Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

I wasn't looking for it. Really.

Here's how it happened.

Maria has a big birthday this week (if I told you which one, she might kill me), so I was looking for something different to celebrate. It was important, because I had to work late on her actual birthday.

Maria's a big jacuzzi fan, but we have never been to a mineral hot springs. I began exploring for an unusual spot, something out of the ordinary.

The nudist hot springs resort was out — that's a visual we can all do without. Ditto the swanky Palm Springs-area resorts — I could buy a jacuzzi for that cost.

Then I found it. Jacumba Hot Springs Resort. It's about 40 miles east of San Diego, in the mountains and plenty secluded. It's also close to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Closer than I thought, it turns out.

Border fence

A section of the U.S.-Mexico border about 40 miles east of San Diego is marked by a fence 10-12 feet tall.

Like most Southern Californians, I've made the trip to San Diego lots of times. I've made it through Tijuana to Baja California four or five times, as well. Great place to get away.

That means I've been through the border crossings. I've seen the sheet metal "wall" along the border there, with slum shacks feet away. It's always been depressing to me — just plain ugly.

But back to the present.

Once we got on Interstate 8 out of San Diego, civilization fell quickly behind.

It wasn't until we got off the freeway and turned towards Jacumba that we saw it. From a distance, it looked like it might be railroad tracks snaking across the semi-desert. No trains in sight, though.

I had passed a couple of Border Patrol vehicles — a pickup, a jeep — but didn't think much about it. I figured they had to drive back to civilization once in a while. 

Silly me. They were on duty.

We made a turn around a rise, and there it was. Not railroad tracks, but the slats in the fence probably were the reason I mistook them for railroad ties.

It was a fence — no gates. From a few hundred yards away, it looked to be 10 to 12 feet high, with closely spaced posts tied together by a solid top. No razor wire I could see. I couldn't tell how it was anchored into the ground.

From our first real vantage point, it stretched in both directions without a break, with only a few concessions to the topography. I later found a spot without a fence as the border went over a ridge, but that didn't seem very accessible.

Clearly, no one could just walk across the border thanks to the fence. On the other hand, it looked to me like a short ladder could conquer the wall fairly quickly. But I don't know what other measures are part of the fence — I didn't think it prudent to head overland for a close-up look.

The work to put that thing up sort of boggles the mind. I thought back to the railroad analogy — its hard, slow work to build a railroad (I know from experience). This fence had to be much the same. A 20-foot-high concrete wall in the same space? Never happen.

The Jacumba residents didn't talk about the border, at least to us. But I did see more Border Patrol vehicles, including a jeep sitting on top of a hill with a very good view. The fence just seemed to be a fact of life.

A not very pleasant fact of life. I don't really think it's worth a civil war, though. Do you?

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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