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by Mark Klett
El Camino del Diablo, or “Road of the Devil,” was one of the Southwest’s most dangerous historic routes, a trail paralleling part of the current Arizona–Mexico border and terminating at the Colorado River. The road was notorious for its remoteness, extreme heat, and lack of water. The 1861 account of the route and Arizona Territory by Raphael Pumpelly was published in 1869 in his book Across America and Asia, and is one of the earliest on record. I revisited El Camino to compare how the present-day experience relates to Pumpelly’s narrative. It was impossible to find exactly where the young mining engineer walked, rode, and spent his time, so these photographs do not respond to his adventures in the form of a literal reference. Rather they reflect on a larger, shared geography and its travelers. Today, much of the region is patrolled by government agents and crisscrossed by air
and ground forces practicing for war. Immigrants and drug smugglers cross under the cover of darkness or through the ruggedness of the terrain, hiding from detection. An extreme climate kills many who dare travel in hot weather. The route has an occupied feel that registers a lengthy history of violence and surveillance along an increasingly militarized border. There’s a legacy of human presence, sometimes tragedy, left only in traces. Yet as in Pumpelly’s day, El Camino remains one of the most striking and wild regions of the Sonoran Desert. It is a place located at the compelling intersection of transience, potential danger, and constant beauty.
) Faint trail, granitic mountains near Raven Butte, 2013.
Sign explaining the history of El Camino del Diablo, with bullet holes, 2013.
Trunk of ironwood tree sculpted by wind, 2015.
Approaching the Gila Moutains 2013.
Blanket left in passing, 2013.
Fence separating the United States and Mexico, south of the Gila Mountains, 2015.