After spending the day roaming through wide-open spaces at Big Bend National Park, we returned to our relic of an RV park at Stillwell Ranch–just outside the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center–to cool off under a revitalizing blast of AC running inside the Airstream.
The glaring sun and punishing heat of the day had taken its toll on us, although we were grateful for sustained winds of 20 mph, which seemed to make the temperature more tolerable. By 7:26 pm, temperatures had cooled down to 91◦, and we were ready to explore the road less traveled.
Earlier in the day, border patrol had sped past our campsite from the southern border, causing us to speculate whether an ICE officer had just interdicted an illegal border crosser. And so, with the sun at our backs, and our batteries recharged, I fired up the F-150, turned right on Texas FM (farm-to-market road) 2627, and headed due south in search of bad hombres. The radio god immediately synchronized his playlist with our mission, and delivered David Byrne belting out the lyrics to “We’re on the Road to Nowhere”.
From Stillwell Store, the 22-mile trip to the Rio Grande passes through Black Gap WMA (Wildlife Management Area), a 100,000-plus acre expanse of back-country wilderness—desolate and barren to the eye, but home to wandering black bears, mountain lions, white-tailed and mule deer, and javelina (think desert pig). The dusty two-lane road dips and pivots like a rickety roller coaster as it hugs the rugged foothills of the Sierra Larga range across the vast Chihuahuan Desert, until the DEAD-END sign appears.
Just around the corner lies an impassable single-lane border crossing known as the La Linda International Bridge, doomed and defunct for the past 20 years. Broken pieces of barricade and rubbish line the roadbed, with a reinforced batting cage wrapped around the guard rails. It looks like a free-standing prison door resting on a concrete pile.
Historically, the bridge was constructed by Dow Chemical in 1964 to transport fluorite from Coahuilan mines across Heath Canyon to America. But U.S. and Mexican authorities shuttered the bridge in 1997, suspecting drug smuggling. Other reports cite the murder of a Mexican customs official as the reason behind the bridge closure.
The setting surrounding the bridge is eerily reminiscent of any post-apocalyptic scene from “The Hunger Games”. Except for a few pesky flies, the area is lifeless, and the quiet is disturbing.
Across the border stand the remnants of a faded factory.
Broken buildings and slanted warehouses survive in silence against a brown mountain backdrop.
Yet in the distance to the right of the river, La Linda mission stands alone—its double towers dwarfed by nature’s majesty, and its church doors removed for a purpose higher than God.
There are those who would welcome a return to the border crossing.
Committee meetings and feasibility studies on both sides of the river argue the benefits of potential tourism and ease of crossing without traveling to either Del Rio or Presidio. Currently, a legal crossing to La Linda would take nearly 10 hours by car versus 10 minutes by illegal foot path. But there are no travelers today, or at any other times. It’s just too remote.
The thought of running a wall through the middle of La Linda International Bridge brings a smile to my face, knowing that in securing our border, we would be protecting and defending America against Mexican solitude and desolation.
David Byrne’s prophetic words still echo with irony:
“They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right.”