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Hidden Valley, AZ -- No problems here?
Monday, August 2, 2010
Nestled just south of Maricopa, Arizona, a quiet little corner of the desert known as Hidden Valley is waking up to the fact that it is not very quiet anymore. In fact, it feels more and more like a war zone. Hidden Valley is square in the middle of what is fast becoming a battleground between major Mexican smuggling cartels, American law enforcement, and citizen militia groups on both sides of the border.
Dealing with illegal immigrants is not a new problem here. What is new is the public awareness that Hidden Valley, and nearby Stanfield, a few miles to the east, are in the epicenter of smuggling corridors funneling illegals, guns, and drugs into Arizona and the U.S. interior. Traffickers travel from the Mexican border through 80 miles of open desert to Interstate 8 and many wind up along the thirty-mile stretch that forms Hidden Valley’s southern border. Local residents know this firsthand.
Public awareness can be credited in large part to civilian militia organizations, who assist the Border Patrol by locating, observing, and reporting illegal immigrant activity. Remote video cameras are stationed along suspected travel routes, and their results are sent to local and federal law enforcement agencies. One such camera was recently placed in a wash just south of Interstate 8 near mile marker 150. Over the course of a little over a month, the camera recorded 739 Hispanics, many carrying oversized backpacks and some carrying guns. The film aired July 16, 2010 on Fox News along with Janice Kephart, a director of Washington DC’s Center for Immigration Studies, who checked its accuracy by visiting the site. According to her, there are several hundred known trails heading north from the Mexican border. This film showed only one, and only for 39 days – and, incidentally, on the southern fringe of Hidden Valley. She stated that another truly frightening truth derived from this video was the fact that not once was a federal agent sighted, although this particular trail is a well-documented smuggler’s route. This video and others can be viewed at www.SecureBorderIntel.org.
Reports of federally posted signs warning visitors away from the area have been circulating for some time. Ever the skeptic, this reporter went in search of them, only half-believing our government would acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and choose this form of addressing it. South of the intersection of Interstate 8 and Vekol Road is the Table Top trailhead, a 13-mile trail on federal land. Sure enough, at the entrance is a sign that says in part, “Danger – active drug and human smuggling area. BLM encourages visitors to use public lands north of Interstate 8.”
Following the trail -- which is public land and used to be a popular hiking trail – other, more disquieting signs were just as plain. Fresh vehicle tracks were on the road, which had seen rain just a couple days prior. Piles of trash, clothing, personal items, and black plastic were under trees and in small washes. Campfire circles sat here and there, some recently used. Some had a marker nearby – a dead cactus in the shape of a Y erected about ten feet away. Those pits also had firewood piled up for ready use. Other fire pits were uniquely built, looking different from those around them – perhaps markers themselves. An abandoned building, long since stripped of any usable resources, still has a well and storage tank behind it. The surrounding green vegetation attests that it is operational, and the large volume of tracks show it is frequented by somebody. At one trail intersection a blue ribbon was tied to a branch. It looked like construction tape, the same kind sometimes seen wrapped around road signs in Hidden Valley.
Anyone who walked straight north from this trail would meet Interstate 8 between mile markers 155 and 140. From here, they could take vehicles east to Stanfield and Casa Grande, or west toward Gila Bend. If they crossed the interstate to head north toward Phoenix they would be in Hidden Valley, or in the low mountain range that borders its west side.
Hidden Valley residents have long been confronted with illegal aliens. Some choose to stay, squatting in vacant homes or on unimproved properties until forced to move on. Others travel through. They have been seen in ones and twos, and in groups of 30 or more. They cut through yards and pastures and take refuge in barns and outbuildings. Reports have been made of stolen food, water, vehicles, and property. Local businesses report fences cut, buildings broken into, and vehicles stolen. Lately there have been more sobering reports: windows broken, property damaged, animals shot or beaten, and residents openly threatened or worse.
No problems in Hidden Valley? Residents give a much different story to those who ask. One hiker found a pair of backpacks left under a tree. When he approached them, an armed Hispanic male appeared from the wash nearby and suggested he leave the area. Another resident, a member of the Pinal County Search and Rescue Posse, remembers working a search near Table Top Mountain. The posse sighted a group of Hispanics nearby. “They were all on bicycles,” he recalled. “They had those big burlap knapsacks on the bicycles, bulging full.” A Stanfield woman commented, “There are so many drugs in this little town, it’s pathetic.” A local community forum had this to say: “We want them the hell out of here, and are sick of them robbing us, stealing our copper, and anything that isn't tied down.”
