Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

From Boquillas to Big Bend. Should Crossing Be Legal Again?

©Bert Gildart: “See ‘em?” questioned Janie from our perch on the boulders near Rio Grande Village Campground in Big Bend National Park, Texas. “There goes another…

“I don’t think they’re supposed to be doing that!”

Fact of the matter is they’re not supposed to be doing that! But it’s so darn easy for Mexicans to cross the Rio Grande River at Boquillas, Mexico and enter this immense American national park that they do so at will.  And everyone knows it.  Rangers know it, campground hosts and hostesses know it, maintenance personnel know it, and now we know it ‘cuz we’d just seen it.  It’s easy! Simply hop into a saddle behind a Mexican horseman, and no one even gets wet. In places the historic river is only about 100 yards wide (if that), and on a Quarter horse the water is but stirrup high.

30286 Boquillas (33 of 6) Boquillas (31 of 6)

L to R:  Prior to 9/11 Victor could legally transport Americans from Big Bend to Boquillas, Mexico.  Today, he wades or boats the river with items to sell which the park now considers to be illegal.  Nevertheless, everyone knows he does it, just like they know other illegals (images 2 and 3) ford the Rio Grande with items of art which they too sell along the park’s various trails. In the case of image 2 & 3, Mexicans are fording Rio Grande immediately adjacent to the Rio Grande Village Campground.  Many we talked to say it makes them nervous.  (All images copyright Bert Gildart)

The purpose, of course, of “stealing” across the U.S./Mexican border is to sell your family’s works of art, and this river setting offers many opportunities.


In some places the water could hit a horse at shoulder height, in which case you defer to a small canoe like the one Victor, “The Singing Mexican,” uses.  Worst case scenario, simply wade the river, get wet, and when no one is around, place your objects of art along the trail.  Before day’s end American tourists will be along — and just as surely as the Chicos Mountains will be standing tall and majestic in the morrow — someone will place the requisite price in the small, stone-weighted adjacent glass jar.  Signs warn against purchasing contraband from undesirables, but most (visitors at any rate) just chortle the thought away.  “Yeah, we’ve got one of Victor’s walking sticks.”

And though purchase price may be small, the money means much to residents in Boquillas.


Along the entire Mexican/American border, the small village of Boquillas, Coahuila (the state) is truly unique .  Established about 1916 to serve mining interests, the village peers down on the Rio Grande River from a 500-foot high cliff face where it looms over the 800,000 acre Big Bend, famous for its javelina, road runners and other premier examples of the Chihuahuan Desert. In this immense landscape employees at the park once played baseball with residents of Boquillas.  Folks from both sides crossed from their respective countries with little more than God’s blessings, and might have done so simply to gossip about Juanita’s new baby boy.

Here, too, in this setting a genuine business once existed where American visitors could hop aboard Victor’s boat and listen, perhaps, to a few of the man’s ballads as he paddled you across this historic river.  Five minutes later you would step foot in Mexico, climb the bank to the village, have dinner and then, several hours later, boat back to Big Bend National Park.

30276 30284 Javelina2

Though illegal border crossings is a significant story in Big Bend, it is not the major story.  Instead, it is park’s unique geology; its outdoor activities such as paddling the Rio Grand River; and the wildlife, such as the javelina, that make this premier park so fascinating.  Nevertheless, Big Bend National Park, like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, has problems that must be resolved.

Prior to 9/11 it was all very legal and everyone loved the experience. No passport or other legal papers were needed, but most importantly, adventures here provided residents in Boquillas with an income.


All this worked because Boquillas is not easily accessible, making drug running impractical.  Nevertheless, after 9/11 new rules were implemented.  Essentially it meant that Americans could no longer cross the Rio Grande for a night in Boquillas. As a result, generating revenue for the 450 residents of Boquillas became a huge issue.  And so Mexican residents  began crossing the river where they’d position their art on rocks along the Boquillas Canyon trail, which is remote.

And because times are now desperate, some who make these illegal crossings get overly zealous.  A few ask inappropriate questions, as just recently happened to Janie and me.


Four days ago (December 15), Janie and I were returning from our hike into beautiful Boquillas Canyon, when we saw a Mexican horseman near the crest of our short trail.  From his vantage he had a commanding view of our vehicle and the comings and goings of all hikers.  He was just off the trail, and he was definitely not supposed to be there.  Nevertheless, he wanted information – and that pissed us off, for his attitude seemed imperious.

“Ola,” said the horseman.  “Where you camped… Any more behind you?”

Because posted signs explain that thefts have recently occurred at the parking lot, his presence also made us wary, so we hiked on, saying little.  Later a ranger said our thoughts were justified.


Priort to 9/11 Victor the boatman could transport visitors from Big Bend to Boquillas. That may soon be possible again.


“Yes,” said Ranger Jose Galinda, “he could have been signaling a partner.”  But Galinda also said aggressive residents would probably be weeded out if conditions returned to those that existed prior to 9/11.


Most can’t wait and rumor has it that change is in the offing, though convoluted red tape will be part of the bargain.  Nevertheless, most believe it will be a start in the right direction – that it will eliminate any budding problems by charging the economy in Boquillas.  That means that in two to three months (March, some say) Janie and I may be dining in Boquillas.  It would be an adventure – and then, too, we’d like to help Mexicans in Mexico sustain themselves.

It could be a very good thing, certainly better than labeling some of American’s closest neighbors as “undesirables,” which they certainly are not – at least in the case of Boquillas.



*By Their Beaks Shall You know Them






4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

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One Response to “From Boquillas to Big Bend. Should Crossing Be Legal Again?”

  1. Tom & Sandi Palesch Says:

    The rural areas each side of the Border has always been “a line to cross” either way. Smuggling one thing or another has been the way of life there for hundreds of years according to the book “THE RIVER HAS NEVER DIVIDED US.” The movement of goods still continues both ways: Today moving north are drugs and labor, moving south from the U.S. is cash from the sale of drugs and guns for the narco-gangs in Mexico.

    The story and mystique about Boquillas and its citizens sounds simple and charming. Yet if you read the book by Terrance Poppa, “DRUG LORD” this stretch of the River wasn’t always this peaceful. Back in the mid-1980’s both sides of the River from Presidio to Boquillas was the territory of drug czar Pablo Acosta. Drug running, drug usage, murders and drug wars were not uncommon just across the River from BBNP. In 1987 Acosta was killed by the Mexican Army in Santa Elena just across the River from the Park. There was involvement thru staging by DEA of this event from the western edge campground in the Park.

    Smuggling has always been important to the Border economy only now it is a much bigger and more deadly business. The Border Patrol still has a big presence in the area and I guess for a reason.

    But, making it legal for locals to once again move back and forth across the Park Border won’t discourage the bad guys on horseback you met from robbing tourists in the Park. It will just allow the Park Rangers and BP to be “forgiving” of the Border crossers and eliminate some paperwork and enforcement problems by making it legal again. Law abiding people will now move back and forth across the Border. It never stopped the others from doing it!

    It’s the natural way of life along the Border.