Image: Don Bartletti
In the dusty, hot land between Yuma, Arizona and Calexico, California, the U.S. Border Patrol faces regular attempts by Mexican drug smugglers trying to enter the land of the free quite illegally. To make matters worse, the ever-changing sandy landscape makes it difficult for even the most watchful guard to say where the border actually lies, especially when fences are constantly being buried by dunes. But there is hope now with the installation of a state-of-the-art, 15-ft-high, seven-mile-long fence that simply floats on top of the sand. Like a serpent lying in wait to pounce on an unsuspecting prey, this impressive barricade also yields dire consequences for anyone who dares to cross its path.
Placed strategically atop the largest stretch of sand dunes in the United States where the U.S.-Mexico border is a mere half mile from Interstate 8, the floating fence should make patrol guards’ lives a little easier. The “floating fortress” or “sand dragon”, as it’s been variously dubbed, can be repositioned by machine to the appropriate border line whenever the shifting desert dunes have moved it or threaten to do it under like its traditional fixed-location fence cousins.
Below is a regular fence at Border Field State Park in Southern California: not a huge barrier, people have met up with family at the fence here, and drugs and money have been even been passed through the slats.
Image: Brian Auer
The flipside, however, is that guards now need to take care of this potentially unruly giant as well as keep a wary eye out for fence-hoppers, because, unlike buoys bobbing in the ocean, anchored to keep from floating away, the sand dragon has no leash. Its shape will never be the same as it alters itself according to the natural movement of the sand, and it’s possible that it could move in a direction that expands the U.S. border rather than simply keeping it intact.
“Of course the Border Patrol thinks it’s absolutely brilliant, a fence that never loses height and can be easily resettled on a landscape that is constantly shifting its contours. It fits their vision in every way of a dynamic border that can react to and meet the needs of a changing environment, and symbolically the challenges of a constantly shifting political landscape...It has in fact completely redrawn the border ever so slightly in favor of expanding American territory in the dunes. They leave it, for the time being, until this ‘oversight’ is detected and accusatory politics erupts, and new meaning is given to the adage, ‘We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.’”
And where would such a fence end up, if left to its own devices? It might encroach upon a human settlement, becoming a suffocating wall; or it might float on over to the ocean where it meets unfriendly conditions like rocky shores and hostile waves that twist it into a big mess of metal. Or it could simply be swallowed by the sand and regurgitated in an endless, eternal cycle.
Only time will tell how the sand dragon will do. But at a cost of $40 million, here’s hoping that this barrier can do the trick and keep people on their own side of the fence!