pictures.
As I focused my camera on the crossing train, I could see Mexicans literally
hanging on the box cars, on the roofs, the sides and the ladders. We are
not talking about just one or two wearing uniforms or giving the appearance of
being employees or anything.
This was about 10 or 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning, in the middle of El Paso,
in the middle of a high traffic roadway. The area was not by any means
Because of my previous interest in border control, I know Douglas, AZ and
Cochise Counties are considered ground zero for the highest volume of illegal
traffic. I had not originally planned to go to Douglas (so broke I can
hardly afford to pay attention and did not want to spend gas money on the
excursion). What I witnessed made it mandatory for me to make the trip on
over to Douglas.
I got back on Interstate 10 and ran it over to Deming, NM, then south on Hwy 11.
Deming is not exactly a major metropolitan area, but it did have sort of a
semblance of a small American town. Once getting out of town, urban
developments began to appear -- trailer parks.
I saw something like them some 30 years ago when my father took the family on
vacation to Acapulco and hired a cab to drive us out into the countryside, away
from tourist areas, so we could see the real Mexico. Those images were
burned into my memory; the sight of people living in cardboard shacks and
washing clothes by pounding them in the river left a definite impression on my
youthful American mind.
What I saw after leaving Deming wasn't all that different from what I had seen
of urban development in Mexico as a child. Corrugated tin walls, tar paper
over windows and cardboard shingles.
I followed Hwy 11 down to Columbus and Palomas POE. Along the way I saw
many Mexicans walking south on the highway, individuals and groups, carrying
stuffed back packs and some luggage and shopping bags, some wearing fresh, new
appearing clothes, and others less wholesome looking. I snapped a few
pics, but not many.
Approaching the Palomas POE, there two retail stores. There is nothing
remarkable about them, other than it just struck me as weird. One is a
free standing building, isolated all by itself, housing a Family Dollar store,
sitting nearly on top of the POE. The other is a convenience store with a
prominent Western Union sign. There is a parking area at the POE where you can
park and walk across to Mexico, or you can drive your car. Very few cars
were headed south, and a few pedestrians.
Hundreds of cars were lined up going through the POE northbound. I went down a
little road sort of behind the convenience store to get a better vantage point,
and snapped some pics of the POE.
I went back north about 7 or 8 miles on Hwy 11 and went west on Hwy 9. The same
urban developments made up the majority of the housing in the area. There is the
occasional ranch house once outside of town, but most are the shanty town
trailer parks. I started looking for another road to go back south toward the
border. Many of the dirt roads are not accessible to a car. For one
county road, you needed an ATV to get down it. ATVs might be popular in
the area. I did see two young Mexican girls who had one stalled out in the
middle of this little goat trail they call a county road.
Not long down Hwy 9, I began seeing blue plastic bags hanging on trees, fence
posts and telephone poles. Just prior to leaving on my trip, I had learned
blue bags were used as markers by the coyotes to coordinate pick up of illegal
aliens for transport into the interior. Before my El Paso trip, I was
skeptical of that piece of information.
As soon as I saw the first bag hung on a telephone pole, I remembered the
information, but still had my doubts. They have a serious litter problem
in the area. Our southwest desert might be a lot of things, but pristine
is not one of them. After passing 3 or 4 of these blue markers within as
many miles, my curiosity couldn't take it any more. There was no place to
pull over, and there was nothing out there but me and the rattlesnakes, so
I parked right in the middle of the highway to get out of my car and
retrieve the bag. When I got out of my car, I was still convinced the wind
had blown the bag and it caught in the mesquite tree.
The bag was not just caught on the tree. The bag was purposefully pulled down
over branches of the tree, and taped with black electrical tape. I had to
work to get the bag pulled out of the mesquite tree. I got back in my car
and went on to the next one, this time on the scraps of a fence post. Same
thing, the bag taped purposefully to the post with black electrical tape.
