Phoenix Transect Project

PROJECT: Transient Like Me


Tuesday night, and every motel in this isolated desert place was fully booked. I drove down the strip, to La Siesta, the Copper Sands, and the ambitiously named Marine, 200 miles from the nearest sight of water, in Rocky Point, Mexico. All were flashing No Vacancy. At the Copper Sands, Ken felt sorry for me. He asked his wife Angie to find the nearest opening. She was less interested and turned the pages of the registry slowly before telling me that Friday was the earliest I could get a room. I wasn’t anticipating this. It had been a long day. I was tired and I really needed a shower. Ken explains why there wasn’t a single room left in town. “The border patrol has the whole place booked. All the rooms and the rental property too. It’s the busy season.”

It’s early spring and already the last of the cool weather, though cool is relative in this part of the country. There is a push of immigrants making the trip across the desert while they still can, before it is so hot it would kill most crazy enough to try it. In the back of the local newspaper, after the articles about the usual small town affairs, are a few scant paragraphs detailing the capture of 256 illegals last week outside of town. It reads like a police blotter. Like the most mundane and ordinary of things, but I find it shocking. With that many caught it’s easy to imagine the surrounding desert, like a sea of secret movement.

Ken felt bad and gives me a pat on the back to say so. But there is no room. After some floundering I find myself bothering the night host at one of many RV parks lining the highway. I shyly get around to my request. Just showers. She acts like why didn’t I just say so and charges me $3. On my way over I pass a trailer made into a rec room. Elderly sit inside playing cards. It looks nice, communal. I think about the snowbirds with envy. My own grandparents have a life that has always consisted of a 50 mile radius. These American migrants, mainly from small Midwest places like myself, look tan and vital.

This is the second time today I’ve felt thankful for the snowbirds. That morning at our camp site I killed my battery listening to the only radio station on the nearby Tohono O’odam nation play slow reggae songs, interspersed with a carefully spoken woman offering practical advice on things like employee management. Realizing my mistake I set off walking down the dirt road surrounding federal desert, looking for someone to give me a jump. A half mile or so later, the sight of an RV was a relief.

A couple from Nebraska were just packing up, and Darlene drove me back to my camp site in a red truck with a figurine of a saguaro wearing sunglasses impaled on the antenna. They had been camping for about four days and were about to move on, towards California, continuing a slow arch around the Southwest that started the previous Thanksgiving. “Eventually,” said Darlene, “we’ll have to go home.” They didn’t seem to be in a hurry. There was still Joshua Tree, the Salton Sea, and a meet up with a niece from San Diego. “She still has a job,” said Darlene with pity. Places like this are hot spots for their kind. Perhaps not conventionally beautiful, to Midwesterners like Darlene, the desert-scape offers just the right amount of exotic. “You think you’ve seen a lot of this country,” she told me, “but you haven’t seen nothing yet. Every state has its beauty.”

After I leave the RV park I drive back to the federal land outside of town. I ignore the permanent signage warning of smugglers and illegals and pull the car off the side of the road. Lying my sleeping bag on the ground I fall asleep staring at the stars and watching the moon set behind the mountains. I see two shooting stars and feel lucky. I hear coyotes close by and feel scared.

ContributorPhoto

Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Summer monsoon at the Circle-K
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: the former Copper Sands Market
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Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: the Stout children play guitar until their thumbs bleed at the Stout Hotel
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Dirt road in Ajo
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Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: The Sonoita port of entry
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: Border, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Highway 85
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Dutch at the VFW bar
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Company housing in Ajo
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Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Catholic church at the Gila Bend Reservation
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Date: unknown
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Springbreak at the Pizza Hut
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Orange tree at the Gringo Pass RV Park
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: Border, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Reserved table at the VFW
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Mercedes at Gringo Pass Cafe
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Date: unknown
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Border Patrol on duty
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Date: unknown
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Miner and son
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Cementary in Ajo
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Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Trailers for rent
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Date: unknown
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Rebel supply store
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Smiley and Jesus play with tops from Mexico
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Gringo Pass RV Park along the border fence of Lukeville
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: Border, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Taking down the flag
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Investors take a ride
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Marcelas for breakfast
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: High school reunion
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Super Bowl Sunday at Netos
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Date: unknown
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Midnight at the bowling alley
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
Keywords: People, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Organ Pipe National Park
Description:
Date: unknown
Keywords: Desert, All Images

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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Stout Hotel
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Unincorporated
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Contributor: Lara Shipley
Title: Behind the mine
Description:
Date: unknown
Location: Ajo
Keywords: Desert, All Images

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