Organ Pipe, The Quiet Conflict



*this article originally appeared in The Nugget News, March 22, 2016

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, established in 1937, is composed of 517 square miles of majestic Sonoran desert, bordered to the south by Mexico, to the east by the massive Tohono O’Odham Reservation, and to the west by the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. A designated UNESCO biosphere reserve, it is 95 percent designated wilderness. It is home to numerous species of birds, cacti, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, and numerous historical sites. It may be one of the most beautiful National Monuments in our country.

It is also one of the most active and dangerous narcotics and human smuggling corridors in the world.

On August 9, 2002, 28 year old park ranger Kris Eggle was shot and killed while pursuing members of a drug cartel, who had fled into the United States after committing a series of murder in Mexico. This event, combined with others, prompted an 11 year closure of America’s “most dangerous national park.”

The park was reopened in 2014, but it is still quietly dangerous.

Organ Pipe lies within the US Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, in the Ajo Area of Responsibility, which includes 64 miles of border, and over 7000 square miles of hard, unforgiving desert.

While on assignment with Warfighter Outfitters, I learned from USBP Agents that while the park is now almost entirely open to visitors, their own estimates suggest that at any one time, as many as 200 people are actively smuggling narcotics or human beings in the hardscrabble mountain ranges and broad desert valleys.

The Border Patrol and Park Service utilize a broad array of technology, old and new, to accomplish their mission, including daily horseback patrols, ATVs, aerial drones, ground sensors, infrared radar, and sign-cutting techniques. There are over 500 Border Patrol Agents assigned to the Ajo station, and they are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And still the people keep coming.

US Border Patrol statistics for 2015 show that in the Tucson Sector alone, which includes Ajo Station and Organ Pipe, over 63,000 apprehensions were made by Border Patrol and Park Service law enforcement agents. Some 6000 of those apprehensions were unaccompanied juveniles. 14,481 were of people other than Mexican descent. In the same time period, agents seized 746,868 pounds of marijuana, 153 pounds of cocaine, were assaulted 87 times in the course of their duties, and rescued 790 individuals in danger of dying in the vast Sonoran desert.

Of the more than 63,000 apprehension cases, slightly less than half were accepted by the US Attorney’s office for prosecution.

Sometimes people just give up, beaten by the desert. For them the Border Patrol has installed rescue beacons, a big red button on a box, affixed to a tall radar tower. Pressing the button means rescue. In Border Patrol parlance, they are referred to as “quitters.”

One Border Patrol agent told me: “We find everybody out here. Families of Romanians. Indians, Chinese, you name it, they are all here.” He pointed to nearby Sweetwater Pass and Alli Wau, gaps in the Puerto Blanco range. “They have scouts up there, right now, for days and sometimes for weeks, with full blown camps, and they have a radio network that stretches all the way to Phoenix.”

This agent described finding and dismantling the “spider holes” and campsites, often equipped with solar panels for recharging radios and cell phones.

He assured me that every move we were making was under observation from both sides of the border, and being communicated over the radio.

One look at the terrain, vast, open, commanded by towering peaks and occupied by armed smugglers, instantly dispels any notion of easy solutions.

Another agent described the incredible tension of making large apprehensions alone, in an incredibly vast desert where backup may take 45 minutes to arrive, and a life-flight helicopter takes two hours from the minute the call is made. “It’s scary. You never know. It only takes one person in a group to turn the whole thing sour.”

Steve Birt, 60, in his third year as a full time park volunteer, who was assisting Warfighter Outfitters as they dismantled a smuggling site and collected hundreds of pounds of trash—water bottles, running shoes, improvised backpacks, food wrappers, and piles of “carpet slippers,” an improvised attempt to deter Border Patrol sign-cutters from following smugglers—said, “I wish to God that school kids could come down here to see how bad it can be.”

He pointed south to Mexico, only ten yards away through the pedestrian fence, where a ransacked collection of houses and abandoned vehicles sat among the cactus, then slowly dropped his arm. “It’s about awareness,” he said, sighing. “On both sides of the border.”




  1. Well Craig…

    You walked on a knife blade’s edge and did not fall.
    No mean feat.
    It’s too late to put the Genie back in the bottle.
    All we can do now is to make the best of a bad and border divided situation. Humanity tested for what it’s worth. The border may be a symbol of the battleground, but the source of it runs far from both sides of the border. Your focus on the border all the more brings this out. Blood, sweat & tears!

    — ST



    1. Indeed. The refugee/immigrant issue is only going to get worse, worldwide, as every tinhorn dictator and dope smugger or terrorist group feels righteous. It has always been happening, of course, it is merely more visible now.



  2. Correct Craig!

    Let us be very wary (perhaps I am being overly optimistic that enough will be) that we are not drug by our heels into false and dangerous agendas.
    We have seen it all too many times before.

    — ST

    “The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.”




    1. Agreed. I am also constantly at war with my inner-cynic, who wants me to despair. For a while I did, but I am now resisting, and refusing. There is still much good in the world.



  3. CRAIG– here is what I just shared on FB… terrific and important writing brother!

    Worth the read for anyone who has given thought to on-the-border realities of the illegal immigration issue. The author is a friend here in town who just spent a week with Warfighter Outfitters working with the Border Patrol in Arizona. Cognitive Dissonance, A Borderland Variation *this piece originally appeared in “The Nugget News”, March 22, 2016 The idea that we can hold two disparate ideas in our heads at the same time, and agree with them both,… THEBUNKHOUSECHRONICLE.COM

    On Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 7:16 PM, The Bunkhouse Chronicle wrote:

    > Craig Rullman posted: ” *this article originally appeared in The Nugget > News, March 22, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, established in > 1937, is composed of 517 square miles of majestic Sonoran desert, bordered > to the south by Mexico, to the east by the massi” >



    1. Thank you, Jim. I appreciate your friendship, and your efforts in helping push this stuff out there. I think there is so much disinformation, and general ignorance as to the realities, that it is important to spread load the truth as much as possible.



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