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Dead in Their Tracks: Crossing America’s Desert Borderlands in the New Era
by John Annerino
University of Arizona Press, 2009
eISBN: 978-0-8165-4259-8 | Paper: 978-0-8165-2765-6
Library of Congress Classification F786.A57 2009
Dewey Decimal Classification 917.2104836

Alarmed by breaking news reports of thirteen men, women, and children who died of thirst on American soil—and twenty-two other human beings saved by Border Patrol rescue teams—John Annerino left the cool pines of his mountain retreat and journeyed into one of the most inhospitable places on earth, the heart of the 4,100-square-mile “empty quarter” that straddles the desolate corner of southwest Arizona and northwest Sonora, Mexico.

During the Sonoran Desert’s glorious and brutal summer season Annerino, a photojournalist, author, and explorer, watched four border crossers step off a bus and nonchalantly head into the American no-man’s land. On assignment for Newsweek, Annerino did more than just watch on that blistering August day. He joined them on their ultramarathon, life-or-death quest to find work to feed their families, amid temperatures so hot your parched throat burns from breathing and drinking water is the ultimate treasure.
As their water dwindled and the heat punished them, Annerino and the desperate men continued marching fifty miles in twenty-four hours and managed to survive their harrowing journey across the deadliest migrant trail in North America, El Camino del Diablo, “The Road of the Devil.” Driven by the mounting death toll, John returned again and again to the sun-scorched despoblado (uninhabited lands)—where hidden bighorn sheep water tanks glowed like diamonds—to document the lives, struggles, and heartbreaking remains of those who continue to disappear and perish in a region that’s claimed the lives of more than 9,700 men, women, and children.
Following the historic paths of indigenous Hia Ced O’odham (People of the Sand), Spanish missionary explorer Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, and California-bound Forty-Niners, Annerino’s journeys on foot, crisscrossed the alluring yet treacherous desert trails of the El Camino del Diablo, Hohokam shell trail, and O’odham salt trails where hundreds of gambusinos (Mexican miners) and Euro-American pioneers succumbed during the 1850s.
As the migrants kept coming, the deaths kept mounting, and Annerino kept returning. He crossed celebrated Sonoran Desert sanctuaries—Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Barry M. Goldwater Range, sacred ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham—that had become lost horizons, killing grounds, graveyards, and deadly smuggling corridors that also claimed the lives of National Park rangers and Border Patrol agents. John Annerino’s mission was to save someone, anyone, everyone—when he could find them.
Dead in Their Tracks is the saga of a merciless despoblado in the Great Southwest, of desperate yet hopeful migrants and refugees who keep staggering north. It is the story of ranchers, locals, and Border Patrol trackers who’ve saved countless lives, and heavily armed smugglers who haunt an inhospitable, if beautiful, wilderness that remains off the radar for journalists and news organizations that dare not set foot in the American desert waiting to welcome them on its terms.

See other books on: Annerino, John | Dead | Mexican-American Border Region | New Era | Pioneers
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