Friday, March 25, 2011

Traveling and Boondocking in the "Disputed Territories" of Arizona

Backroads Information--Traveling and Boondocking in the "Disputed Territories" of Arizona

I have been traveling, working and exploring the backroads of America's public lands for well over 40 years.  In all that time, my personal safety was compromised only ONCE.  However, today's public lands are changing rapidly with cultivated marijuana gardens,  the mentally ill homeless in campgrounds and increases in rural crime.  The reality in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is law enforcement and federal officers are dying to protect America.

In southern Arizona, the Federal government admits in signage that your personal safety is at risk. Quite frankly, they recommend NOT traveling or camping in these areas.

Here are some of my observations and hints for traveling in the "disputed territories of Arizona".  First, recognize the checkpoints and Border Patrol scattered 50 to 100 miles north of the Mexican border are there to protect U.S. Citizens; and, second, understand the danger posed by smugglers and illegals crossing the border.

If you have not been through an "internal" border check-point it is a sight to behold.  Various sensors line the roadway for almost a quarter-mile before you even reach a Border Patrol agent!!  By the time you reach him you probably have been scanned at every known frequency and checked against every known database. 

Some tips:  If you have had radiation scans or body tests done recently, bring a physician's report.  These radiation remnants can trip the sensors, and both you and the Border Patrol have to go through all the hoop-la to let you continue your travels.   Yes, those scanners are sensitive.

Likewise, a huge issue is the massive quantities of "recreational" drugs being smuggled into the country.  So DO NOT travel with them in southern Arizona!!  Even Willie Nelson got busted at an internal check-point for carrying six ounces of pot in Texas!!!  Here is the story:  Willie Nelson Drug Bust.   If they're gonna bust Willie at a check point, what do you think your odds are of avoiding a bust??

Get one of those new bio-metric passports.  For years I crossed into the US with a smile and wave from the Federal employees manning the border.   Then there was a revolution in the country of my birth, and I got to see the inside of every small interrogation room at every border crossing I visited!  At one they even wanted TWO picture ID's, in ADDITION to my US passport.  Thankfully, at that time I was still a federal employee so I could show them my Federal employee card.  It got so bad that friends refused to ride with me when we approached a border crossing.

All of that stopped when I got one of these new bio-metric passports.  I don't know what's in it, however, when I die and meet St. Peter at the pearly gates I suspect he is going to start reading from my bio-metric passport!  So, carry your new passports to Arizona so they can easily be scanned.   If you are lucky enough to live in the state of WA, this will be extremely important, because state legislators have opted to be the last state to offer drivers licenses to illegals. No wonder our insurance is so outrageous!

I am sure there are other tips, but these are the ones I consider essential.  Considering all the stops and questions I have encountered, I must say I have ALWAYS been treated with respect (with the exception of one bad joke), at border crossings and internal check-points.  So make it easy on everyone, follow the rules.

It appears current Federal government policy is to try and stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers within so many miles of the border.  This is the reason for the blimps, sensors, border patrols, and mandatory road check-points.  However, once past the "disputed territories" enforcement is pretty lax.  Everyone trying to cross the border illegally knows this.  Once they get past southern Arizona, they are home free.

This is what makes encounters with drug smugglers and illegals so dangerous.  Think about it. They have paid a year's wages for a coyote and traveled for months to get this far.  And if they perceive you might be responsible for stopping them this close to their goal, things will get out of hand fairly quickly.

Daytime roads are full of Border Patrol trucks. You will see them everywhere, including trailheads and rv parks.  Sometimes you will see people moving north during the daytime. Nighttime is the most dangerous.  The astronomy clubs around Arizona have stopped having night star parties in remote areas, for this reason.  It is much harder to discern motive in the dark.

My recommendation  when confronted is to always leave as quickly as possible.  Do not let anger, pride, ego, etc. get in the way of safety.  I never know whether to feel safer or worried when I show up at a trailhead and there are several Border Patrol vehicles parked there...but I do feel thankful for these unrecognized heroes who put their lives on the line every day without much support from the flacks and politicians. 

