Monday, September 5, 2011

9 Days in the Desert: Day 7

Day 7: Dead Man and The Wall

Today I take on Dead Man’s Pass, a drop in the saddle on the south side of the Baboquivaris mountain range, with Lilly and Elizabeth, a long-term volunteer that recently broke up with her live-in girlfriend in Brooklyn to move to Tucson--I think the desert is her other woman. Lilly decides to rename Dead Man’s, Gumdrop Valley, in an attempt to make it less intimidating, and I am happy to give it a try. This is Lilly and my first hike with long-timer, Elizabeth. Lilly and I have both had a hard time physically through the week, and I warn Elizabeth of this on the drive, but she doesn’t seem bothered.

The Baboquivaris run north and south right into the Pozo Verde, a range that runs east and west and rides the border. Dead Man is an important drop because it is the western most point No More Deaths can reach without heading into the Tohono O’odham reservation where we do not have permission to go. The reservation can be the most dangerous area to cross and many people pass through Dead Man’s before heading in, so this point is our only chance to get them water. It is also a good spot because this is where people can pass through as they cross from one side of the range to the other, or as they move north over the ridge. Because it is such a well-trafficked area, BP are notorious for slashing our jugs here, and this drop has turned into a cat and mouse chase with decoys and attempts to out hike them.

Elizabeth, Lilly, and I take ten gallons up the north peak first because Elizabeth says it is the harder side, and it is best to get it over early. We find the decoy pile and walk another 100 yards up a steep, rocky path over grown with an assortment of cactus like nopales with red tunas, barrel cactus with orange sunburst flowers, tall noble saguaro, and crooked cholla. I walk slow to avoid getting stuck with white needles. Before we drop the water I draw the Virgen de Guadalupe on my three jugs. Then we walk back down to the saddle and up the south side, the “easier” side, which hugs a barbed wire fence marking the reservation border. When we don’t find any water on the trail we head back to the car for a short rest and to pick up another 10 gallons before heading up to the south side. On the 2nd trip up I am surprised by how much sweat slicks from my skin and how hard it is to breath.

“This was easier the first time,” I say feeling the pain of the climb.

“You didn’t have 3 gallons on you before,” Elizabeth informs me.

“Oh yeah.” I laugh.

“Each gallon is 8 pounds. That’s a lot of weight you’re carrying,” Elizabeth says.

“I wish you hadn’t told me that. 24 pounds sounds so much worse than three gallons.”


At the top there is a gorgeous view expanding west across the reservation and one just as spectacular expanding east. It is the closest I have been to the Baboquivari peak, loving nicknamed Babo, that overlooks the entire desert and that has been like a watcher of our work.

It feels good to be able to drop 20 gallons at Dead Man’s Pass with two other women. I feel strong. After a week of being in the desert I have conquered a fear that has tied my chest in knots for days. I defeated Dead Man’s!

From there we tried to do a hike in Pozo Verde, but there was a lightning storm. Elizabeth said it was still fruitful because she was able to route good driving directions to the area, which will make a return trip much easier.

Then we drive to Sasabe, a border ghost town with a port of entry, to see “the wall.” The wall is a red rusted fence lined with tall metal beams that dips and rises with the terrain and haunts the sleepy dilapidated town.

Divides and walls happen everyday. Around the fire pit that night, people talk about feeling a division amongst long-term volunteers and newbies. People are still coping with the stresses of the week and with caring for multiple patients. I have been making myself mad trying to talk to people, trying to relate. I try to say something funny and no one laughs. I say something sad, and people walk away. Finding someone to speak to has become just as hard as anything else out here. Elizabeth shares with me that when she returns to Tucson for a few days of rest, she has a hard time being alone. She likes to be in groups of people in order to kill the thoughts. Kill the feeling. I realize I am also scared by the silence, and I have become desperate to talk it away. We are all building walls within ourselves.

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