I lost count of how many blue bags I yanked down; 20 - 40? The only
variation was whether black electrical tape or silver duct tape was used to
Where I pulled the second one off the fence post, a ranch house was in plain
view maybe 1/4 mile away. It dawned on me the person placing the markers
might very well be sitting in the ranch house observing my destruction of the
marker. I got in a little bigger hurry about pulling the bags down once that
revelation, considering I was unarmed, alone and drug smugglers and human
smugglers are noted for killing people who try to impede their progress of
On my Hwy 9 drive to where it ties into Hwy 80 at Rodeo, I saw groups of people
walking across the desert, well off the roadway. There are farms in the
area, and they might have been farm laborers. I also saw a lot of Border
Patrol trucks. Most were parked near the highway, often near culverts or washes.
I stopped counting at 16.
By the time I got into Douglas, it was about 7:00 pm. I started thinking about
blowing a tire or having car trouble in the remote areas before I could get back
to I-10, and the elements I had seen walking the desert floor. I drove up
and down a couple of main streets, paid $1.79 a gallon for gas, bought a Dr.
Pepper and headed out. I saw nothing but Mexicans. I was stared at and
made to feel very uncomfortable buying my gas. The people I came into contact
with refused to speak English. There was a house right next door to the
Circle K store where I bought my gas. Some Mexican women were sitting on
the porch when I pulled up to the pump facing them. They stared at me,
hard. One shouted something, and a 4 or 5 Mexican men walked around from
the opposite corner of the house to stand near the porch, brief conversation
with the women, and stare at me.
It wasn't a friendly stare. I was not unattractive in my younger
days, and have been stared at before. This was a whole new ball game.
I am a sucker for historical markers, and will usually pull off to check them
out. There is a historical marker on the east bound side of 80 headed out of
Douglas. It is the marker denoting the location where Geronimo surrendered,
ending Indian wars in the US forever. When I pulled into the parking area,
a pick up followed me. I was already standing to read the marker when the truck
pulled in, and I naturally turned to see if I needed to run like hell or if I
was still safe. An older white man who exited the pick up walked toward
me, obviously suspicious of me being stopped there; the expression on his face
said it all.
He was friendly and opened conversation with me. We talked a bit about Geronimo,
he told me he worked for the AZ DOT, we talked about the Mexican trucks coming
across the border, and I told him where I had been prowling around all
day. He told me about his wife pulling off to the shoulder of the road
once recently to get something out of the trunk of her car, and a swarm of
Mexicans running out of the wash just below to throw bales of marijuana into her
trunk, thinking she was the pick up. He said the illegals were walking the
desert all around us by the hundreds and started scanning the horizon. He
pointed out across the desert and asked if I could see them. I could only
see them with his binoculars. It was a large group, carrying white plastic
water jugs. He kept talking, telling me they were literally all around us. I
really started wanting to get out of there, so politely closed conversation with
him and headed back to civilization on I-10.
The next day I had to spend in the office. The company finished with me and I
was free to go back home to Dallas by about 2:00 pm. I headed out of El Paso on
I-10. I didn't get very far until I decided I still had a roll of film unused,
and I still hadn't gotten any good pictures of the Rio Grande. I went down to
the POE at Fabens.
I don't know what the population of Fabens is, but it can't be more than a few
hundred. The abject poverty and appearance of being nothing more than a rural
Mexican village persisted.
At the POE, I thought I was pulling into the parking area, and wound up instead
in the lane that sends you to Mexico. There are concrete barriers like the ones
used in highway construction, and only one lane wide. There are the one way
spikes in the lane, the ones you can't back up over without tearing up your
tires. I kind of freaked out; I wasn't planning on taking my car to Mexico.
Lucky for me, there was a break in the barricade just before the lanes forced
you into Mexico, and I pulled through the opening and turned around.
