By Anna Giles
Through a cloud of suffocating dust I can see a herd of anxious cattle just ahead.
I give my horse two sharp kicks to the gut and lurch towards them. The sky is clear and there is nothing blocking my way except the blade-like leaves of a yucca plant.
It’s just me, the desert and the sound of hooves beating the hot, dry earth. I round up the cattle and push them towards a man-made watering hole – the only liquid for miles upon miles upon miles.
I am not describing a Wild West scene in a movie.
This is my home and my life of 20 years – the expansive desert of Las Cruces, N.M. – just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Throughout the summer, I have been reporting from Washington on the crisis taking place along the border – specifically in south Texas. Thousands of unaccompanied children have been arriving there –some fleeing violence in their home countries and others who received false information about lax U.S. immigration policies.
It has led me to involuntarily reflect on my life at the border. As members of Congress, administration officials and nonprofit organizations argue over the best way to solve the crisis and share frightening stories of violence or deprivation in the border region, in my head I page through memories of my childhood.
I see New Mexico ranch culture – with cattle round ups every of couple months. I see Chile roasters on the side of the road that somehow produce more heat that what is already beating down from the sun. I see border patrol search stations that I pass through every week where my car is X-rayed and I answer questions about my legal status.
The border region can be hostile place. The heat is unbearable, the desert never ending and no water until you make it to a nearby town.
But it’s not as empty as it sounds.
U.S. border patrol agents sweep the area in patrol cars often. The border with Mexico is usually marked by a 5 foot iron fence – just a few inches shorter than me. Many times, immigrants looking to cross the border will hide out in this remote area, looking for a safe way in.
Many times they will make a dangerous journey through the mountains just outside of Las Cruces in a place called the Corralitos Ranch.
When I go there during the day to help a friend herd cattle, I sometimes find the old clothing and food they leave behind.
About a year ago, I was exploring an abandoned shed at a wind mill located in the depths of the desert. I found empty tuna cans and cotton dangling out of a ripped teddy bear.
Because the environment is so hostile many immigrants die making the journey. Some are dehydrated and some are killed by wild animals.
The terrain is just as perilous for border patrol troops. They use technology like drones and X-ray machines to help them apprehend immigrants trying to cross or find drugs stashed in vehicles.
Sometimes they have to do things the old fashioned way - on foot.
On a blistering hot afternoon about a year ago, I found myself in the passenger seat of a truck driving along a dust-laden road between El Paso, Texas, and Columbus, N.M. – two places that have ports of entry.
My friend and I stopped the car to check out the border fence just off the side of the road. The maroon-colored iron fence goes on for miles. On the U.S. side, there are concrete pads lining the fence – some of which have sensors.
We walked around, took some pictures and left.
Within five minutes of driving on the main road again a man in a border patrol vehicle pulled us over. We weren’t speeding – he had simply detected us walking around near the fence and came to check out who we were.
The border area near New Mexico is not as active as other areas near major points of entry like El Paso. The U.S border with Mexico spans almost 2,000 miles, and the lifestyle in each border region is dramatically different. Some areas, like El Paso or Nogales, Ariz. are commerce hubs and see lots of activity.
The border fences there are 14 feet tall with barbed wire at the top.
Things in New Mexico are a bit more laid back. There is a clearly a reliance on the treacherous terrain to serve as a deterrent to hopeful crossers.
But that’s what I like most about it. When you breathe the air, it’s fresh – like it’s never been used. Life is calm and relaxed. But you wouldn’t think so in light of the recent crisis.
People call the border region no country for old men. So good thing I’m a young woman.
Reach reporter Anna Giles at email@example.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.