Across much of the Highlands, crossers are as likely to run into barbed wire fence as they are a border wall. In one canyon, which runs clear through the borderline in ecological defiance of international politics, the trunk of a Juniper tree (Juniperus deppeana) spray painted with the word “MEXICO'', is the only real sign that distinguishes the border fencing from any one of the dozens of cattle fences criss crossing the Atascosas. In these deep, rough canyons the landscape itself is the deterrent. Loose rocks which can crack an ankle, choke points which can trap a traveller during flash floods, and a confusion of side canyons which can divert sun sick wanderers from the correct path. This was the intention of the government policies that built the wall near Nogales, to force those circumventing border authorities into this mess of peaks and valleys. To make their crossing so life-threatening and dangerous as to be untenable.

            But hope is not so easily extinguished, a fact attested to by the humanitarian drop sites, piles of abandoned gear, and religious murals which dot the migrant trails. At the humanitarian aid caches in the Atascosas, crates of water, food, and clothing have been deposited in caves and oak groves across the range. But these dispersed stockpiles of aid are not enough to alleviate the threats facing people travelling north across the Atascosas, the deadliest portion of the Coronado National Forest for migrants. According to the Pima County Medical Examiner, the remains of 225 human beings were found in Arizona’s borderlands in 2020. And since 2001, over 100 remains have been found in the Atascosa Highlands alone. A macabre testament to the strong forces which compel people to risk everything for a chance to cross the line.