National Geographic : 1920 Jul
ALONG OUR SIDE OF THE MEXICAN BORDER grown corral, reminding you of the slow, tedious transportation of early days, when it took a year to get freight from New York to Durango. Now a branch of the Southern Pacific strikes the border at Eagle Pass, and from the Mexican town of Piedras Ne gras (Black Rocks), just opposite, a line of the Mexican National runs south into one of Mexico's most fertile regions. This gives Eagle Pass a brisk trade. No spot on the whole border affords more of impressive grandeur than the region about the mouth of the Pecos. This yellow, turbulent stream roars into the Rio Grande near the town of Del Rio, foaming along the bottom of a steep walled canyon worn hundreds of feet deep in the solid rock. The Southern Pacific Railway crosses this canyon, near the border, on one of the greatest steel trestles ever built. At the old Fort at Camp Verde, north of Uvalde, is a relic of one of the oddest experiments ever made by our govern ment. It is an Arab khan, in ruins now, but in its time an exact replica of the rectangular adobe caravansaries built along such caravan trails as that from Bagdad to Teheran. Back in 1856, when Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War and the famous experiment was made with camels for army transport use be tween Texas and California, this khan was built.* As you follow the border west, oaks, pines, and underbrush decrease, aridity increases, and cacti lift their thorny heads. Cattle, goats, and sheep are pastured in large numbers; but, except for irrigated areas along the river, the country is thinly settled and undeveloped. Border counties like Brewster, Presidio, and El Paso are of amazing area-larger than some of our small eastern States. Windmills are everywhere-"big electric fans to keep * Camel transportation long the Mexican border was undertaken by the government with two herds, totaling about 75 animals, including a few two-humped Bactrian males, imported for breeding purposes. Six Arabs and a Bedouin camel doctor came along, from Smyrna to Texas. Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, under orders to establish a military road from San Antonio to California, used these camels in transport work. The camels were given a thorough test, and in Beale's report he spoke in highest terms of their work; but army horses the cattle cool," a waggish cowboy once explained to a London tenderfoot. El Paso ("The Pass"), great border mart of west Texas, is set on the edge of a rich stretch of the Rio Grande Val ley. It stands at the point of intersec tion of two old highways, the first chan nels of traffic established by white men in America. A popular automobile trail to the Pa cific coast now runs this way. Coronado, pathfinder for border tourists, blazed the way in 1540, on his march to Santa Fe, and long ago El Paso was the headquar ters for the Spanish Government in this part of America. TIll ONLY LARGE CITY I BETWEENN SAN ANTONIO AND LOS ANGELES El Paso is the only large city from "San Antone" to Los Angeles, a ride of 1,500 dry, dusty miles. It is well served by both American and Mexican railways, and its merchants buy and sell goods for hundreds of miles below the Rio Grande. Despite the arid country about it and its occasional blinding dust-storms, its cli mate is exceptionally good, owing to high elevation. Summer showers afford a rainfall of about o1 inches. Soil is fertile in the valleys cutting the adjacent plateau coun try, and good crops are grown wherever ample irrigation is possible. The largest irrigation reservoir any where is the great Elephant Butte dam, which stores more water than the world famous Assuan dam on the Nile. This big dam, built in the Rio Grande above El Paso, at a point in New Mexico, holds water enough, we are told, "to fill a stand pipe II feet in diameter reaching from El Paso to the moon, or to cover Massa chusetts to a depth of six inches!" Enough water can be stored to last through four dry seasons and to irrigate and pack-mules were stampeded; obstinate mule-skinners refused to handle "circus ani mals"; so finally the camels were disposed of. Most of them were sold to zoological parks, but a few either got away or were turned loose on the desert. Prospectors, enraged when these ungainly brutes terrified their pack-mules, used to shoot them on sight. Even now, once in a while a desert rat drifts into Yuma or Gila Bend and vows he's seen a wild camel on the desert. Maybe he did, but nobody believes him.