A Walk Along the Border

By Rose Minutaglio

Wilmer Valderrama is opening up about his personal immigrant experience – and why all Americans should embrace and celebrate their cultural identities, not hide them.

“The most beautiful thing you can be is an immigrant,” Valderrama, 36, says. “A fearless brave individual that embraces their heritage is a special thing.”

The star of a new Johnnie Walker campaign Keep Walking America, Valderrama visited the Texas-Mexico border on October 23, meeting with local immigrants and hometown heroes and encouraging those of cross-culture heritage to “embrace their roots.” Especially at a time when he says there is “a lot of negativity around the conversation of immigration.”

“I’m all about the positivity and making sure we celebrate the goodness of immigration,” the former That ’70s Show star says. “And being proud of an immigrant heritage.”

Valderrama was born in Miami, Florida, but left the U.S. at the age of 3.

“My father is Venezuelan and my mother is Colombian,” he says “There was work in Venezuela, so we left the country and moved back to where my dad is from.”

The actor grew up on a farm riding horses and “chasing chickens” every day with his sister. But his father’s agricultural corn and rice business went bankrupt and his parents moved the family to California when he was a teenager – in pursuit of a better life.

“He wanted to give me and my sister a better future and a shot at an education,” says Valderrama. “So we sold everything we had and came to America.”

He enrolled in acting classes and, at the age of 18, landed the role of Fez on That ’70s Show that would eventually launch his Hollywood career.

“If you’re an American, period, you are an immigrant,” he says. “Retelling my story now, retelling success stories, is a great reminder that the American dream can be achieved.”

Full Story at People

The Man Walking the Length of the Texas-Mexico Border

When Mark Hainds set off to walk the length of the Texas-Mexico border two years ago, it wasn’t to make a political statement. Mainly, he just wanted an escape.

Hainds, a forestry expert in his mid-40s, was feeling overwhelmed by dual positions as a researcher at Auburn University and the Longleaf Alliance, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization dedicated to studying and preserving the longleaf pine ecosystem. So he left, to “get away from the modern world” for a while.

He began the trip in El Paso on October 27, 2014, and hiked 1,010 miles of Texas borderlands over a seven-week period (including a one-week hiatus to return to Alabama, where he wrapped up some teaching duties). During his trek, he encountered a group of recent border-crossers, drug smugglers, cowboys, a few other hikers, and a daily dose of Border Patrol and law enforcement agents.

The journey, chronicled by documentary filmmaker Rex Jones, will appear in an hour-long documentary La Frontera, which will be available online beginning October 7. But Hainds’s journey doesn’t end there: On December 21, he intends to walk the remaining length of the border from New Mexico to California. Hainds believes he’ll be the first person to walk the entire length of the southern border.

We connected with Hainds ahead of the release of La Frontera to hear about the first border walk and what he expects when he hits the trail again at the end of the year.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read the Interview at Vice

Trans Pecos: The Movie

By Andrew Barker

The Chihuahuan desert, along which the majority of the U.S.-Mexico border lies, is an environment of almost merciless purity. Setting his film on a remote border outpost within that desert, director Greg Kwedar follows suit with “Transpecos,” an atmospheric thriller with hardly an ounce of excess fat. Tracing the deadly aftermath of a vehicle inspection gone wrong, the director wrings an impressive amount of moral inquiry out of a fairly basic premise, and even if one senses several of the plot’s screws could have been tightened a little more carefully, Kwedar still offers a finely measured, handsomely crafted debut that should attract admirers on the festival circuit.

Taking place over a single day and night, “Transpecos” opens on three border patrol agents as they begin their shift at some nameless checkpoint. The three are easily recognizable types: Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr.) is the hard-assed, politically incorrect old salt; Davis (Johnny Simmons) is the jabber-jawed young recruit; and protagonist Flores (Gabriel Luna) is an empathetic Boy Scout type of Hispanic heritage. The film takes its time with the three in the early going as they half-interestedly go about their duties, soothing the audience into the languid, sun-blanched atmosphere.

It’s late in their shift when Davis casually waves an American driver through, but Hobbs notices something amiss and goes in for a closer look. The driver tries to take off with Hobbs’ arm still stuck in the window, Hobbs shoots him, and the trio discover a cache of cocaine in his trunk. Before they can call it in, Davis pulls his sidearm on his fellow officers. Plied with drug cartel money and cowed by threats to himself and his family, Davis had agreed to make sure the car made it through the checkpoint: Now he’s forced to beg his partners to help him make the drop-off before the rest of the smugglers notice. Hobbs, whose arm was broken in the scuffle, refuses; Flores is torn but eventually comes on board, with the disabled Hobbs riding along as a captive passenger.

