Borderland Overland : Part III

With the sun burning high above, we continued west from Douglas. Again, we met dirt and dust at Border Road in route to Naco and Coronado National Monument. Some in the group traveled with their windows up and AC blasting, while some kept the windows down the entire dust ridden 260+ miles. Although I enjoy both styles of off-road travel, the guys with the “left arm tan” seem to have more fun. For a brief and desolate stretch, Border Road hides in the shadow of the massive metal fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico. This “anti-ram” fence was designed to withstand a high-speed impact by a full-sized pickup truck. It was nice knowing that a drug runner wouldn’t be t-boning us from the Mexican side.

In the week prior to the Borderland Overland, 19-year-old Carlos La Madrid was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent outside Douglas. Apparently, La Madrid was fleeing authorities, when he abandoned his truck and then tried to climb a ladder over the fence into Mexico. Border Patrol agents later found 48 pounds of marijuana in La Madrid’s truck hinting as to why he fled.

We stopped along the border fence for a token photo op; for some it was sticking their arm through the fence into Mexico, for others it was climbing the fence into…I’m just kidding—seeing if I still had your attention. My hopes of being tracked down by the Border Patrol, to provide a “full border experience” to the group, were soon fulfilled as I noticed a dust cloud on the horizon. I could make out two white trucks racing towards us, drivers and passengers bouncing around like ragdolls. When they finally arrived at the scene, the agents seemed rather disappointed at the sight of us. Rather than throwing us face first into the dirt and drawing guns; they settled for conversation.

Photo by Kirk Isaacson
Above Photo by Kirk Isaacson

The Border Patrol agent behind the wheel spoke with a certain ease and a country draw. He told me how the cartels had scouts on the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border to monitor movement of law enforcement, illegals, ranchers and rival smugglers. “They watch us, we watch them. They gather intelligence, we gather intelligence. Everyone is trying to keep a step ahead and outsmart the other side. That’s how the game is played.” Midway through our conversation, the ground began to rumble. Within seconds a Border Patrol helicopter thundered overhead in a spectacular show. Rather than screaming with glee like little girls, we managed to keep our composure. We’d rehash the story in vivid detail around the campfire at least a half-dozen times before the trip was over—each time the tale would grow a bit longer. The agent gave me his cell number and a nod to report any suspicious activity we may see down the road and we parted ways. Were we now part of the game too? I’d like to think so…


Standard Border Patrol Equipment- Geronimo Trail


Borderland Overland : Part II

If I only provided a fireside tale of friendship, endless backcountry and overlanding, I’d be leaving out what makes traveling these parts a humbling experience—the story wouldn’t be complete. Violence spurred by drug trafficking and human smuggling has left its mark on small border communities over the years. It was on the morning of March 27, 2010 that rancher Robert Krentz was shot to death while working his family's 34,000-acre cattle ranch in the San Bernardino Valley near Douglas, AZ. In Krentz’s last radio communication with his brother, he mentioned crossing paths with an illegal immigrant. After Krentz failed to meet his brother later that morning, authorities were notified and a search was launched. A rescue helicopter located Krentz slouched over his four-wheeler, with the engine still running. Nearby, his dog Blue, lay critically wounded. Investigators believe that his dog attempted to defend his owner before being shot. Ironically, locals knew Krentz as a “Good Samaritan” who often helped injured illegals and provided them water during bouts of triple digit desert heat. Although many theories exist, there are few answers as to who shot Krentz and for what reason.

Crossing into Arizona via the Geronimo Trail, our path would lead us through the San Bernardino Valley, the same area where Krentz was murdered a year earlier, almost to the day. While some would think of the Borderland as desert and dust, the landscape is unimaginably diverse. The region is comprised of grassland, forest, high vistas and deep canyons that meander from one side of the border to the other. As the late morning sun rose into the sky, our convoy sent up a cloud of dust that could be seen for miles around. The long dirt straight-aways allowed us to throttle through the flatlands. Airing down to 18PSI made the washboard road disappear. While these roads allow for a brisk pace, football sized rocks sit in the middle of the road, quietly waiting to disembowel vehicles—beware. When my GPS indicated that we were within a few hundred yards of the Mexican Border, we stopped to take in the international view. beware. When my GPS indicated that we were within a few hundred yards of the Mexican Border, we stopped to take in the international view.

While this may have been a common view for Kirk (Fire Axe) and I, being from Southern NM, most in the group felt like strangers in a strange land gazing into Mexico. While cameras clicked, cigarettes were being smoked and small talk was made, I noticed a Border Patrol outpost on a hillside to our north. The centerpiece of the outpost was a F550 flatbed equipped with a boom that extended into the sky. The rig was fitted with various scopes, antennas and rotating gadgets—possibly with more technology than the USSR’s early space program. While I focused my zoom to get a better perspective, I quickly realized the agents were staring right back at me through their binoculars. As one of the agents wore headphones, they were probably listing too. While I would like to fantasize the Border Patrol watched us with suspicion, we probably looked like nothing more than off-course tourists. Or sitting ducks… On the Mexican side, a bustling highway zig zagged through the San Bernardino Valley. The Mexican highway must provide an excellent drop off for those crossing into the U.S.; hence the outpost that overlooked the valley. With the day quickly warming, and a firm schedule to keep, we pressed on into Douglas to refuel.

While I may not have known Krentz, he seemed like the type of fellow that wouldn’t want his death to deter others from enjoying his little slice of heaven. If we allow those with ill intent to define the Borderland and cease its exploration, a bit more of the American Wild West will fade away.


Borderland Overland : Part I

Who’d be crazy enough to meet up with someone they had never met before, at a truck stop in Southern New Mexico, for a rugged and remote trip along the US/Mexican Border? As I departed Las Cruces at 3AM bound for Lordsburg; I wondered how many of the five that had signed on for the Borderland Overland would actually show. I pulled into the Pilot truck stop 120 miles later, still under the cover of darkness, to find I had actually fooled these fearless drivers into coming. It was there I would meet a mixed bag of guys that would later be described as a “motley crew”. Possibly they had fooled me into taking them? There was Jay “Foul Mouth” from Chicago driving a Rubicon, Brad “Wilderness First Response” from Denver driving a Tacoma, John “Shaggin’ Waggin” from Tennessee driving a Syncro Campervan, George “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from Quemado, NM driving a FJ Cruiser and finally Kirk “Fire Axe” from Santa Teresa, NM driving a FJ Cruiser. While some would say that your typical overlander sports a get-up similar to what a Frenchman would have worn in the mid 60’s while traversing the Kalahari, our group looked better prepared for a Baja beach bar. Once the convoy was rolling, and the CB radio banter began, I quickly realized why I asked that those under the age of 18 sit this one out.

From Lordsburg, we traveled due south until the pavement ran out, deep into the “Boot Heel” of New Mexico. Dust was already beginning to settle in the valleys like fog as the Border Patrol was changing shifts; the white and green trucks were passing us on the narrow dirt roads at highway speeds. As the sun began to illuminate the grassy plains of Hidalgo County, a landscape that resembled the opening scenes of ‘No Country For Old Men’ revealed itself. “Welcome to the Borderland Overland” I said over the radio as we pushed further south towards Mexico.


Borderland Overland to Overland Expo 2011 - Trip Teaser

Photo by Kirk Isaacson
US/MEX Border at Naco, AZ - Photo by Kirk Isaacson