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has taken a strong stance against smuggling cartels, and his deputies are committed to the fight. They are dangerously understaffed, though, averaging only one deputy per 1,000 citizens – the lowest in Arizona. Only eight deputies patrol this 500-square-mile region that includes Hidden Valley and Stanfield. One, Deputy Louie Puroll, was recently ambushed and shot very near the 150 mile marker of Interstate 8. Another, Deputy Matt McKenzie, spoke with reporter Joel Waldman of Tucson’s KGUN ‘9 On Your Side’ (www.kgun9.com, Pinal County Deputy’s Dark Desert Patrol; May 20, 2010). When asked what it is like patrolling this area, he responded, “It’s like a war.”
Sheriff Babeu has vowed to continue the fight against drug trafficking and human smuggling, but admits he does not have the manpower he needs. “These are paramilitary groups – highly trained men with semi- and fully automatic rifles.... This goes on every night and day,” he said(FoxNews.com, New Ground Zero in Illegal Immigration Battle; July 6, 2010). He has called on President Obama to send federal troops to secure our border, but who knows if or when that will happen. In the words of reporter John Leo, columnist forRealClearPolitics.com, “The political culture of Washington, focused on cheap labor and Latino votes, is nowhere near recognizing what is happening.”
No problems in Hidden Valley? Many experts expect the violence to escalate dramatically this autumn. Major Mexican drug cartels are battling each other for power and control, and more and more their battles are seen and heard this far north of the border. They have made pointed death threats against Sheriff Babeu specifically, and against anyone else who gets in their way.
On American soil, vigilante groups may be as dangerous as the cartels. One such vigilante is Jason “J.T.” Ready, who recently called publicly and through emails for his people to “come to the Vekol Valley in Pinal County and to bring plenty of firearms and ammo.” According to syndicated investigative reporter Michael Webster of the PPJ Gazette (ppjg.wordpress.com), Ready is one of the organizers of a group that plans to station themselves along Interstate 8, to show the world that a line in the sand has been drawn. “We’re going to block off the narco-terrorists that come up through this area,” said Ready, adding that volunteers were coming from all over Arizona and even out of state to support the effort. “This is the Minuteman Project on steroids.... We’ve got people with assault weapons, too. We will use lawful deadly force where appropriate.” Hidden Valley residents may find themselves in the crossfire.
Although the problems associated with illegal immigrants are now countrywide, living at ground zero is proving too much for some residents here. One man spoke about his only neighbor within a half-mile. “They said they were sick of the illegals and didn't feel safe here anymore,” he said. Then he added, “I will not let the scumbags force me to leave my home. When people move, it enables the bad guys to win. I will not let them win here.” For the many who choose to stay, local militia groups and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department have some advice to help them stay safe.
First, use caution and common sense. Lock your doors, and know who is knocking before you open it. Lock your vehicles and secure your property. If you own dogs, listen to them. If you hear commotion, especially after dark, call 9-1-1 instead of investigating yourself. Protect what you can, and don’t put yourself in harm’s way if you can avoid it.
When travelling, pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t stop for hitchhikers, or even to help a stranger unless you can safely do so. Carjackings have been reported on Warren, Amarillo Valley, and Ralston Roads recently. When hiking, stay alert and in groups. Particularly watch particularly for people wearing large backpacks, hooded sweatshirts, or carrying guns. If you see anything out of the ordinary, do not confront them! Call 9-1-1 immediately and get yourself out of there.
If you own a cell phone, keep it charged and handy. Keep law enforcement phone numbers in your home, in your vehicle, and on your person. Here are some useful ones to keep on hand:
Plenty of Hidden Valley residents own guns. If you are one of them, make sure you are well prepared. Have ammunition and schedule practice time. Before you load your guns, make sure you can control both their access and your reactions – and that you are mentally prepared to shoot another human being. An unloaded gun is next to useless. A loaded gun -- used improperly, indecisively, or in the wrong hands -- could be a death warrant for yourself or someone you love.
- Pinal County Sheriff (non-emergency) – (800) 420-8689 or (520) 866-6800
- Border Patrol Main Number – (877) 872-7435
- Federal ICE Divisions – (866) 347-2423 or (800) 232-5378
More than anything else, maintain contact with your neighbors. Know who belongs, who doesn’t, and what activities deviate from the routine. Check on each other, and on those who live alone. Many homes in Hidden Valley are isolated, but they still have Internet access. Find community forums like cowpoop.net, and stay in touch that way. Neighborhood watches are probably the single most effective weapon against those who threaten your freedom and way of life.
No problems in Hidden Valley? Yes, there are problems, but these folks tend to be pretty resilient. This issue is finally beginning to receive national attention. Perhaps help will be right behind it, and Hidden Valley will again be a quiet little corner of the desert.
This sign is posted not far from Hidden Valley.