Just like at the other POEs, hundreds of cars waited in line to enter the US,
winding back out of sight on the Mexican side of the border. I knew I was
not about to go to Mexico to get at the end of the line. I waited about 30
or 45 minutes trying to break in line to get back where I belonged.
Incoming Mexicans were not friendly, polite or courteous about letting me
correct my obvious screw up. They glared at me angrily and deliberately
would not leave a whisper of an opening for me to get in line. After
sitting there that long, I was grateful when one man in a pick up finally let me
Mexican children ran up and down the line of cars begging for money. When
they approached my car they started sticking their hands and arms inside my car
through open windows, trying to reach stuff in my car. I rolled my windows
up and turned my air conditioner to put a stop to it. They didn't do that
to the Mexicans waiting in line in cars, but only begged from them.
There were three Border Patrol agents working. When I pulled up, I
expected to be asked for ID and some kind of proof of citizenship. I was a
little worried because all I had was my driver license and social security card,
and some other miscellaneous stuff with my name and address on it. I got it all
dug out of my purse ready for presentation while waiting in line.
Imagine my surprise when the Border Patrol agent merely asked the question,
"What is your citizenship?" No let me see your ID, no further
questions. I answered him, "Texan! American Texan!" End of
conversation with Border Patrol. Pulled forward and continued on into the
I am pretty obviously an American, so they didn't badger me with a lot of
bureaucracy. Being a curious cat, I pulled to the curb and got out
as if I wanted something out of my trunk. For 10 minutes, I pretended to
dig through the suitcase in my trunk while observing the border inspections
taking place not a car length away. I could see and hear everything that
was going on. The Border Patrol did not ask to see a single document from
anyone. That one single question was all that was asked: "What is your
citizenship?" In Spanish.
If what rolled out of their mouth even remotely sounded like Norte Americano,
they were given the go ahead. I left the Fabens POE wondering whose country the
Border Patrol is protecting.
I went east out of Fabens Hwy 20, and still didn't have any pics of the river.
Within a couple of miles, I spotted a dirt road running south. I took off down
the dirt road and it took me right down to
the river. There are no fences nor markers of any kind. I could look back up
river and see the Fabens POE from where I was. There was no one around; no
houses, no sign of humanity. I got it in my head to see just how easy it was to
cross the river. I walked down to the bank, jerked my shoes and socks off,
rolled up my pant legs and waded across the river. I climbed up the bank on the
Mexican side, and wondered if anyone had taken notice of my transgression. I
reasoned that if I had been observed, it might take them a few minutes to swoop
on me to ask questions. I lit a cigarette and stood in Mexico to smoke it,
waiting for what I was sure would be an inevitable Border Patrol to come ask
questions. I finished my cigarette and waded back across to the US. My shoes
were on the bank where I left them, but my feet were wet and muddy. It was
some tough going for this tenderfoot to get back to my car. I don't keep a lot
of toiletries in my car, so didn't have any way to clean the mud off my feet or
dry them. So away I went down driving my car down Hwy 20 with muddy, bare feet.
I ventured down several more dirt roads to the Rio Grande, and repeated my
antics. I smoked half a pack of cigarettes in Mexico this last Monday. Pick a
spot, any spot, and anyone in the world has free access to this country.
Hwy 20 eventually plays out in Esperanza to I-10. The border starts
running south and I wanted to go east to Dallas. I-10 has an Inspection
Station at Sierra Blanca. Orange cones route all traffic through the check
station. There were a lot of cars, several 18 wheelers, and two RVs in line
around me. Pretty much all the Border Patrol was doing at the Sierra Blanca
check point was creating a traffic jam. I watched them wave the truck and
the RV directly in front of me straight through. I could have loaded drugs
or illegal aliens or nuclear bombs into the trunk of my car during any one of my
illegal border crossings, and I could have been on my merry way to any American
city with my cargo, no questions asked.
All I would have to do to make delivery would be obey the speed limits and
traffic laws to avoid getting stopped by local police.
Hi ho Silver.