Sunday, January 8, 2017

El Paso: Mt Cristo Rey

Mt Criso Rey walk, Sunland Park, New Mexico. October 2016.

October 2016

The round-trip hike for Mt Cristo Rey is about 4.5 miles, assuming you start at the large parking lot near the arched entrance.

I hiked it one October Saturday, one of a number of hikers guided by El Paso Times journalist, Randy Limbard. Mr. Limbard shared some of the mountain's (and the statue's) history, culture, geology, and geo-politics. He leads this hike perhaps twice yearly.

Mt Criso Rey walk, Sunland Park, New Mexico. October 2016.

On the last Sunday in October there is an annual pilgrimage to the summit, and as many as 40,000 people participate. The pilgrimage ties together the feast day of Christ the King and the anniversary of the monument's completion.

There is a dedicated group of Mt Cristo Rey volunteers who maintain the trail, the monument, and the trailhead grounds.

Some factoids I learned from Mr. Limbard:

  1. Smeltertown.
  2. When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, El Paso was part of Mexico. El Paso became part of the US as a result of the Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848. 
  3. El Paso residents had the opportunity to decide if they wanted to be part of Texas (the state) or New Mexico (at that time, a territory). El Paso chose to be part of an already-established state, thus joined Texas. (Haven't found any references to this yet.)

Credit: Wikipedia

From the Sunland Park side of Mt Cristo Rey, you can see the Wall, a slim black line that pencils up and down and across the terrain into a visual infinity. There is a section, however, near the mountain, where there is a gap.

Mt Criso Rey walk, Sunland Park, New Mexico. October 2016.

There's a discongruity to have a giant Christ looking out at Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua from a mountain top, and the existence of an arbitrary wall to keep His children separate.

Mt Criso Rey walk, Sunland Park, New Mexico. October 2016.

The Border Patrol is visibly active on and around the mountain, as evidenced by vehicles, agents on horseback, and an assiduous helicopter.

I watched (and filmed) the helicopter for a long time, damned impressed by the pilot's skill in manipulating that machine. The copter went down very low and slow, like a sentient being, practically sticking its nose into the foliage of some trees, peering closely within. It hovered with such stillness, other than the whirl of its blades, for the longest moments, over various points of the terrain.

The trains

I filmed a singing train, ignorant while doing so, of how trains in this exact spot were (are?) regular victims, as recently as 2009, of hold-ups reminiscent of train and stagecoach robberies in the Old West.

That is, I was ignorant until I read this article from 2009: Manny's Story, by Jordan deBree. One of the threads within the story was about the train robberies, but the article was about so much more.

Other stories about train robberies at the territory between Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Rancho Anapra, Chihuahua: 

Can you imagine standing on the Mt Cristo Rey trail and seeing any of these events play out right before your eyes? It would be like watching battles from the Mexican Revolution from the mountain. As people actually did back then, from various points in and around El Paso.

Rancho Anapra

Manny's Story, the article I introduced in the previous section, describes Rancho Anapra - or at least one facet of it - of 2009.

Here's how Rancho Anapra has been described by different writers:
  • In the 1995 article I linked above, it refers to Rancho Anapra as: a nearby squatters camp, a cluster of cardboard and wood shanties where 40,000 people live without running water, sewers or law enforcement. It is known as Colonia Anapra. But to Mexican authorities it is "la boca de lobo," or "the wolf's mouth."
  •  A Sister of Charity, in this 2014 article chose a neutral description, referring to it as: a small Mexican border community called Anapra, located to the west of downtown Ciudad Juarez. The 2002 article linked above calls it: the Ciudad Juárez suburb of Colonia Anapra, across the fence from a similarly named neighborhood in Sunland Park.
  • The author of this 2011 New York Times article refers to Anapra as: a concrete jumble of hillside shanties. 'It’s the poorest area in Juárez,' Uranga said. 'And it’s the easiest place to pull labor.'

When I looked out at Anapra from the side of Mt Cristo Rey, I only knew that it was "a colonia," described as such by Mr. Limbard with a sweep of his arm in its direction. A two-word description of a community of children, men, and women.

It's uncomfortable to me how thoughtlessly I can glance at something I see, in this case, Anapra. An extra on the stage that lay before me as I went on a pleasant Saturday hike. A part of a view.

The fact is, history continues to unfold in front of our eyes:

July 29, 2016, from El Paso Times
A body believed to be a man was found on Mount Cristo Rey by undocumented immigrants attempting to cross into the United States, officials said. The body was found shortly before 6 a.m. Friday about midway up the mountain, Sunland Park Police Department Chief Jaime Reyes said. The body has been brought down from the mountain. The immigrants found the body and reported it to U.S. Border Patrol agents, Reyes said. The body was located off a trail near an arroyo. Investigators believe the body may have been on the mountain for about two months, Reyes said. An autopsy will need to be done to confirm the person's gender, how long the body had been on the mountain, and the cause of death, Reyes said. No information on the status of the undocumented immigrants was provided Friday morning.

September 30, 2016, from El Paso Times:
A U.S. Border Patrol agent was injured when he fell down a ridge during a fight with an undocumented immigrant early Friday on Mount Cristo Rey, officials said. The agent hit his head on a rock when he and a man that he was trying to arrest both fell down a six-foot ledge during a struggle after agents found group of undocumented immigrants on the mountain in Sunland Park, officials said. ... The group of undocumented immigrants was found with the help of an infrared camera on a helicopter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine Operations.After the agent was injured, the helicopter used its spotlight to help other agents find the man, who was taken into custody after being stunned with an electric shock, officials said. Agents on horseback helped detain the rest of the group. The man, whose name was not released, faces a possible charge of assault of a federal officer. The case is being investigated by the FBI.

Border Patrol Erecting New Fence in Unwalled Area of  New Mexico [Sunland Park and El Paso area], August 2016, Deming Headlight.

It's not like I can act on every thing I see, or paralyze myself with a generalized wringing of hands that is of use to no one. The word namaste as used most times has about the same spiritual gravitas as "God bless you" for a sneeze, but I like a meaning for it that I once saw written: The spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.  I'd at least like to see a person and a place with that acknowledgment, and not just as a backdrop on my personal movie set, which is too often the case.

A slide show of the walk up and down:


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