How close to the Mexican border is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge? Our hike into this wildlife refuge was shaped by politics as the refuge (about 118,000 acres) actually runs adjacent to the US-Mexican border. Roughly three miles of the refuge closest to the border is closed to the public.
In our early morning drive down to park headquarters and then on to Arivaca, we could not avoid the issue of illegal immigration. Easily 150 Border patrol vans (white with a broad green stripe on their side) passed us and we went through two checkpoints, set up at random along the road.
I kept expecting a band of ragged immigrants or gun-waving drug runners to emerge from any of the numerous washes populated this morning by scruffy mesquite and cactus. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports, the number of immigrants has declined (300,000 crossed here in 2007, down to 20,700 in 2009). Humanitarian groups have (with fed approval) put in three 55-gallon tanks to minimize deaths from summer over-exposure. Over the last 8 years, some 25 people have died, but the number has dropped to 2 in 2009.
We walked the nature trail at Arivaca Cienega (meaning 100 waters), honing our beginnng birding skills to spot this Pyrrhuloxia and a Northern Flicker. Then on to Benson for the next day's hike along the San Pedro River.
I come away from this part of the trip with a sense of the desolation of the desert, a formidable natural barrier to those seeking a better life in the states, and an appreciation for the tenacity and courage of these immigrants. My family is a mix of English, Scots, and Native American, divisions too fine to be counted, but we have traveled in too many Spanish-speaking countries not to feel a sense of kinship.