Borderland: El Paso and Southeast New Mexico (March 2014)

The Borderland.  It stretches from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California for over 1,900 miles.  The terrain is arid and uninhabitable--I visited the stretch from El Paso, a few miles from the border, then drove up to Alamogordo, and down through the Organs to Mesilla.  A straight shot from El Paso to Mesilla would have taken up 43 short miles of this vast border space, but I took a circuitous and somewhat scenic route, the Old Road to Mesilla.  When you visit Mesilla, you are more or less 100 miles from the border if you stay on I-10.  The service road (NM-9) takes you close to the border and leads to Columbus, NM, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to take that ride through the desert, except if you're going to Palomas, Mexico.  But I'm told it is ill advised. The Borderland is more than just an imaginary boundary.  Indian reservations, ranchers and badlands are all present there.  On the Mexican side, Cuidad de Juarez is heavily populated, very close to the line.  The Borderland (I'm talking El Paso to Mesilla) projects everything you can imagine about the Southwest:  cowgirls and cowboys, ghost towns, adobe structures, pecan groves, vineyards, Catholic churches, scenic routes, the border fence and Ciudad de Juarez.  The Borderland closest to the actual boundary is predictably dry, dusty, sunny, and desolate.  A few miles in, It thrives if you're on the right side of the fence.  Peering across the Rio Grande's dry riverbed into Juarez was a sobering experience.  In the area where I stood, less than 100 yards away, the poverty grips you. It's like looking into a View Master, but the reels were made by Uncle Fester, and not by Disney.  The partitioning of El Paso del Norte in 1848 (vis-à-vis the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo) leaves no question who received the short end of that stick. I saw areas where months ago narco-traffckers murdered innocents and fellow traffickers in Juarez and across the border.  I saw an area of Juarez where young Mexican women were dumped after being disappeared and murdered.  The bleached desert exposes une pâleur de tristesse.  

The border fence itself is brown and massive.  It was as long as the eye could see in either direction.  I was impressed by its size and fortitude.  It stands silently, re-emphasizing its purpose-yet the ones so desperate, so determined, manage to get to the other side, only to wind up on more desolate deserted soil.  But for them, it's American soil.  One gets a sense of why people come when staring across the way into Juarez.  One gets a sense of why the El Paso del Norte is so enviable.  Which ever side of the spectrum you may fall on the issue, the fence will remain and the agents who protect it deserve our respect and support, as their jobs are tedious and extremely dangerous.  I left the area with new comprehension and respect for all of the participants in this 21st century border war.

For another perspective, NPR recently did a whole series on the border, which is worth listening to.

Changing gears, since I didn't mean to go down such a dark path, but as a visitor to the Borderland, I sensed the border is something that becomes a part of your psyche, but also something that you can ignore and dismiss, if you live north of it.   There were repeated warnings not to cross it, but it otherwise doesn't directly affect the lives of the average American living in the Borderland.  

In La Union, New Mexico, the wine flows at the southwest New Mexico vineyard of La Viña.  Tastings/flights are inexpensive, and their estate-bottled varietals are succulent and refreshing.  I loved the Viognier and Tempranillo. There are nearly a dozen other vineyards in that area to sample great New Mexican wine.  Old Mesilla is always a treat.  This time I ate at the Double Eagle.  Great margaritas, but I must say I prefer the food at La Posta.  The art galleries and curio shops offer authentic New Mexican art, jewelry and other trinkets.  I was a little perplexed by the Nambé store.  I expected to see crafts from the Nambé Pueblo, but instead, I saw über-designed alloyed cookware and utensils, apparently having nothing to do with the Nambé Indians.  The prices would make you shudder!  Anyway, I even found a wonderful yoga centric store just off the plaza.  This is an easy area to pass an afternoon.  Brunch is great at La Savoy de Mesilla.  Upscale and delicious.  

Cowboy Days at the Farm and Ranch Museum was mildly entertaining, but the cool weather and the winds made for a less than enthusiastic turnout.  The Organs are aptly named and quietly loom in the rearview, seemingly ever-present on the east side of Las Cruces. Orogrande was a bizarre little area.  A tiny strip of land halfway between El Paso and Alamogordo used to be a booming mining town in Otero County that eventually went bust.  Its former name was Jarilla Junction.  For me, it was the perfect location for a Rob Zombie horror movie.  Stopping at that abandoned gas station was enough for me.  I kept expecting Captain Spaulding to show up offering me a tour of his Museum of Monsters & Madmen.  Creepy.  I didn't go off-road to see the old mines, but not sure that would be that interesting.  

Back on the west side of El Paso, there are some great restaurants like Ripe and SuZu, an Asian-Mexican Fusion restaurant. I also learned the Texas one-step and line dancing at Little Bit of Texas.  When in Rome...

White Sands was a blast! (No pun intended.)  And is my next post!