Walking the Route of the Rio Grande Wall { 10 images } Created 24 Apr 2018

The 1,000 mile Rio Grande River marks the United States southern border. Meandering it’s way between Texas and Mexico, it’s the fourth largest river in America and was listed last week among American River’s most endangered.

Cattle graze along its shores, shepherds gather their flocks, and locals from both banks cross to trade.

The idea of solidifying the international boundary is not new – seven hundred miles of fence already exist in California and Arizona, but now old political campaign promises are setting sights on Texas.

Plans place a border wall on the American side of the Rio Grande River, some miles into the United States, cutting people off from a vital source of water and access to their own land. In the meantime, President Trump has mentioned deploying the military to guard remote sections of the border.

Big Bend National Park claims 118 miles of the Rio Grande’s edge. The national park itself is 800,000 acres of arid desert, interrupted by one hundred miles of deep canyons that scythe their way through.

The U.S. Border Patrol apprehends 6,000 hopefuls trying to access America from Mexico through Big Bend National Park every year, some are alive, but many have died of thirst. Last week while hiking here, I recorded temperatures of 116 degrees.

I’ll spend a week walking the Rio Grande inside Big Bend National Park and the route of the theoretical wall, beginning at the border crossing at the town of Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico – itself threatened by closure because of tightening immigration policy. Then heading west, and camping along the river’s northern bank until finishing at Santa Elena Canyon some days later.

I’ll show some of the people who exist along the river, the remoteness of the landscape, the impact that a physical or military wall would have on the ecosystems and societies that hang in the balance, and the scale of the natural barriers already in place. I’d also like to visually emphasize the difficulty of such journeys through my own experience - the scarcity of water, the heat of the sun, blisters in dusty boots, and sleeping rough in bear country.

Walking this route will put me in the shoes of migrants that make similar journeys north. It’s an area of Texas that I know well, having traveled here on assignment for Bloomberg Businessweek, the Adventure Handbook, and with the Society of Environmental Journalists.
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