Monday, July 14, 2014

Organ Pipe (and the rifle story)

Silly me...I put this post togehter a couple of weeks ago but forgot to put it up until someone reminded me. It's "the rest of the story" about my trip down to Organ Pipe National Monument when I was out in Arizona. And yes, this story has a rifle in it.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It's easy to find, really. Just go to the most remote part of southwest Arizona, and then drive south for another seventy miles.
I got there a bit before noon a couple of Saturdays ago. The sun was beating down and the temperature was already in the triple digits. Other than the two-lane strip of Hwy 85 and a small ranger station, there was nothing in sight but rock, sand and cactus. Just like I'd done several times already that morning, I asked myself again if I really wanted to hike off into all of that nothing in these temperatures. The answer: Of course. I'm here. I can't not do it.
I stopped in at the ranger station, named for Kris Eggle, a Park Service ranger who was murdered here by drug smugglers twelve years ago. Because this park is still a major corridor for smugglers trying to go around the Lukeville Port of Entry on it's southeastern border, I wanted to check in with the law enforcement rangers before setting out. Predictably, I found them processing drugs from an arrest that they'd just made; this park, down on the southern border, is still pretty hot, and not just from the sun.
I told them who I was and where I'd planned to hike. I wanted to make sure that the area wasn't closed to hiking like so much of the federal land along our border is. They suggested that I find another route than the one that I'd chosen, but I had my reasons so they warned me to take plenty of water and be careful as the smugglers would probably be coming through that area again as they monitor the rangers and the Border Patrol radios and know when they're all tied up processing arrests like they were at that moment. I told them that I wanted to take my rifle with me, both for protection and because I didn't want to leave it unattended in my car, and they thought that it would be a pretty good idea. They also promised to let Border Patrol agents in the area know that I'd be hiking with my rifle and warned me that they might well have patrols in the area as well. The main concern seemed to be simply avoiding "friendly fire" incidents. They told me to be sure to sign the trail registry just past the campground on my way out, and to be sure to sign out again when I returned. I told them where me vehicle would be parked and roughly when I expected to return. And then I was off.
Stopping at the trail registry--a steel post set in concrete with a metal box atop it containing a ledger book and a pen--I noted that no one else had been through here for four days, and judging by their times, they hadn't stayed long. Looking around, I can't say as I blamed them. But I had a mission plotted out, one that would take me to the old Victoria Mine site and beyond, hopefully as far as the Mexican Border just three miles south of the mine. I wanted to see the border for myself, and perhaps even cross it for a bit and take a few pictures. I mean, if all of Mexico can come north with impunity, what was to stop me from a brief southern incursion?
Well I was stopped before getting there, not by any fence or by the Mexican Policia, but by the environment. After three hours of hiking--including a side-trip to the mine where I found the rattlesnake--I was still about two miles north of the border fence when I saw that I'd used up about half of my water. Much as I wanted to press on, I calculated that to continue on would likely require another four hours' for the round trip down there and back, and that would just get me back to this spot, not my vehicle with more water, which was still two hours farther north from here. I realized that I'd misjudged how slowly I'd be moving across this terrain and how much water I'd drink, and I decided that it made sense to stop and turn back now while I still had water reserves left. Oh well...better safe than sorry. I turned to head back. And that's when I caught the glimpse of the two figures atop a ridge line some 400 yards or so away from me.
I'd just been idling along, looking at the scenery, about as close to Condition White as one could get out here, when I saw what looked like two men up on the ridge out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively I stopped and turned to look, but they were gone. I was sure I'd seen them though, and pretty sure that they'd seen me, so I jumped down into a dry wash that paralleled the ridge line and ran down the wash a short bit before throwing myself up on the south side of the wash behind some scrub and bringing my rifle up. I had my 4X ACOG mounted and I used it to scan the ridge where I'd seen them, and sure enough--a few seconds later, one of them was back, lying prone atop the ridge and scanning back my way with a pair of binoculars.
Who. The. Hell. Is. That?
Well this is interesting. Way out here in the middle of nowhere, and I find these guys. And because I'd been wandering around with my head up my ass, they'd spotted me first. I had no idea how long they'd been watching me or how many of them were up there. I saw two. If I saw two, there could easily be four, or six, or a dozen on the back side of that ridge. I knew from the logbook and empty paring area that there were no other hikers out here, and those guys didn't look like Border Patrol to me. That only left one real choice left--the drug smugglers that the rangers had warned me about. Damn. There they were. On American soil. Foreign invaders. Admittedly, my first thought was that I should probably go do something about that, and I started looking for a way up the ridge. But then the Common Sense Fairy smacked me on the head. I was alone and outnumbered by bad guys who held the high ground. I don't know this area and they likely do. I was running low on water, too, and no one else knew where I was. I quickly concluded that this was where that whole "discretion is the better part of valor" concept kicks in. I needed to call the cavalry on this one. I reached back for my phone and pulled it up, only to see that I had no signal. It really was just me out here. This could be bad.