I will only camp only in larger Federal or State campgrounds in the "disputed territories".  Boondocking outside of campgrounds is banned in most by BLM and Forest Service areas because of the inherent danger.  There are a few areas where boondocking is still possible, but talk to the management agency and the Border Patrol if you plan to camp in an area for the 14 day limit.

I know there is a lot of discussion about self-defense and staying in these areas.  I do not believe in self-defense as a strategy to avoid trouble.  I don't have a problem with self-defense, but I think NOT putting yourself in a dangerous situation is much preferable.

This issue has been escalating for nearly 25 years.  Hopefully, one of these days we will be able to hike, camp and explore the beauty of southern Arizona without concerns for our personal safety.  But until then, be careful out there!

As the National Park Service says below "your safety is YOUR responsibility".


Jim and Sandie said...

Such a sad commentary on the world we live in. Sad but absolutely necessary.

Linda said...

A bunch of us stayed at a BLM area off Sidewinder Road west of Yuma in January without problems. Maybe because there were a bunch of us? With lots of dogs to act as our early warning system?

Vladimir Steblina said...

When I researched the web for information on this posting I found a report from the General Accounting Office that the Border Patrol considers the Yuma area as the only part of the Mexican border than is secured.

They were talking about the area patrolled from the Yuma Office. I am not sure how far east that extends.

The number of people crossing the border is amazing. Official apprehensions were in the 500,000 range. Figure out how many get through and you have an estimate of the number of people you might meet.

A friend was viewing with his telescope in the "disputed territories" last year. His friends had packed up and left and he was just putting his telescope into the car when five individuals speaking Spanish started running towards his car.

It was 1:00 am. He jumped in his car and almost ran over two of them as he fled the area. Speaking to him he felt bad about endangering them, however, he did not speak Spanish. It was 1:00 am and dark. He said, they could have been just looking for water or needed help, but they could have also wanted his vehicle since they were so close to leaving the "disputed lands".

That was the last of using HIS public lands for observing.

That is the sad part of the talk from the politicians and no action. It puts average folks in harms way.

Being in a crowd definitely helps. Not sure about dogs, but many immigrants are not exposed to dogs and therefore are fearful of large dogs.

Dugg said...

I know of no dispersed camping ban on any public lands in the "disputed territories" as a result of the border issue, so I'll continue to enjoy a quiet month there every spring.

While it's certainly true that one could encounter malevolence in the middle of nowhere, I still feel way safer in the National Forests than in most larger US cities.

Vladimir Steblina said...

The southern portions of the Coronado National Forest and the BLM lands around San Pedro were all posted closed to dispersed camping.

The Coronado worded it as "camping in campgrounds and DESIGNATED sites ONLY". A couple of the BLM signs stated the closure was for safety reasons.

Once we got above I-8 the signs banning dispersed camping were gone and if fact, replaced by welcoming signs.

Most public lands are safer than cities. However, I would still be alert and watchful.


Dugg said...

The San Pedro National Riparian Area has banned all dispersed camping as far back as the mid-90s---there's just something about water in the desert, especially anything flowing, that's a natural magnet to overuse and abuse.

I'll keep an eye out for these new No Camping signs in the southern Coronado NF. But to be clear, the pic of the sign in your post is not prohibiting dispersed camping; it's just the FS's way of CYA.

Dugg said...

Also, the new "designated sites only" is a national thing common to many of the NFs, especially in popular areas that tend to be overused.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people in Tucson flock to the higher forests to escape the brutal summer heat.

As you know, the illegal immigration issue is a real hot potato in southern AZ. It's a genuine problem, but I truly believe that the public safety aspect is way overblown.

Vladimir Steblina said...

Dugg is talking about the Travel Management Plans that all National Forests are suppose to complete.

Several Forests have already completed their plans.

Here is the usbackroads article from last summer on this issue:

The Forest Service is preparing maps that show the areas open to dispersed camping. They are FREE. Be sure to pick them up if available since they are cheaper than buying the recreation map!!