Backroads on the Border: Mexican Drug War – Columbus, New Mexico
Recent stories of the Drug War along the U.S./Mexican Border have provided a glimpse into the escalating brutality that has brought Northern Mexico to its knees. At the bottom of New Mexico lay Columbus, border town to Palomas, Mexico; a sleepy ranching community home to cowboys, artists, migrants and everything between. Columbus has recently drawn national attention as its bordering town of Palomas has become reminiscent of the Wild West. The Palomas police chief has sought asylum in the U.S. while the remaining force has all but vanished in response to Cartel escalations and slayings in the area. The Columbus community and law enforcement seems to be watching and waiting as the war pushes across the border.
Spurred by an LA Times article published earlier in the week I geared up and headed south to see the area for myself. I’m not sure if it was the mindset leaving town after having freshly researched news stories, local stories and disturbing images of the bloody violence but as I approached Columbus a ghostly tension set in.
On my way in to Columbus I pulled off the road to photograph the Border Patrol Checkpoint and passers. After snapping a few shots I continued down the road and realized that I had new company. A Border Patrol unit followed me into town; it seems they took issue to this stranger’s camera. My thoughts were that their suspicion lay somewhere in between curiosity and fillings for a slow day. I am not often comforted by the presence of the law, especially when being followed. The sight of my maps, GPS, gun, pack and camera would make for an interesting explanation; not the normal kit for a blogger.
They never confronted me, the two agents just watched me from their car under tree shade as I walked the length of the main street. The town was empty, most businesses were closed and the only movement was from the dusty breeze pushing leaves and papers down the street. Brightly colored buildings featured such comforts as the local café, gallery and theater; giving a high contrast to the barren surroundings. Most other structures were weathered or seemingly temporary, the yards were elaborately fenced with iron and rock walls, the park was new and the highway to the border crossing was the only good road to be seen for miles. The agents must have been impatient as they did not follow me in tour of the rest of the town. My thought remained, “where was everyone?”
"Duty Free Shade"
"Deserted Retirement Ranch" at Hacienda Sur Luna
Agent- “Where’s home?”
Driver- “Las Cruces”
Agent- “Are you a photojournalist?”
Agent- “Then what are you?”
Driver- “I’m just a guy with a camera”
The agent hesitated and looked at the others
Agent- “Have a nice day”