(Published April 2007 in Arivaca Connection.)
When I arrived in Arizona only three years ago, Lochiel, and the entire superb agricultural San Rafael Valley east of Nogales, represented an intoxicating turn backward in time, to a more distant and perhaps innocent Arizona, a rural and remote place that remained relatively unscarred by heavy hands.
Sometimes called a ghost town, Lochiel’s residents would
probably not consider themselves as ghosts.
Sure, there was the great and colorful ranching history that had its missteps with overgrazing and degradation of Arizona’s previously vast cienegas, or wetlands. There were scars left by mining, too, some of them gigantic as a result of the open-pit method. But in my mind I forgave these defacements of nature because these economic activities were part of Arizona’s heritage, just as boundless open spaces were part of this heritage.
As soon as I began to get serious about turning my camera to the land, sky, and their critters, however, I rapidly began to become aware of the tremendous threats to Southern Arizona. It seemed that every time I discovered a new place, there immediately occurred an impending attack upon it. Massively wasteful exurban sprawl at Red Rock next to Ironwood Forest. Proposed new open pit mines from outside interests in the Santa Rita Mountains and eastern Santa Cruz County. A proposed freeway through pristine San PedroValley.
Lochiel had a road bulldozed through its center, which
follows the entirety of this new vehicle barrier to
the river and beyond. What additional fencing is to come?
I concluded with dread that Southern Arizona is under attack. Whether it comes from unsustainable development techniques or invasive species – plant or human, it is not to be minimized – the natural and rural heritage of Southern Arizona is under massive attack. I further concluded that Southern Arizona is no longer a place to be exploited, it is a place to be preserved. And I’ll probably spend the rest of my days coming to terms with that.
Lochiel has such a great history: the place where Fray Marcos de Niza, the first European west of the Rockies, passed in 1539, mining, ranching, and Pancho Villa. And the charm of the beautiful valley drained by the Santa Cruz River south into Mexico before it turns northward back to the U.S., a river segment which still has natural-flowing water. Also, more recently, for the movie buff, the Lochiel area is a place of film locations with “Oklahoma” and John Wayne’s “McClintock”. Most recently, it is a place of conservation with the San Rafael Ranch State Park and other preservation efforts.
The bucolic valley can be seen beyond Lochiel, and the border (a simple cattle fence to the right of the cottonwoods) the way it looked two years ago.
The dilemma of illegal border crossings is a complex one based in politics and social, legal and international policies. From an environmental point of view, the effect of walls on our border can have the intended effect of limiting vehicle and human traffic which scars the land deeply. But, as these pictures show, walls, depending upon their attributes and accompanying features such as roads and lights, can be massive problems in themselves.
A charm is lost, but other things are gained. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the cost of installing these walls is only exceeded by the cost of removing them. If all political and social causes of our Mexican-border wall construction were suddenly erased, who would then pay to erase the walls and their scars?