Cabeza Prieta Wilderness in Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway

PHOTO CREDIT: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Source.

“They came down out of the screaming sun and broke onto the rough plains of the Cabeza Prieta wilderness, at the south end of the United States Air Force’s Barry Goldwater bombing range, where the sun recommenced its burning.  Cutting through this region, and lending its name to the terrible landscape was the Devil’s Highway, more death, another desert. They were in a vast trickery of sand.”1

In The Devil’s Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea retells the story of the Wellton 26, a group of 26 migrants who entered the United States and attempted to cross through this area of Arizona desert near the Cabeza Preita wilderness.  After struggling for days—abandoned, disoriented, and constantly suffering under an oppressive sun—only 12 of the original 26 survived. In recounting their experiences, Urrea examines this issue of illegal border crossings from many perspectives.

This area of the desert referred to as the Devil’s Highway in Urrea’s book has a long history as a path for migrants heading north, and an equally long history of travelers succumbing to the elements.  While The Devil’s Highway focuses on the experiences of one group of men, those experiences are reflective of a more frequent occurrence on the Arizona border. Since 2001, the year the Wellton 26 entered the desert, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office has recorded 2,100 migrant deaths along the border.

Find The Devil’s Highway at a local library or on Amazon.

1Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway. New York: Back Bay Books, 2005. 4. Print.

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