Loose in the Foothills

Different boundaries would have made Arizona a very different place

2013-08-29T00:00:00Z Different boundaries would have made Arizona a very different placeBob Ring Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Last week I wrote about how Arizona was created out of the western half of the New Mexico Territory in 1863. This time let’s consider how things would be different today if Arizona had been fashioned out of the southern half of the New Mexico Territory, as proposed many times in the 1850s and early 1860s.

First, let’s look at the map. We’ll assume that the New Mexico Territory was split on an east-west line at the 34th parallel, as outlined in 10 (unsuccessful) bills to the U.S. Congress. In these fantasy scenarios, everything above 34N latitude belongs to New Mexico and everything south of 34N latitude belongs to Arizona.

In this scenario Arizona loses about 60 percent of its land area, mostly mountainous high country, including the Grand Canyon, Prescott, Flagstaff, the Four Corners region and the Mogollon Rim country. But Arizona picks up about 40 percent of New Mexico’s land area, additional rugged southwestern desert — along with Silver City and the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, White Sands National Monument, Roswell and Carlsbad Caverns. Familiar summer-escape towns to Tucsonans — such as Payson and Pinetop — are now in New Mexico.

Economically, Arizona retains its traditional strengths — the five “C’s,” cattle, copper, citrus, cotton and climate — plus most of its cropland, while losing considerable lumber business and tourism from northern Arizona’s wonderlands.

Arizona gains southwestern New Mexico’s copper mining business, considerable military business associated with Holoman Air Force Base at Alamogordo and White Sands Missile (Test) Range, between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, and vast crude oil and natural gas production from the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico.

Had the states been divided this way, Arizona would also have included Roswell, a center for irrigation farming, dairying, ranching, manufacturing, distribution, and petroleum production, along with tourism from southern New Mexico.

Arizona’s border with Mexico would have stretched an additional 50 percent, all the way to El Paso, Texas. That’s a 50 percent increase in thorny border issues such as drug running and illegal immigration.

There’d be good news and bad news for Arizona with respect to water. The good news is that Arizona would have two mighty rivers flowing out of the mountains of Colorado (Rio Grande) and northern New Mexico (Pecos), eventually merging and continuing south to the Gulf of Mexico while irrigating an enormous watershed in south-central and eastern New Mexico.

The bad news is that Parker Dam, built in the 1930s along the Colorado River to form a gigantic reservoir (Lake Havasu) to supply water to Mexico and seven western states, including Arizona via the Central Arizona Project, would border New Mexico, not Arizona. We might ask ourselves if the years of political struggles and planning that finally resulted in CAP canal delivery of water to Southern Arizona by the 1990s would have succeeded, or would the city of Tucson, by then completely dependent on rapidly depleting groundwater, be but a shrinking desert oasis today.

The best result for Arizona in this fantasy re-creation of states (according to my in-house expert, Pat) is Arizona would be home to what is now New Mexico’s commercial production of chile peppers along the so-called “Chile Trail,” extending across southern New Mexico and including Hatch, the “Chile Capital of the World.”

Can you think of more differences today if Arizona had been formed from the southern half of New Mexico?

E-mail Bob Ring at ringbob1@aol.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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