PALOMINAS, Ariz. – About five miles south of town you begin to see the makeshift camps. Every quarter mile or so a truck, or a car; and alongside a folding chair and usually a cooler. You also see flags of all types. The blue of Colorado, the yellow of New Mexico and the stars and stripes of these great states.
In the wind-whipped shadows the men and women, some in fatigues, sit for eight-hour shifts, their binoculars aimed not for the famous birdwatching in Cochise county, but trained to spot illegal aliens making the trek through the Coronado National Forest (search) and into the area of Sierra Vista, Arizona.
On this last day of the Minuteman Project (search), a crisp wind is further drying the arid land. At 5,000 feet, spring remains visible in the green brush and low trees that call this area of the Southwestern desert home. The puffy clouds leave dramatic dark spots across a valley almost too vast to imagine.
For some of these volunteers lucky enough to be stationed in still-springlike areas, shade isn't tough to find in the scrub, and windbreaks can come in tall yellowish grasses.
We follow a couple from San Diego, David and Marisa. They decided at the last minute to jump into their sedan and take the spirited trip from the friendly confines of Southern California to the harsh surroundings of the southern Arizona desert.
David tells me he thinks seasonal workers should have a program to come legally into the United States, but he's here to volunteer because "a terrorist might try and cross this porous border."
He continues: "I support George Bush and voted for him in the last two elections, but on this issue we differ a bit. Our borders need to be more secure ... we need more agents down here protecting us."
David's thoughts are shared by many who have come here in recent weeks. As this portion of the project finishes its run, other stands are already being planned. As a dust storm envelops a group preparing for its eight-hour shift, organizers tout a strategy to watch the northern border in Vermont and possibly Michigan. They are proud of the support given by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), and they promise to be on the border in the Golden State by the end of May.
As we caravan with the last batch of volunteers headed to their posts, I think of some constants in our eight trips to the border region over the last couple of years. Piles of garbage can still be found along the well-worn paths that illegals traverse to enter the U.S. from Mexico.
The people who live here say they aren't anti-immigrant, but they are worried about their safety. Border agents have the difficult task of fielding pressure from all sides, while trying to plug the Nile with a speedboat.
As always, we look forward to coming back to this breathtaking region. For people like David and Marisa, they hope the eight hours they spend sitting alongside a road in the middle of the high desert will do a small part to press for a solution to a complicated problem.