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Ride Along Arizona’s Southern Border

Ride Along Arizona’s Southern Border

I thought talk of building the wall would end quickly, but since it hasn’t, I went to southern Arizona and drove along the border, from Organ Pipe to Bisbee, to see what was what.

Heading from Tuscan to Organ Pipe, we passed through this small town. And I must say, the question asked in the town’s name remained with me the whole trip. (Okay, so Why refers to a fork in the road. How was I to know?)

City sign for Why, Arizona


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Before I show you the border wall, I have to show you a very special place we visited kind-of on the way to Nogales.

Organ Pipe National Monument Sign

Organ Pipe is a Biosphere Reserve set up by UNESCO in 1976 to preserve the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert for humanity as well as for scientists. On a hike or drive you can see 26 species of cactus.

Cacti at Organ Pipe National Reserve

Cacti at Organ Pipe National Monument


twisted cactus

Cacti at Organ Pipe National Monument

Gila Woodpeckers nest in the Saguaro cactus

Gila woodpeckers nest in the Saguaro cactus


Gila Woodpecker and nest in Saguaro cactus

Gila Woodpecker and her nest


After Organ Pipe, we passed many miles of border wall. Parts are still barbed wire, others look more natural and blend in with the scenery. We only found this section below because a Park Ranger told us where to look.

Natural border wall


natural border wall in southern Arizona

These walls appear lower than what we saw in Nogales, as the area between the west and Nogales relies heavily on the U.S. Border Patrol. Checkpoints on the highway appear often.

Nogales, Arizona

Highway 19 is a major north/south trade route through Arizona and ends at Nogales, where the road crosses the border and becomes Federal Highway 15, El Camino Real, in Nogales, Mexico. On the way into town, we drove past many—too many—insurance sales offices. Insurance to buy before you cross into Mexico. The necessity for such a business told me to be wary about crossing over.

Nogales means walnut, the name derived from the walnut trees that used to line the pass between Ambos Nogales, both Nogaleses. Now, all we saw on the hillside was metal border walls.

Metal border wall in Nogales Arizona

View from our hotel. The wall can be seen throughout the city.


border wall between houses

Just a regular Nogales neighborhood, divided by a big ugly wall.

In town, I walked up to the wall and got a queazy prison feeling, maybe due to the 4-inch space between bars (aka rusty poles). It brought back the eerie feeling of crossing the Berlin Wall in 1984.

the wall up close

Nevertheless, Nogales is a friendly place, so I asked people in our hotel restaurant how they felt about it. From a small sampling of residents, the Gringos and the Latinos are happy with life in Nogales but find the wall ugly. Most aren’t sure how well it works. After it was first erected in 2011, traffickers tunneled under. Now they sometimes climb over.

Everyone else walks through. “It’s easy,” the diners said. “Americans cross to Mexico for better, cheaper food and alcohol and for affordable dental care. Mexicans cross to the U.S. for Walmart. No problem. You should cross.”

Instead, we shopped on the U.S. side at places where we could understand the Spanish product names but did not recognize the brands. Though Nogales, Arizona became part of the U.S. with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, it still feels like part of Mexico.

The tall Nogales wall only runs for ten miles and then dwindles to small walls or patrol areas.

We continued east to Bisbee, Arizona, a cute, historic copper mining town, which is very proud of its native daughter, renowned mystery writer, J.A. Jance.

Bisbee, Arizona

The heart of downtown, below copper-colored hills

The School House Inn is a comfortable and elegant BnB with interesting guests, a mountainside view, and a fantastic breakfast. Our bedroom used to be the history classroom.

School House Inn

This is only half of our large bedroom


From Bisbee we took a quick side trip to Tombstone, which is expensive and touristy. I will stop at just telling you Tombstone is still there.

So back to my question of Why? Now that illegal immigration has been down for a while, why is it necessary to build the biggest, shiniest, most beautiful border wall at my expense?



The feature image is called 2014 Border Experpience—Nogales, from the National Farm Worker Ministry










A Christmas Well Traveled

A Christmas Well Traveled

Now that our careers in the Foreign Service are over, we relive Christmas memories through our decorations. Unable to fly home at Christmas, we enjoyed Christmas around the world.

Turns out, Santa Claus has several different names. In the Czech Republic, St. Nicholaus is the traditional gift bearer and arrives on his own day, December 5. I found this carving in Prague,1982, while the regime was under communist rule. My friend, Dottie, and I shopped under the careful watch of a government tail.

