Border Towns

Welcome back. With all the talk of border security along with President Trump’s visit to the border town of Nogales, Arizona this week I thought I’d take you there with me. I should add that in the seventeen years I have been writing for this paper I have stayed away from politics and today’s column is no different, I am simply trying to give you readers an idea of what this place is like and its history. Founded in 1884, Nogales is the largest border town in Arizona with a population of over 20,000 people but on the Mexican side of the border the population grows to 212,533 folks. Just a short 100 mile drive from Tucson which is the second largest city in Arizona, Nogales has four ports of entry bringing over thirty billion dollars’ worth of goods from Mexico into the United States every year. This trade has a big economic impact on thousands of people on both sides of the border and for a long time that border was left mostly unattended. The area that surrounds the border is marked by rolling hills and valleys full of the black walnut trees that Nogales was named for when it was still part of Mexico. Back in 1955 the film version of Oklahoma was filmed here and the rugged terrain has attracted many other movie and TV productions over the years. Except for a few cattle ranches this arid region has been a no man’s land during hot summer days when temperatures rise well above 100 degrees and in the winter when the cold winds can kill you. There’s not much surface water out here and critters like rattlesnakes and badgers are common, all of which can mean trouble for humans. Yet despite these difficulties people have been crossing the border in this area for years, making a path across the imaginary line separating the two countries. In the1970s smugglers of all kinds used the passage to bring in any kind of contraband a person could think of to make a buck on. If it was something they couldn’t bring through customs, they simply walked ten miles outside of town and took their goods across the border there. Taxi cab drivers could usually spot a person who needed a ride to that area and they were always obliging. The smugglers always looked the same, Americans dressed in dark clothes with hiking boots and carrying a canteen or two. Once they were dropped off they waited until the dead of night before starting their twelve mile trek across the border. Up and down treacherous rocky hills they walked all night, arriving at dawn to a prearranged meeting with a partner. If they were late the driver wouldn’t wait, figuring they had killed by snakes or other smugglers or arrested by the Mexican federal troops. If the smugglers made it, the drive back to Tucson along long deserted roads could be just as tricky. Bandits lay in wait for dumb Americans and the price to get by them was high. When smugglers disappeared it didn’t usually make the news but it happened all the time along the border of Arizona and Mexico. What we will do about border security in this area now, only history will tell. Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

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