2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Martyn Goddard

Our numeric destiny for this afternoon was to traverse the Geronimo Trail. The unpaved route leads northeast from Douglas, Arizona, into New Mexico's boot heel. The Apache chief Geronimo warred from these mountain strongholds until his final capture in 1886. He later appeared at Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 inaugural procession and the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair. The mountain ranges here rise from the desert floor, forming sky islands. As the Geronimo Trail climbed to a 6500-foot pass over the Peloncillo Mountains, the brushy desert flora was replaced by sycamores, oaks, and, on the leeward side, ponderosa pines. Stopping for cheese sandwiches in a shaded area, we saw a small ungulate's skeleton near a rock fire ring. It was perplexing. When the trail descended into the next basin, we had entered New Mexico. Just as the route turned north, we encountered four ragged Mexicans in the road, heading back toward Sonora. Goddard adamantly urged me not to stop. One of the men lifted a hand to his mouth; after a couple hundred yards we paused and left two bottles of water.

Randy Neal Caillouette waited, scowling, in the driveway of the next ranch on the road. He said they were drug mules-lucky thing we hadn't chanced upon others in the mountains; the men often are armed. Ah, now we knew who might have eaten that little goat or deer, whether roasted or raw. Two of this present group had banged on his door minutes earlier, but he shooed them away and called authorities in Animas. "I fed ten of them yesterday," he said. "That's some bucks out of my pockets. You can tell I'm not a rich guy." Because of the need to make El Paso, we declined his gracious offer to tour the ranch. His parting words were, "This is New Mexico, man. It's supposed to be the Land of Enchantment. Instead, it's the land of drugs and crackheads."

First thing Monday we crossed into Ciudad Ju rez, Chihuahua, once again picking up Route 2. Turning into an industrial park, we found some of the factories by which Ju rez has built its reputation. There were Toshiba (television chassis), Delphi (automotive thermal systems), and Molnlycke (surgical barrier drapes) complexes. Employment opportunities draw southerners up here, many of them breaking family connections. Hundreds of the women who do this assembly work have been the easy prey of sex killers, and the scandal about inadequate police investigation keeps growing.

Leaving behind the last of the fraccionamientos-the comfortable modern housing developments with gaudy flags indicating available new units-we entered the valley of the Rio Bravo del Norte (called Rio Grande in the States), with cotton and beef production and decrepit little villages. "It's like a Mad Max set," Goddard said. An irrigation canal carrying utterly fetid water paralleled the road. A group of men stood around watching someone change a tire, and in the tiny ejidos and larger villages, more people waited for buses, or simply waited. After about sixty miles, Route 2 is indicated as a primitive road leading into wild country, so we turned north. Officials at the port of entry mentioned Neely's Crossing, not far downstream, where big rigs leaving Interstate 10 can splash right through the riverbed in order to evade the highly variable Mexican import duties. If we'd cleared it first, one agent said, we could have taken the FJ through there legally. Interesting that this should come up, because that same day, three SUVs fled police on Interstate 10 and made for Neely's Crossing, where a Humvee in Mexican army livery waited on the U.S. side. A Cadillac Escalade was abandoned with 1474 pounds of marijuana, a Ford Explorer became stuck in the river and was unloaded by the smugglers before being set afire, and the third SUV and the Humvee made it back. Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West would tell the El Paso Times, "Let's clarify that it was the Mexican military. There's no doubt in my mind."

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