(Published September 2007 in Arivaca Connection.)
There is risk to trekking alone in the wilderness. Most experts advise against it. The risks are of no laughing matter, and I treat them seriously. By far the greatest risk is one of accident and not being able to summon help. My cell phone, which I use only for emergencies, is of course worthless in the more remote borderland areas. When I’m a few feet from the interstate, it starts working. I would need a satellite phone.
As a gentle nature photographer, I’m basically a chronicler of tadpoles and beetle larvae. The hardships of trekking remote areas are rewarded by the discovery of unique photo-opportunities. Photographers, when working, do not hike, and that’s why they often go alone. Hiking implies steadiness. A photographer’s pace is maddeningly erratic to normal people. Transit time is wasted time, so getting to places is often speedy and harrowing. Then, once a “photo-op” is found, the lingering in the heat can often be too much for companions.
I was by myself mid-day August 19 in Pine Canyon, which runs roughly north from Atascosa Peak near Ruby Road towards the Tumacacoris. Pine Canyon runs into Peck Canyon, which separates the Atascosas from the Tumacacoris. Just finished photographing a large (during monsoon) waterfall, I decided to climb up the ridge above the waterfall and perch for lunch. While there, a hundred feet above the canyon, I finished lunch quickly since I was hungry and, moreover, the one-half submarine sandwiches from Safeway are now only 3 inches long, so lunch went down quickly.
Reflecting on this, I was suddenly disappointed to hear voices. Solitude is a goal and reward of being a nature photographer, and nothing interferes with nature photography like people. Glancing down to the waterfall where I had just been, I saw that several young men had just come down the same canyon I was going up, but I had missed them by being on higher ground, while they had passed below me.
They rested for a time, but it was brief, because in their business transit time is also wasted time. I realized they were all young hale Hispanics, probably not out to admire the wildflowers. They carried neither water, food, nor supplies, only huge packs of contraband. They all got up and then I pulled out my telephoto lens.
They started to head out from the shade and I snapped some shots. They marched off towards Peck Canyon and perhaps east to the area between Rio Rico and the town of Tumacacori. I then waited a bit, headed the opposite direction, and trekked out over the ridgetops, a task twice as hard but probably more than twice as safe. I eventually lurched back to my truck, and then to Ruby Road, on which I flagged down two young serious border patrol agents to whom I gave my report. What the agents did with the information, including GPS coordinates, I don’t know. I assume they used their radios to call it in.