Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsNew Mexico

No Man's Land : The territory of 'Two Eagles' should be a treasured wilderness were it not for its tragic location on the border between the U.S. and Mexico : TWO EAGLES / DOS AGUILAS: The Natural World of the United States-Mexico Borderlands, Text by Peter Steinhart, photographs by Tupper Ansel Blake (University of California Press: $55; 256 pp.)

November 06, 1994|Ray Gonzalez | Ray Gonzalez is the author of "Memory Fever: A Journey Beyond El Paso del Norte." He lives in San Antonio, Texas

When I was growing up in the desert of west Texas and southern New Mexico, I saw the landscape change with the encroachment of the 1.5 million people from El Paso and Juarez. In the 1960s and '70s, you could still escape the polluted haze of border industries by hiking into the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, N.M. When I left the area for good in 1978, the Franklin Mountains surrounding El Paso were no longer a haven because new housing developments had cut into them, destroying the fragile, ecological balance and the beauty of those bare mountains; you had to go farther into the southern New Mexico desert to find solitude. Years later, I wrote a book of essays about the desert and its rich, natural world as I had known it in my childhood. I recounted my experiences with great, diamondback rattlers and the hundreds of collar lizards that skipped everywhere I walked. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the area.

After reading and gazing at "Two Eagles / Dos Aguilas," my view of where I grew up has been completely disrupted and pleasantly changed. Peter Steinhart's essays, written in clear, simple language, invite the reader to join him on his explorations and discoveries. His knowledge about the Southwest reveals a whole new world that is thriving along what Steinhart calls "the most ecologically diverse region in North America." Despite the disappearance of much of the desert and wildlife around major cities such as El Paso, Steinhart's book is encouraging. He shows how the borderlands are very much alive and surviving current problems such as pollution, industrial mismanagement, the population boom and political tensions between the United States and Mexico.

"Two Eagles" is a tour of the natural world along the border from San Diego to the Texas Gulf Coast. Steinhart and photographer Tupper Ansel Blake drew their boundaries to include everything 50 miles north of the border and everything 50 miles south. The region in between is a belt of valuable natural resources, ancient rock valleys, pockets of tropical fauna and bird species, alpine forests and mighty currents of mountain waters churning into two of our most crucial waterways, the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.

This is one of those rare books in which the imagery of fine writing is nourished by the imagery of fine photography. As I read about Steinhart's travels, and became hypnotized by Blake's photographs, I realized that I may have been guilty of dismissing much of the area I wrote about as a desolate wasteland whose life was over. "Two Eagles" is a groundbreaking book because it does away with the myth many natives themselves have been guilty of promoting about the borderlands. There was always more to the region than I knew about. The deserts, mountains, high forests and green valleys of the borderlands are beautiful, mysterious and environmentally fragile. The Chihuahua desert of southern New Mexico was a world large enough for a small boy, but as its plants and wildlife were overrun by new streets, its stripped landscape forced many of us to believe there was nothing left.

Steinhart's experience as a naturalist and environmental writer has drawn out secrets of the borderlands and its natural world that few natives, much less outsiders, would know about. He documents little-known species of animals native to the borderlands: jaguars, ocelots, parrots, bears and wolves. The region is abundant with plant life that varies from yuccas, ocotillo and lechugilla to lesser-known ebony trees, guayacans, cenizo and anacuas. As overview in his first essay, "On the Border," Steinhart writes: "The borderlands . . . are that part of the continent where temperate life meets tropical life. To the north, where most rains fall, are rolling prairies and thick forests. To the south, the land rises into the Mexican plateau; there, too, the land is wetter and more forested. Draw a line fifty miles north of and parallel to the entire border: the resulting 95,000 square miles contain the United States' richest biodiversity, more species per square mile than any other part of the nation, with the sole possible exception of southern Florida. A similar strip south of the border is one of Mexico's areas of highest biodiversity, and Mexico boasts a number of endemic species perhaps higher than any other nation's."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|