I looked back at Binocular Man again. He was still scanning the area that I was in. Apparently he'd lost track of me when I'd moved. But to get back out f here, I'd have to cross this wash, go up it's north slope, then cross a large flat area and go up another hill behind me to start working my way back towards the trail I'd left a while back. I figured that even moving fast, it would take me over a minute to cross that space and crest that hill, and if one of those guys up on that ridge had a rifle and was even half way decent with it, they could cause me some serious trouble on that open space. And there was my dilemma. Was I merely dealing with Jose and Pancho, a couple of Mexicans just playing lookout for a few peso, or were those guys Zeta-trained shooters like the ones that killed Kris Eggle and countless others on their own side of the fence? I didn't know, and while it was probably less likely that these guys were hard-core, I really couldn't afford to take that chance, especially with all of the guns that Obama and Holder funneled to the drug smugglers a few years ago as part of their "Fast and Furious" debacle. I settled in to watch them some more, and while I was doing that, I thought about how I was going to handle this.
So what to do? My first thought was that if I saw a long gun up there and it's muzzle even began to swing down into this valley, I was going to presume the worst intent on their part and engage these guys under the doctrine of "hit 'em back first". Factoring in the totality of the circumstances, the lawyer in me could justify that, especially seeing as how these guys could have been gone by now but were still sticking around despite knowing that I'm down here somewhere. Having made that decision, I estimated the range by putting the 400M crosshair of my ACOG right on Binocular Man's head. Yeah, that looked about the same size as the 8" steel target that we'd shot at at 325M in the class a week ago. I kicked in a bit more elevation to compensate for the rise of his ridge and I was confident that I could make that shot or at least come close if I had to. Through the scope, I could see him still looking for me. He had no clue that I had him dialed in nicely.
I watched him for a bit, and then I started worrying about his buddy and anyone else that might be up there. Where were they? I scanned the ridge to the right and the left of Binocular Man, wanting to make sure that no one was coming down the ridge farther down to outflank me. That would also be very bad out here, especially if they could get to my trail back before I could. But I didn't see anyone trying to come down from the ridge, which was good. So far, we've got a stalemate--they can't come down and I can't go up. And I was good with that. Now I was the rattlesnake in the mine. If you go away, you'll be fine, but if you try to come closer...
I put the rifle back on Binocular Man and this time he was dead bang on me; he'd found me again while I was sweeping the ridge. We looked right at each other for a moment. "Rattle, rattle, asshole". Then an idea hit me and I pulled out my cell phone again. I stil had no signal, but heck, he doesn't know that. I raised it to my face and pretended to talk on it. Almost as soon as I did so, Binocular Man pulled back out of sight and he was gone.
Quickly I dropped back into the wash and shifted my position by several yards, coming up again at the base of a Cholla cactus. I brought my rifle back up again and scanned the ridge thoroughly for the next several minutes, but I never saw the guy or his pal again. And once I was sure that they were gone, I high-tailed it back across the open space at a run, not stopping until I'd put the rise that had been behind me between me and that ridge line. Then it was a fast hike back along the trail towards the campground, my Jeep and the ranger station to report this.
Three and a half hours later, tired and out of water, I got back to my jeep and the cooler in the back with the cold water in it. (Thanks, Eric and Lu!) My neck was sore from looking back over my shoulder for much of the hike back, and that "light" carbine seemed to weigh seventy pounds now instead of seven. But as I stowed it back in it's carry bag, I was glad that I'd brought it with me. It took me fifteen minutes longer to find a ranger and report the encounter with the two, and they indicated that incursions like that happen all the time as the smugglers try to work their way around the Lukeville Port of Entry and connect up with other scumbags on this side of the border. They theorized that my presence they had either made them turn back for the day or at least go deeper into the park. My hope, of course, was they they if they did that, they decided to seek a break from the heat by ducking into a certain mine opening.
Beautiful place, Organ Pipe, but it's nothing like our tame and civilized eastern national parks like Harpers Ferry or Manassas. There are any number of things out here that can injure or kill you, from the weather to much of the critter and plant life, and thanks to our government's refusal to secure the border, foreign nationals with drugs, guns or backpack nukes if that's what they want to bring in.
Back to "civilization" (If you wanna call it that.) just seventy miles north.

Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Weight penalty? Worth every ounce.


  1. Under the circumstances, I'd have probably done the same thing with the two coyotes on the ridge. Glad you made it back without any additional perforations.

  2. Anonymous4:02 PM

    +1 Rev.Paul

  3. That might have been a little too much adventure for me. My brothers, now, they would have doted on it. Except my younger brother the former policeman would probably have wanted to shoot the two guys. He's very proactive.

  4. Two decades ago, a good friend and Boy Scout leader would camp in that area. But after their food and water were confiscated by armed coyotes escorting a dozen "immigrants", the BSA officially ceded the area to the lawless. Your feigned cell phone call and rifle undoubtedly kept you from a close encounter with aliens. Welcome to Arizona.

  5. Yep, those stalemates suck... Smart move with the cell...