Desert Desolation

Someone once asked me what kind of landscape I was. I immediately said “desert”. I absolutely love the desert because of its desolate beauty. I feel like it calls to me. This desert was especially meaningful to me though. Here’s why...

Tres Mil Cuatrocientos Noventa y Seis

Three thousand four hundred and ninety-six. That’s the number of deaths that took place in this landscape between 1999 and 2019 according to a humanitarian organization that works in this region. Most of those who died did so chasing a dream of a better life as they immigrated through the desolate Sonoran desert. As someone who was fortunate enough to reach that dream, I felt a deep sense of grief as I walked among the cacti and brush imagining the desperation of individuals who walked through and came to their final rest on that same ground.

This photo was taken in 2020 inside Organ Pipe National Park, which is located south of Phoenix Arizona on the U.S. – Mexico border. The 30-foot tall steel wall cutting through the landscape is one among many factors that force migrants to attempt to enter the U.S. via more remote and dangerous routes.

Diecinueve Punto Cuatro

I love photography, especially landscape photography. Yet my day job is in research. Despite that professional skillset, it was difficult to find a definitive cost of the wall that was built under the Trump administration. The “nineteen point four” billion figure previously listed on the Customs and Border Protection website back when I submitted this photo to the exhibit has since been taken down by the Biden administration.

There are a lot of factors resulting in different estimates of the actual cost of the new wall. According to a recent BBC article, about $15 billion has been spent on the wall so far. A wall that currently spans across 450 miles of the 2000 mile U.S. – Mexico border.

As I walked alongside the massive structure, looking into the Mexican landscape on the other side, I ran into another curious individual. We both mused around freely, unconcerned; relieved to be immune to this insurmountable barrier.

Cabeza Prieta 052301

It was on Wednesday May 23rd, 2001 that 26 people were found by the Border Patrol in the Cabeza Prieta wilderness as they attempted to cross a 50-mile stretch of this desert landscape. Fourteen of those people were found dead from exposure after having spent four days walking aimlessly in the 115 degree heat. The remaining twelve barely escaped with their lives. This was the single deadliest attempt at crossing the border by a group of migrants, all of whom were from Mexico.

Almost a decade ago, I read a book titled The Devil’s Highway, written by Luis Alberto Urrea. The book recounts the agonizing story of these 26 individuals. I’ve re-read the book several times, mesmerized and brought to tears by the excruciating details and by the dreams that motivated those migrants to embark in such a dangerous journey. Ever since learning about this story, I had wanted to see and feel this landscape. This photo was taken next to the border wall, looking west towards the seemingly endless desert of the Cabeza Prieta wilderness--the landscape that took their lives.

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