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Image: Wikimedia

On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.

Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents, and spurred state lawmakers to pass several laws cracking down on illegal immigrants within the state.

“The real problem we have with safety is drug dealing, not the people looking for work,” Hires said from a loudspeaker system at the front of the van. Three different border patrol agents riding ATVs raced by, waving. “What we are trying to do is retake this landscape so we can all be free to be out here,” he added.

Twenty minutes later, the vans arrived at Quitobaquito, where two young men toting heavy M14 rifles were already waiting. The rangers arrived at the springs two hours earlier to scour the area and make sure no one was hiding.

Read the rest of Liz Goodwin’s in-depth article at The Ticket.

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