Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Dead Reckoning

By Jim Carvalho

JULY 26, 1999: 

Dead In Their Tracks: Crossing America's Desert Borderlands by John Annerino (Four Walls Eight Windows), cloth, $22

EL CAMINO DEL DIABLO, the Road of the Devil, is a well-worn and aptly-named route. In Dead In Their Tracks: Crossing America's Desert Borderlands, Tucson writer and photojournalist John Annerino retraces the footsteps of the Indians, missionaries, conquistadors, gold-rushers, smugglers and wetbacks who have travelled -- and continue to travel -- the Devil's Road and other treacherous paths through the harsh and unforgiving southwest corner of Arizona.

At the heart of the book are Annerino's detailed depictions of two grueling desert treks he made in the late 1980s. The first hike, in which Annerino was accompanied by four Sinaloan mojados, followed a well-used immigrant trail from El Sahuaro, Sonora, to Mohawk, Arizona.

The second walk, which the author made with two other Americans, covered an astounding 130 miles over six mid-summer days. That Annerino -- a well-equipped and well-conditioned wilderness runner -- had such trouble with the hike is testament to both the inherent dangers of the region and the remarkable tenacity and determination of the immigrants who attempt to cross it.

Without excusing the well-documented abuses perpetrated by the Border Patrol, Annerino praises the efforts of individual Patrolmen who work diligently -- and often at great danger to themselves -- to find and rescue stranded immigrants.

Dead In Their Tracks is copiously illustrated with photos by the author. Annerino's evocative photos record the activities of his travel companions, as well as the bones, bombs, bodies and burned-out vans he discovers on his treks.

Particularly gruesome are a series of photos taken by Annerino's friend and travel companion David Roberson. Roberson's photos of John Doe Mexican corpses -- some bloated, some mummified, some ripped apart by coyotes -- harshly illustrate the dangers of desert travel. One corpse still wears a belt buckle depicting a marijuana leaf; the image serves as a subtle reminder of that other "war," the war on drugs, which, along with the war on immigrants, has militarized the border and restricted the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

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