Lori Carey Photography

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Border Fence in Jacumba

One of my on-going projects is photographing the fence along the US-Mexico International Border. It's been slowly evolving; I keep hoping that I'll happen along a great story one of these times, like the volleyball game that took place across the fence on the beach one year with Mexicans on one side and Americans on the other, or a child staring at me from the other side, but so far my visits haven't yielded any human interest stories. I'll keep trying though; the scenery is beautiful and the fence is a rag-tag assortment of various materials all along its length, so there's no shortage of things to photograph.

Much of the fence is located in rugged mountainous terrain here in California, so figuring out the best locations to visit can be challenging. I'm always on the lookout for new information on locations, so when a fellow jeeper showed me photos and told me about Jacumba (hah-COOM-bah), a sleepy border town in the high-desert in San Diego county just across the border from Imperial county, I knew I had to go investigate.

The easiest place to access the fence is about a half mile off the I8 In-Ko-Pah exit, but it's not for the meek. There is a valley on BLM land between the mountains that is used for free range shooting, and on this morning there were at least thirty people firing various weapons at just about anything they wanted to use for a target. I'm a shooter myself so that doesn't bother me, but you still have to stop and wonder for a minute if there's one yahoo in the group and think about a stray ricochet when you hear those high-power rifles being fired at targets with rocks behind them. If being around that many people firing guns bothers you, you definitely do not want to visit this area. On the map below you can clearly see the trails leading into the area, as well as the stretch of trail that runs along the fence.

View Larger Map

The border patrol has sensors in the area and as soon as you are within sight of the fence they will appear at your side to see what you are up to. I usually prefer to find them first, introduce myself and let them know what I am doing, but sometimes they are hiding and not easy to find. I'm always amazed at how friendly they are given the nature of their job, and I find that most of them are very willing to chat and tell you about the area.

The border region in Jacumba is one of the most dangerous in the state; because most of the terrain is very remote and rugged it is an extremely active region, and Jacumba boasts that mile for mile, more drugs have been seized here than anywhere else along the California line. A lot of dead bodies have also been found, and there have been many, many violent encounters between smugglers and Border Guards. One of the Border Guards I talked with told us that they are not permitted to patrol the mountains alone after dark because the risk is too high. One should always remain alert when venturing out in the remote border regions. This area felt very safe because there were so many well-armed folks not far away, but we knew it would be different once we head into the mountains.

We came across a barbed wire fence before reaching the steel fence, but as instructed by the border guard we traveled along the length of it until we found a (legal) spot to cross through to the sandy trail that travels the length of the fence in this area. Before Operation Gatekeeper started in 1994, there was little in the way of fencing along the border in Jacumba. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 brought double-reinforced fencing and sensors along much of the border here.

What's on the other side? Nothing but desert here.

Then we had to decide; head east or head west? Bill chose east and we head for the mountains.

Now the interesting thing here is that while to the west we could see the fence run all along up and down the mountains (no photos to share since I was shooting into the sun), when we head east we came to an abrupt end of the fence. You can see from the terrain just how difficult it would be to install a fence up this mountain, and I'm sure that this is one of the reasons that this area is so popular with people looking to cross the border illegally; the boulder at the end of the fence isn't much of a deterrent.

Upgrading or installing fence to address the gaps has long been a point of contention in San Diego county because of the impact on the environment. Congress has overruled more than 30 state and federal environmental laws to allow the installation of the new upgraded fencing in designated wilderness regions. On western side of San Diego county about 2 miles from the Pacific between San Diego and Tijuana, federal contractors recently filled Smuggler's Gulch - a notorious smuggling route - with almost 2 million cubic yards of dirt in order to permit the installation of a triple fence, sensors and stadium lights in the previously un-fenced canyon. I haven't yet been able to determine if there are plans in place to continue the fence up this mountain. Given that this region is home to the endangered Peninsular Desert Bighorn, I'm sure it would be a long hard battle before anyone agreed to create a significant impact on the environment.

Out of fence and with no trail over the mountain at this point, we decided to head north to seek out another trail that would take us into the mountains to see if we could pick up the fence again.

Nothing after the jump.


  1. I'm one of the American citizen-patriots who spent a few hours on the Jacumba line trying to get our elected government to replace the low-hurdle between US and Mexico. There is more to be done on the border and internal USA, and laws need changing and enforcement, but consecutive generations will have to bravely step up to defend our nation or we lose a valuable republic. Increased enforcement is working, causing repatriations and a shift in smuggling tactics, but we still need to address the demand for illegal drugs and slave labor.

  2. As a writer and a hiker I'm very experienced with the Jacumba Mountains area. I'd like to say how much respect I have for the difficult job the border patrol does. Most people don't have any idea how many hundreds of illegal aliens are RESCUED by the border patrol. I've rescued a few myself and believe me it is not a pretty picture. I've also found someone dead down in Pinto Canyon, which I wrote about in an article in the SD Reader last year.

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  4. I absolutely love how it turned out, and I think I'm going to do it all over again to make a headboard for our new bed. It'll probably only take me another year or so.
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