NOTE: In the above map, and all Rio Grande maps that follow, the river runs from left to right.
Found some 25 or so miles upstream from the Gulf are the twin cities of Brownsville, TX and Matamoros, MX. Brownsville is situated at the downstream end of the heavily-populated Rio Grande Valley, known for its citrus production, as a winter destination for “snowbirds”, extraordinary birding and wildlife refuges, and the Brownsville Ship Channel, that connects it to the Gulf.
The Sabal Palm Sanctuary is located along the Rio Grande in Brownsville. A barrier was constructed to the north of the Sanctuary 10 years ago, leaving it (happily) intact.
The Santa Ana NWR is located on the Rio Grande, to the south of McAllen, and was saved from construction of a barrier by Congressional action in 2018.
Construction of 33 or more miles of barrier is slated for the Rio Grande Valley, over the objections of most property owners and much of the local population. In the news lately is the scheduled construction of a barrier through the National Butterfly Center, south of Mission, TX.
The Rio Grande Valley is a unique ecosystem, of a sort found nowhere else in the United States.
While showing off the beauties of these canyons, these photos also demonstrate that no artificial barriers are needed along the Rio Grande here. And that remains the case as one travels upstream into Big Bend National Park. The next canyon upstream from the Lower Canyons is Boquillas Canyon.
The put-in for the Boquillas Canyon run is located at Rio Grande Village, in Big Bend National Park. Found across the river is the Mexican town of Boquillas. The inhabitants of Boquillas depended, in the past, on Park visitors who crossed in row boats to purchase their crafts, and this trade has been disrupted by new Department of Homeland Security restrictions. Boquillas Canyon is 33 miles in length.
The part of Mexico south of the Rio Grande in this area is extremely remote, wild and un-populated. Again, there is no need for a barrier along the river here.
The next canyons upstream are the short Hot Springs and San Vicente Canyons. The ten mile Mariscal Canyon comes next.
Equally forbidding to Mariscal Canyon is the next canyon upstream – the 19 mile Santa Elena Canyon. The put-in for Santa Elena Canyon is Lajitas, with the take-out at the mouth of the canyon. The Mexican village of Lajitas used to have commerce with the Texas town of Lajitas, including rowing their children across the river to go to school in the latter. But this, too, has been disrupted.
Santa Elena Canyon is the most upstream canyon in Big Bend National Park, but one more canyon is found farther upstream – Colorado Canyon.
Upstream of Colorado Canyon are the twin towns of Presidio, TX and Ojinaga, MX. A north flowing Mexican tributary, the Rio Conchos, joins the Rio Grande at Ojinaga. This river replenishes the Rio Grande, which is otherwise dry at this point. The Rio Grande is dry, in fact, for the approximately 150 mile distance upstream to Fort Quitman. This stretch is now known as “The Forgotten River”, and has been taken over by the invasive tamarisk tree, with the river channel eradicated. Here, the river ran through the howling wilderness of the Chihuahuan Desert, and what’s left of it is in no need of a barrier. The 70 miles from Fort Quitman to El Paso, TX/Juarez, MX is populated, with barriers already in place where needed.
The border leaves the river a few miles north of El Paso, and, from there, follows the southern boundaries of New Mexico, Arizona and California westward. Big Hatchet Peak is located in the bootheel of New Mexico, where, at a point about 100 miles west of El Paso, the border makes a right angle turn, to run south for 30 miles, before turning again and continuing westward, to meet the southern boundary of Arizona. This area is extremely desolate and in no need of a barrier.
The last stretch of the border that Kathy and I have visited is that in the vicinity of Hereford, AZ. Here, the Huachuca Mountains rise immediately to the north of the border. Because of its proximity to Mexico, this area is famed for Mexican bird species that can be seen in few other, if any, places in the United States.
These mountains are known to serve as a corridor for migrants, and Border Patrol activity is evident in the area.
Kathy and I have no direct experience of the border west of Hereford, AZ, which passes through the Sonoran Desert before it intersects (and follows for about 20 miles) the Colorado River, from San Luis, AZ, to Yuma, AZ. From there, as the southern boundary of California, it follows a beeline to the Pacific Ocean. Again, much of the border runs through desolate and largely unpopulated terrain.
Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the entirety of this border is nonsensical. Yes, one can make an argument for erecting barriers along certain additional high-trafficked stretches of the border, and that will certainly occur, regardless of how the current stand-off is resolved. Otherwise, I think it unlikely that Trump’s 5.7 billion dollar wall, to run along the entirety of the border, will ever see the light of day.
(photos by the author except where otherwise noted)