Skip to main content

Smugglers on Red Mountain

I never miss a chance to praise radio tower mountains and roads as one of the most under-rated hiking opportunities. (Sometimes they are mountain bike-able.) Yesterday it was time to go up Red Mountain, near Patagonia AZ. There is a lot to be said for a road that does a 360 around a mountain and has several saddles on it. The viewscape changed radically about five times on the way up.

On the descent I noticed an expensive white SUV, with darkly tinted windows, driving up the road that we were descending. Was it Border Patrol? If so, why wasn't it marked with the usual green band? Then I saw three young men in dark clothes walk around a rocky outcropping. From my spot on that steep road I could see everything towards the main road. But they were walking slowly; maybe they were just locals on a hike. Who was I kidding?

A minute later I saw a second, more dispersed, group of young men fly through the juniper-covered, rocky terrain. There were four of them, running faster than what seemed possible. I've seen various animals running over rough terrain: big horn sheep might be the most impressive. I'll certainly never forget the time Coffee Girl confronted a platoon of them halfway up a sky island west of Phoenix.

Most impressive was their military organization: they worked as a team to fend off the big bad wolf (Coffee Girl). Think of the legionnaires of ancient Rome locking their shields as they faced the enemy. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep can bound up mountains as if gravity barely mattered.

The four young men escaping through the brush were amazingly fast on such rugged terrain. Mere "illegals" wouldn't have tried so hard; they were probably smugglers. I got on the cellphone -- another advantage to hiking up cell tower mountains -- and called Border Patrol. 

Then the white SUV began moving again...towards me. Was that caused by them seeing me use a cellphone? I really didn't know if they were the Good Guys or the Bad Guys. I kept talking to the dispatcher on the other end of the phone, trying not to sound too panicky. What should I say to them if they were Bad Guys, perhaps there to pick up the smugglers or illegals. In a state of nervousness I would never manage to translate, "The Border Patrol knows where I am; don't make it worse for yourselves," into Spanish.

When the white SUV got to me, they rolled the tinted windows down. The first guy I saw was a young Mexican-looking man. But he did have a barely readable US Border Patrol hat on, and his English was perfect. He was quite calm; in fact, he and his Anglo partner seemed to be young buckaroos who were quite enjoying their job. He said that the absconders were dope smugglers. Like me he had counted seven. He wanted to know if I had seen any backpacks on them.

All told, about four Border Patrol vehicles came up the road. A minute later I saw through binoculars a green-uniformed officer with a German shepherd checking out the area where the first bunch had gone through.

At the end of the hike one of the officers told me they (the dog presumably) had found the dope. But did they ever find the seven smugglers? Or did they even try? Maybe it's standard procedure for smugglers to ditch the backpack when they think they are going to get caught, at which point they just become standard illegals subject to the usual "catch and release". After all, how can the Border Patrol prove in court than any of them was actually carrying the backpack? And why even bother, if the smugglers will go back to Mexico eventually, tell the drug lord that they have no money from the deal, and get murdered? I am ignorant of how this racket works, but have a certain curiosity about it today, of course.

Epilogue: today at sunset my binoculars see a white spot one switchback above where all the action took place yesterday. From this spot, 700 feet above me, the Border Patrol SUV can see everything including my trailer's screen door. How nice!


Ted said…
You're a braver man than I, Boonie. One hint of an incident like that and I'd be off looking for a new place to visit.