The Arizona Desert and Its People

The desert is in bloom this time of year, a short two-week period when flowers and birds abound. Cacti that were bare and spiny with sharp needles have green leaves and add color to an otherwise barren scene. Barrel cacti are sporting lovely pink flowers, and roses, which are not indigenous to the area, are in bloom. The green, bushy plants also have red or pink flowers this time of year. The one in my yard is home to a large number of bees providing an audible buzzing each time I enter the house through the front door. The hummingbirds are back from their winter respite in Mexico, zipping around the bird feeder and sounding like three-inch-long remote-controlled model airplanes, their wings beating as fast as fifteen beats each second.

My house sits just below 5,000 feet above sea level, with a nice view of the Huachuca Mountains. To the south, from my front porch, I can see the mountains around Agua Verde, only about two miles into Mexico. It's cooler at this elevation than in most of Arizona, and most of us who live down here like it that way.

The nights are dark here. Very dark. Southeast Arizona is a great place to stargaze or watch meteor showers. Often my wife and I sit in the hot tub in the backyard and look at the sky. Coyotes howl in the distance, and bats flop around near the hummingbird feeder. The sky is clear and lovely; when the moon is up, it's like a searchlight illuminating the desert landscape. When it isn't, the Milky Way is clearly visible. 

The people in southern Arizona are mostly very friendly. Those originally from these parts (I am not, being displaced from Michigan) are easygoing and talkative. It's easy to converse with them at the gas station about the truck, in line at the grocery store about the kids, at a middle school softball game with other parents. They work hard and live within their means. Most wear blue jeans and T-shirts, or lightweight, long-sleeve shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Many wear boots and cowboy hats. It's not because they wish they had been born 150 years earlier -- it's because it makes sense. Many local Arizona men and women work outside, and denim is tough. Cool mornings and warm afternoons make wearing long sleeves that can be rolled up sensible. Boots are good to work in and protect from snakebites and the hot exhaust of all-terrain vehicles. Drop a wrench on your toe in tennis shoes and you'll hurt for a week; drop it on your cowboy boots and you might not even notice.

Cowboy hats show not that we're backwards or hillbillies, but that we're practical. They keep the sun off your face and the back of your neck. It can be hot out here. The sun will sap the energy from anything living in the desert even at this elevation. Many folks here have two of them: a winter hat and a summer hat made of lightweight straw. The summer hat has small holes in it -- not for fashion, but so air will circulate around your head. Yet the top of the head (balding for many of us) remains covered. It will fry like an egg if it isn't.

The desert is a hot and hostile environment. It can be deceiving because one can see so far. A short hike to the top of the hill can become a much longer affair than planned. Because of that, many people in Arizona will stop and check on people, particularly in the remote areas surrounding the county. The smart ones carry extra water in their vehicles, enough to share with those who might be stuck in the desert with a flat tire or broken-down car. Seeing people suffer from heatstroke, exposure, or dehydration is not pretty.  

Most have served their country from anywhere from two to thirty years. And they are not ashamed of it. Many have Vietnam Veteran bumper stickers or U.S. Marine Corps across the back windows of their trucks. And while a good many southeast Arizona men and women are combat veterans, we don't want to hurt anybody else.

But we will if we have to.

Ranchers out here have large spreads for their cattle. A good number of the ranches here began in the late 1800s or early 1900s as family businesses. They remain that way. And the men and women who live on the range would not want it any other way.

As one might expect, the Mexican food in this area is incredible. Most restaurants are mom-and-pop businesses, family-owned and operated, bilingual, and friendly. The food is fresh, especially the tortillas, hot and delicious. The border town of Naco has my favorite. My wife and I discussed the food with an intelligent young man, a high school student, when we ate there on a Saturday. He took our order in English, then gave it to the kitchen in Spanish. That is to be expected. We ordered Sopapillas, wonderful cinnamon pastries best eaten with honey on them. They were spectacular. He told us that next time, we needed to try the flan. "It's my grandmother's recipe," he said. We're going back soon.

Often we see vehicles here with Mexican license plates. On a recent trip to Tucson, I counted more than thirty cars and trucks with plates from Sonora. We like that. They entered legally, they are shopping at the local businesses, they are paying sales tax. Leaving a local electronics store last Sunday was a minivan with two 40-inch TVs on the roof, two more 32-inch TVs going into the back of it, and many other electronic items inside the passenger compartment. The merchandise was packed in along with several young children. 

We understand that there is a Spanish and Mexican element here. The nearby town of Tubac, just north of Nogales, was established in 1752 as a Presidio. Santa Fe, New Mexico is even older, celebrating its 400th birthday this year. It was established in 1610 by the Spanish. That was before the establishment of New York or Boston, before the Pilgrims landed, and only three years after Jamestown was established.  

Those in Arizona find it baffling that elitists on the east coast, west coast, and in other large cities like Chicago don't want us to protect ourselves. We're not racists. We're not bigots. We're hardworking Americans who don't like to live in fear. We don't like being robbed. We don't like having to clean up after others who don't care what they do to our state. We definitely dislike seeing our friends and neighbors murdered.

This isn't about race. This is about crime. We will not be victims anymore.

TJ Woodard is a retired Army officer who lives less than ten miles from the Mexican border. He wears a cowboy hat and carries a pistol. He doesn't drive a truck but hopes to get one soon.