Where Three Groups Meet In An Uninhabitable Land
December 03, 2012

Cpl. Aaron Diamant/DVIDS
Marines with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma's Range Maintenance section aid wildlife biologists in building a temporary holding pen on the Barry M. Goldwater Range on Nov. 19.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- I don’t nearly get out into Arizona’s western desert enough. It starts about three hours west of Tucson, that point on the map where Mexico meets Pima and Yuma counties.

It’s a gorgeous, haunting slice of desert, nearly uninhabitable; pockets of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge out there can reach 175 degrees in the summer. Volcanic rock and carved-out cliffs that make the wind moan when it hits their stone faces.

Fighter jets shriek over the desert toward the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range, and every now and then, you’ll hear the boom of gunfire on the Yuma Proving Grounds. Military force meets wildlife meets a foreign country, that’s the western desert.

Occasionally, the groups will cross paths. A couple of weeks ago, Marines stationed out in the western desert helped biologists build an enclosure for Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, an endangered antelope species that roams back and forth across the border here.

Biologists hope to expand their range, and thus, their population in the western desert.

I’m a little bummed I missed the story when it happened. It’s been a wildly busy year here in the Tucson bureau. Lots of election stories and political stories, always against the backdrop of immigration. Lots of stories on government malfeasance, like ATF’s gunwalking scandal, Operation Fast and Furious, and it’s been a chance to close a chapter on the Tucson shootings of Jan. 8, 2011.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to cover more environmental stories, especially those stories taking place in the remotest stretches of Arizona and Sonora. The western desert will be a good place to start.