Antelope Wells is Hardly a Place / by Karie Luidens

Antelope Wells Port of Entry.JPG

It didn’t make any sense for me to drive the last forty-five miles to Antelope Wells. There was nothing there for me to see—really, nothing. Antelope Wells is not a town, it’s unincorporated land. The only structure there is the Customs and Border facility. Its only inhabitants are a few rotating Customs and Border employees. It’s only open to non-commercial crossings from 10am to 4pm daily, and it’s the least trafficked of all forty-three ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Deming Headlight article already said it: Hachita was “the last populated place on the highway to the Antelope Wells port of entry.”

If you thought that description sounds extreme, another article in the same paper goes further: “Antelope Wells is hardly a place, other than for port infrastructure at the terminus of State Road 81.”

But I’d come this far in my journey along the U.S.-Mexico border. I wanted to go all the way and see that now-famous non-place with my own eyes. Breathe its sky, watch its dust blow, hear its grasses brushing. So I kept driving, and driving, and driving through all that empty ranch land. And finally, at the end of the forty-five mile road, there it was—the Antelope Wells port of entry.

As the speck of buildings grew on the horizon, I began to play a conversation in my mind. “Good afternoon, officer. No, I’m not planning to cross the border today. I actually forgot my passport, ha! Yes, I knew I didn’t have it before I came all this way. I knew I couldn’t cross. Why did I come? Oh, just to check out your facilities. See what it’s like here. Smell the cows and feel the wind blowing up from Mexico.”

I wondered how the Customs officer would react. Would he laugh? He—I pictured a he, for sure, in a uniform with a gun on his hip. Did Customs officers carry handguns, or just Border Patrol agents out on patrol? Regardless. Would he laugh, or would he be suspicious? I’ve been through enough Border Patrol checkpoints driving around Texas to know they don’t need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to glare and interrogate you like you’re a criminal suspect. But what would they suspect me of? Smuggling drugs, migrating illegally? This is where my whiteness, my blondness, my femaleness would all serve me well. Which is bullshit, since no matter my race or sex, I had every right to drive down New Mexico’s Bootheel. I was an American citizen on American soil, driving my own vehicle on a public road.

Still, the closer I got, the tenser I felt.

A quarter mile from the border, I pulled over. I turned off the engine. The sounds of the desert swirled through the car as I sat, paralyzed in thought.

Suddenly my phone vibrated. For the first time in hours, I had cell service: TELCEL 3G, one bar. The text message on my lock screen read “Welcome to Mexico.”

I laughed.

I took a photo of the Antelope Wells port of entry a thousand feet up the road.

Then I started the engine, glanced back at the absolute emptiness of the road behind me, and pulled a U-turn. Heading north again, I passed a sign as blue as the sky all around: “NEW MEXICO true WELCOMES YOU.” Only forty-five miles to the first populated place on the highway.