Does Trans Pecos Pipeline Threaten Marfa Lights?

By Sarah Laskow

Normally, part of the magic of Marfa’s mystery lights is that out on the flats, where the lights appear, there are no roads and no houses. Whatever the cause of the lights—and in 130 years, no one has ever been able to come up with a foolproof explanation—the lack of human activity has been a key part of the mystery of these red and white spots dancing on the horizon.

Right now, though, there is human movement out on the flats. Five miles to the southwest of the Marfa Lights Viewing Station, the low building erected at one of the most popular light-viewing spots, workers on the Trans Pecos pipeline are preparing to lay a 42-inch natural gas pipeline into the ground.

The Marfa lights in the distance. (Photo: Nicolas Henderson/CC BY 2.0)

“You can see the pipe from the viewing station with the naked eye,” says Alyce Santoro, a member of the grassroots group Defend Big Bend.

Is This the “Best West Texas Road Trip Ever?”

Who’s ready for a road trip?! We sure are! A West Texas road trip, to be exact. The weather’s starting to warm up, so it’s the perfect time to experience some of our state’s most untouched beauty. From historic hotels to the majestic Chisos Mountains of Big Bend, we’ll guide you through the vacation of a lifetime – and all you need is one weekend! Again, we’ve done all the work for you. No fumbling around for exact addresses in unfamiliar places will be necessary. The Google Map with exact directions can be found here.road-trip

An Oklahoman’s Take on the Texas Trans Pecos

Just minutes into the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “No Country for Old Men,” Javier Bardem’s remorseless, alien hit man Anton Chigurh lobotomizes some poor sap with a cattle gun and steals his car, but the scene isn’t the film’s opening series of shots. No, instead the Coens establish a profound sense of isolation in the rugged and craggy, but low-slung and far-reaching mountains of the west Texas Trans-Pecos, a region so sparse that some counties’ population density comes out to a couple of people — or even just a fraction of a person — per square mile. Not only is nobody coming to save you from the villain unbound of the social contracts of morality, the Coens seem to say, but in a desert this vast your body may never be found at all.

Recently, I vacationed there.

“There,” specifically, is Marfa, Texas, population near 2,000, which serves as the seat of Presidio County and is home to a decommissioned U.S. Army fort turned art museum. You’ve probably seen pictures from Marfa on Instagram and swiped along assuming it was Austin. The quirky town boasts more than a dozen art galleries, a nearly century-old hotel built in the Spanish Colonial style, boutiques that sell handmade soap and designer dresses, arts festivals, a coffee roastery and a surprising number of fine-dining options, considering its location in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Most point to Donald Judd when asked how Marfa’s relationship with the arts began. Seeking a respite from the bustle of New York City in the 1970s, the noted critic and sculptor purchased a lot of land around Marfa — including the former Fort D.A. Russell — set up the non-profit Chinati Foundation and, as you do when you buy a lot of land in the middle of nowhere, started installing art out there. Just, like, in the middle of an open field. A stark, impersonal set of 15 rectangular concrete structures sit out in full view of the highway, like Stonehenge, but with 90 degree angles. Seeing it wasn’t the last time that weekend that I was shocked by artifice set against an inhospitable landscape.

Full Story at the Oklahoman

Wanderers of the American West

With factors such as Interstate-10, Big Bend National Park, and various highways converging, the city of Fort Stockton brings in a lot of travelers. We see many unfamiliar faces that are passing through on vacation, maybe stopping to visit our landmarks, but what about the recurring faces behind cardboard signs? Many hitchhikers come back to Fort Stockton, and some of them you might even know on a first-name basis.

There are a lot of mixed emotions toward the homeless community and various perceptions of what is actually considered a “homeless person.” A traveler named Ralph, who goes by the street name “Chief,” has been wandering for 40 years now. He returns to Fort Stockton every year and has become acquainted with many Fort Stockton residents.

Ralph opened up about how things work when you are living out of a backpack:

“I just got back into town; the longest place I stay is actually Fort Stockton. I like this place. The weather is not bad, and the people are pretty friendly. I consider myself a tramp; I just tramp from town to town. I am homeless, but that’s because I don’t stay in one place long enough to get a home. I’m a U.S. veteran; I served in the army from ’72 to ’75. The war really did a number on me. When I got out of the service, I almost killed my wife in my sleep because I was suffering with horrible night terrors. The VA told me ‘Just drink some booze and get some sleep,” and I told them ‘That’s my problem—I can’t sleep!’ But at that time, the VA didn’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder was. After the service, I was laid off from my job and then went through a divorce. I fell into a deep depression, and all I did was smoke weed and eat Cheetos. I gained a lot of weight, and I wasn’t taking very good care of myself. The doctor told me I wouldn’t last two more years. All of the night terrors, health issues and depression led me to hit the road. I lost 60 pounds becoming a tramp, and I’m still alive today.”

