Mapping the Border

I don't want to go on being just a root in the shadows,
vacillating, extended, shivering with dream,
down in the damp bowels of earth,
absorbing it, thinking it, eating it every day.

-Pablo Neruda from 'Walking Around'

Border issues in the news...

Retired UA geosciences prof Ed McCullough scours the desert to document migrant trails--and save lives

Ed McCullough retired as a geosciences professor at the University of Arizona 10 years ago, and he stepped down as dean of science way back in 1992. But retirement hardly keeps him out of the field.

On a blazing morning at the end of August, he's bouncing north along Old Ruggles Road just west of Arivaca, a little town of ranchers and hippies some 10 miles north of the Mexican border. The dirt road might as well be called Old Rutted--it's that rough--but McCullough doesn't seem to mind. At 75, the snowy-haired scientist still loves driving his giant 4x4 into the wilderness--the "tulies," as he calls them--and getting out to hike through the spiny desert.

"I was a field geologist for years," he says, explaining away his impressive fitness. Some days, he admits, he treks for 12 hours, drinking water as he goes from the camel pack strapped to his back.

During his university days, he studied geologic hazards in the desert--what happens when rainwater floods the land or, conversely, what happens when too much groundwater has been pumped out underneath. Now, when he strides out into the desert on his long legs, he's not looking for land slides, or earth cracks, or other signs of subsidence.

Instead, he's searching for trash and clothes and footprints, the traces of human beings.

"There's the trail over there," he says, easing his huge vehicle to a stop in one of Old Ruggles' deepest ruts. To our right, up a hill on the east, he's spotted a path threading through the cactuses and mesquites.

When he climbs out, he sees two pairs of men's pants and two water bottles lying at the bottom of the hill. When he walks up the slope, he finds a couple of bottle caps and a mud-caked backpack, sure signs that this prickly path has been trod by undocumented migrants. It's one of scores of treacherous Arizona trails that border crossers walk to get farther into the United States.

"The deaths are taking place all along these corridors," he says.

Read the full article by Margaret Regan in the Tucson Weekly