Wooden St. Nicholas from Prague


In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas travels the country with Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) trying to learn who’s been naughty or nice. He treats good little boys and girls on December 6. This ornament is from Delft. Blue and white, of course.

Blue and white ornament of Sinterklaas in Holland.

My favorite Christmas store in Europe is Käthe Wohlfahrt, an ever-expanding shop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (northern Bavaria). The business began by making music boxes and became popular when discovered by U.S. troops stationed in Europe after WWII. They expanded to wooden ornaments. My sons liked nutcrackers and trains, so, voilà.

Wooden Christmas ornaments


Soon enough, Käthe Wohlfahrt began to sell the ever-popular nutcracker—in every genre you can imagine. When the mines were failing, nutcrackers were carved by miners as the only gift they could afford to give. They were first sold at the famous Nürnburg Christkindlmarkt in 1699. When we lived in Germany, our first nutcrackers were traditional. But when we returned to Rothenburg on holiday many years later, my sons wanted to recognize my love of Shakespeare with this piece.

Shakespeare Nutcracker


Brass ornaments are also popular throughout Europe so we bought one of the historically restored downtown Frankfurt Rathaus to remind us of our hometown.

Historical Frankfurt Courthouse in brass

The mother of all German Christmas markets is in Nürnburg, where we had to buy a famous Nürnburg Angel in 1980.

 Nuremburg Angel

Christmas in Denmark was another delight. The most unusual tradition is the business Christmas lunch where if a man wears a tie, it will be cut off. Georg Jensen makes the most fantastic brass ornaments, which I have collected since 1991.

George Jensen brass Christmas reindeer


Danish ornaments include a lot of cut paper, some of which they hang in windows. My window decorations have all disintegrated, but I still have a small replica tree ornament.

window replica tree ornament

Nao is a brand of the Lladro made in the City of Porcelain in Spain. I prefer it to the traditional Lladro because of its simplicity and sleek lines. I have had this lovely creche since 1981.

Creche scene from Nao

Poland, a very Catholic country, is well known for their painted Easter eggs. (I have a whole Easter tree full.) I found their wooden Christmas ornaments to resemble those eggs. 2012.

Polish wooden Christmas ball.

I tried to get to Iceland weeks before the frigid winter set in. There I was reminded of their pride in the Vikings as strong as in other parts of Scandinavia.

Viking Ship ornament.

We spent many a Christmas in Africa, where there was no shortage of Christmas treasures. This baobab tree from Johannesburg, South Africa is a delight strewn with African beads and hung with safari-animal ornaments.

Baobab Tree

Ghana is famous for Kente cloth, large tribal robes made of strips of woven textile. I asked a Kente weaver to make me a single strip with Merry Christmas woven into it. On either side of the words is an Ashanti stool, a famous symbol of royalty. According to legend, the stool descended from the sky and landed on the lap of the first Asante king.

One strip of Kente Cloth with Merry Christmas

Indians are famous for their lacquerware, so I bought several Indian bells.

Lacquerware bell

Two of the most beautiful places to be at Christmastime are Singapore and Hong Kong. The Chinese go all out for the holidays and leave the building decorations up through Chinese New Year in February. Singapore features lights and Hong Kong hangs huge paper cuttings from tall buildings, with the pieces (cut like row after row of bangs) fluttering in the breeze. I bought these sequined ornaments in 1988.

Sequened Santa ornament

Back in the US, we have special ornaments, too. Since we first went to Washington, D.C. in the 80’s I have collected the State Department, White House, and Kennedy Center Ornaments. The Kennedy Center is beautiful during the holidays.

State Department ornament

State Department, 2007


White House ornament

White House, 2007

Kennedy Center ornament

Kennedy Center

Hope your holidays are full of wonderful memories, too.


“The sacred Ganges River taught me to raft.”

“In that polluted brown stew?” the doubters laugh.

“No, fellow travelers, have no fear.

Above the cremation ghats, it’s mineral-water clear.

But maybe you’ll be bumped out of your boat, Land in a stream, and struggle to float.”

“Feet Forward!” the raft guide will tell you to go.

“Orient yourself! Move with the flow!”

I heeded his words, not thinking twice.

And wherever I travel, I take his advice.

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