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Quiet N.M. road leads to least-used legal crossing


Editor's note: The Arizona Daily Star will publish a four-day investigative report beginning Sunday that examines the feasibility of sealing the U.S.-Mexican border. Look for stories and photos in the Star this week of the places and people our team of journalists discovered during their nearly 2,000-mile journey along the border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.

ANTELOPE WELLS — Despite its name, neither antelopes or wells are apparent at the southern border's smallest crossing, where trucks, cars and people are also in scant supply.

Nonetheless, Antelope Wells remains as one of 43 official ports of entry along the international line dividing the U.S. and Mexico and has the distinction of being the least-used legal crossing on the southern border.

Just 93 pedestrians crossed the border between Antelope Wells and its tiny Chihuahuan counterpart, El Berrendo, in 2005, an increase from 2004, when 30 people walked into Mexico from Antelope Wells, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier. By comparison, last year, 41 million pedestrians crossed at the southern border's busiest port, the San Ysidro Port of Entry that divides Tijuana and San Diego.

The international border on both sides of tiny Antelope Wells, in southwestern New Mexico, is open desert with no fence. New Mexico has almost no security fencing along its international border — just two miles of a corrugated metal barrier in Sunland Park, a city in New Mexico's southeastern corner.

Mountain bike and hiking enthusiasts know Antelope Wells as the official southern starting point of the 850-mile "Continental Divide Trail" through the United States, so officers regularly see people who either bike or hike the trail. But even with the draw to outdoor enthusiasts, fewer than 500 buses and privately owned vehicles pass through Antelope Wells each month.

Still, Maier said traffic actually has been increasing lately with more shuttle vans taking people from Mexico to Tucson and Phoenix.

Getting to the isolated crossing — one of three official ports of entry in the entire state of New Mexico — requires an 80-mile round-trip detour off New Mexico's Highway 9. And travelers be warned: There are no gas stations along the route.

The noncommercial border crossing has four buildings — a port of entry building, two houses and a trailer. And Antelope Wells is not much of a community — the only people who live there are U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees. Just across the border, Mexican immigration officers and ranchers live in a small cluster of adobe buildings.

On the quiet road going into the port, U.S. Border Patrol agents are perched throughout the open terrain.

According to Maier's research, the port was established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 and has been staffed since 1928. The name comes from an old ranch, which sat 2 1/2 miles north of the current facility and used to be the official port of entry.

The port is the most direct route to the eastern slope of the Sierra Madres and the farmlands surrounding Ascension, Janos, Casas Grandes, Nuevo Casas Grandes and Galeana. Near Casas Grandes is the famous pottery community of Mata Ortiz, and Mormon and Mennonite communities scattered throughout the region also give the area a unique culture.

Maier said there is no talk of closing Antelope Wells.

"While remote and quiet, it is the only crossing between Douglas, Ariz., and Columbus, N.M., so it does provide a valuable service," he said.



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● Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at

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