The seasoned drifter turned the conversation to the homeless community at-large and addressed the ongoing discriminations and swindlers:

“There’s a lot of discrimination against us tramps. We’re everywhere; so people might as well know about it. There’s a traveling culture. We are homeless, but there are different crowds of us. There’s the homeless bums who just stay in one spot and are not hitchhiking. They are the ones who are down and out, and they are out living on the streets because of bad circumstances. There are the tramps like me; some call us travelers. Then there are the hobos who ride trains town to town and work, just like the old cartoon hobos with the sticks and handkerchiefs. There are also the hippies who are called Rainbow Family. Rainbow Family are travelers like us tramps. They ride hippie buses or hitch rides. Rainbow Family sometimes play music or make jewelry to make their money. They believe that everybody is God’s children and they love to help others. Rainbow is good people. Unfortunately, there are the scammers out there who give all of us a bad name. The scams have houses, money, and they are imposters. There was one year that I came out to Fort Stockton that the Sagebrush Cafe allowed me to wash dishes for them to make a little money. There was an employee there who showed me a video of a couple begging for money here. In the video it showed them jumping inside a brand new car at the end of the day. It was a brand spankin’ new car, and it still had the sticker on the back window (shakes his head). This is why people have a bad impression of us. They put all of us in the same category as the scammers and alcoholics. People are scared to hand us money because of the alcoholics who will sit on the corner, make six bucks, and then go straight to buy some liquor. People see it. It’s true that there are some bad people out here, but you would be blown away by how many good people are out here too. There was one lady traveling back home with her little boy, and she got a flat tire. Five of us homeless people dug into our pockets and helped them out. There was one tramp with us who said ‘Give me an hour.’ He went to fly his sign on the corner and came back with $40. We put up every penny we made combined to buy her a new tire, feed her son and fill up her gas tank. One of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had was actually with eight tramps. We served hot dogs with chili and chips. Everyone was together because of love, and that’s why it was the best one ever.”

Read More at Fort Stockton Pioneer

Ride the Ranch – Big Bend State Park

Big Bend State Park2

As fall and winter continue to march south, so too will our featured rides. This week we’re highlighting Big Bend Ranch State Park, which sits just north and west of Big Bend National Park in the southwest corner of Texas. It’s extremely remote, extremely beautiful and highly likely to provide you with a big does of solitude. The closest towns of Lajitas and Terlingua feel like wild west outposts and Mexico is merely a stone’s throw away, should you be feeling adventurous.

Big Bend State Park4 Big Bend State Park5

Given its southern location, this IMBA Epic ride is best enjoyed in the cooler months from October to mid-April. And it is epic, indeed, clocking in at 59 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain, despite being just 40 percent singletrack. You’re guaranteed to feel small riding through purple, yellow and orange hills and past ruins of old mining camps full of rusty trucks.

 

Read More at Dirt Rag

Border Communities Protest Stereotyping in New Film

The new film Sicario starring Emily Blunt and Benecio Del Toro features FBI agents in the borderland taking on the escalating drug war. While it’s gotten great reviews, some politicians and communities on both side of the border are protesting the way the film portrays the region The mayor of Juarez has reportedly even called for a boycott of the film.

More than 50 residents of El Paso recently went to a special viewing of the movieSicario – to mixed reviews.

“You had some people that thought the movie was done well in terms of it being exciting, but thought it was a really bad portrayal of Juarez, or that it was a damaging portrayal,” says Peter Svarzbein.  The freshman city council member organized the viewing and panel discussion. He’s got a background in film and media.

“I thought this was an opportunity to not bash Hollywood or anything like that,” says Svarzbein, “but to look critically at the kind of portrayals that keep popping up when it talks to the U.S.-Mexico border.”

More from the BBC

 

Ten Best Places to Star Gaze in Texas

You may have heard that the stars at night are big and bright in Texas. The best places in the Lone Star State to stargaze are relatively far removed from the bright lights of the big cities. Rather than drive aimlessly down some back road, or risk getting shot for trespassing on private land, visit these 10 places that the best perfect for stargazing in Texas. Also, be sure to check Texas Parks and Wildlife to see when celestial events are forecasted.

10. Resaca de la Palma State Park

Flickr/Me and the Sysop
Flickr/Me and the Sysop

Located down south near Brownsville, Resaca de la Palma State Park is an ideal place for stargazing. The nearby Nompuewenu Observatory hosts occasional “Astronomy in the Park” events that are educational and fun for the whole family. This south Texas state park is also an incredible place to go bird watching, due to the many species of birds that reside in the park.