Weekends meant camping trips for Rick Taylor and his four siblings during their childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Taylors would load into their Chevy station wagon and head from Tucson into the Southeastern Arizona wilderness of the Santa Rita, Atascosa or Huachuca Mountains.

Rick Taylor's parents bowled in leagues and had plenty of friends, but when they went camping they wanted to get away from others. So they camped in remote areas where others didn't.

They ran into the occasional wandering game warden, but never illegal border crossers or smugglers.

"There was never a concern whatsoever that we were approaching the line between the U.S. and Mexico," said Taylor, now 63. "There was never any concern."

Those outings instilled in Taylor a love of the outdoors that continues today. He's one of Southern Arizona's foremost birding experts and has owned a commercial guide company, Borderland Tours, since 1980.

"I look back with quite a lot of affection at our weekly camp-outs with our parents," Taylor said.

His dad used to tell him stories of how the wilderness of the American West was vital during the Depression in giving struggling Americans a free place to recreate and relax. As an electrician making a modest salary, Taylor's father was thankful to have an affordable outlet for recreation.

"One of the things my dad told me was, 'America and Americans own this land," Taylor said.

As Taylor grew older, he became an avid backpacker. He taught backpacking at Cochise College and led weeklong trips for the Sierra Club. During the 1970s he hiked through the Chiricahua Mountains researching a hiking guide he wrote about the mountain range.

He ended up buying a house in the Chiricahuas, which he nearly lost during last summer's devastating Horseshoe 2 Fire. Investigators haven't determined the cause yet, but as with everything today in Arizona's borderlands, the cloud of cross-border smuggling hovers. The fire may have been caused by illegal border crossers or smugglers.

Taylor still hikes alone and leads birding trips throughout the borderlands, feeling as safe as ever. But it's not just him and the birds any longer.

On a 2007 trip to Sycamore Canyon west of Nogales, he said, a group of British birders counted 43 Border Patrol vehicles.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com