New Mexico State Road 9 / by Karie Luidens


It took me about two hours and forty-five minutes to drive from El Paso to the Antelope Wells port of entry.

As soon as I left the city limits, it was clear that the next hundred and fifty miles were going to be empty, empty, empty.

I lost cell service almost immediately.

In all my time on New Mexico State Road 9, which runs parallel to the U.S.-Mexico border, I think I saw a dozen or so other cars. Most were pickups. A few of the drivers, all men wearing cowboy hats, waved to me through their windshields as we passed each other. Twice I passed white Border Patrol SUVs, glowing white in the afternoon sun with solid green stripes on each side, far greener than anything in the terrain.

Otherwise it was just me and the pavement whipping along beneath my tires. I opened the windows to welcome the roar of mild February air, until a dust storm blew through, briefly swallowing everything in a swirl of opaque brown.

A couple times, where there was enough shoulder, I rolled to a slow stop, pulled off, and killed the engine.

The desert was so quiet, the hum of it seemed to grow louder the longer I stood listening.

Sand hissed as it rubbed and swirled through scrub and danced across the asphalt in pale ribbons.

The wind whistled. Dry bunchgrass flapped and shushed.

The odd piece of loose metal creaked in the distance, paused, creaked again, clanked softly: some strip of loose fencing from the barbed wire strung around endless ranches.

Tumbleweeds bounced and skittered across the road, the liveliest things in sight. The only creatures I saw in those hours were a few scatterings of black cattle, grazing and lounging indifferently.

As I drove, I knew the horizon on my left was Mexico. The border was never very far, often just a mile or two south of the road, but as the flatness began to undulate into larger and larger foothills, I only rarely caught sight of the low Normandy-style vehicle barriers that march along that otherwise imaginary boundary out here. They looked like a line of tiny black cross-stitches in the distance, or steel surgical staples. They were installed there to divide two countries, but whenever I glimpsed them I couldn’t help but feel they were suturing the land together.