Looking at a map of New Mexico, you will see it is nearly a thousand miles from the nearest US port – either Los Angeles or San Diego to the west on the Pacific coast or Galveston, Texas to the east on the Gulf of Mexico. Now see yourself as a wealthy rancher or mine owner in 19th century New Mexico. You have a fortune in product to export, yet the cost of moving that product to the nearest US port in order to ship to your buyers is prohibitive. However, there may be a solution to your problem. The Mexican port of Guaymas on the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California) is little more than half as far away, if only it can be reached by rail.
View New Mexico Arizona Railroad in a larger map
A railroad already runs northward from Guaymas to the US border town of Nogales. By 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad is making its transcontinental way to Los Angeles from back east and reaches the south eastern Arizonan town of Benson. There is 88 miles of empty desert between Benson and Nogales. If only these two towns can be linked by rail, it will be possible to use Guaymas as the port from which the wealth of New Mexico can much more easily be exported.
Therefore, in 1882, the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad was built. It ran through that empty hostile desert from Benson to Nogales and solved the problem. Part of it was washed away in a storm in 1929 and the rest of it was abandoned in 1962 due to lack of business. Today, the disused line provides a convenient hiking trail.
The original railway station built in Patagonia, Arizona is still standing and now serves as the Town Hall. Pat and I passed through that empty desert recently and could only marvel at the ingenuity of those 19th century entrepreneurs in problem-solving on such a grand scale.
The scale of their achievement was brought home to us by a marker that we found by the desert roadside, apparently in the middle of nowhere, but close to the former route of the old railroad. The marker announced that, from 1867 to 1873, this was the site of Camp Crittenden. The camp had been established by Colonel Thomas S Crittenden of the US Army to protect nearby settlements from hostile Indians.
Leading a detachment of troops from Camp Crittenden, Lieutenant H B Cushing was killed in a skirmish on May 5 1871 by an Apache war leader from Cochise’s band. At about the same time as the new railroad was being pushed through the desert, US troops in the vicinity were still being killed by hostile Indians. There are no hostile Apache warriors in Arizona today, as far as I know, but there are between 2500 and 3000 mountain lions roaming the state. These powerful predators live principally by eating deer. They can consume an entire deer in two nights. A male lion can grow to more than 8 feet in length and weigh as much as 150 pounds. These lions usually prefer to avoid people, but they can kill humans.
In an item that I posted on this website some time ago, I mentioned a 1975 trip that I took to Alberta, Canada and my encounter there with a bear which looked through the window of my cabin on the shores of Lake Louise. As I then frankly admitted, I was fearful but I had no idea how to handle the situation had the bear taken a closer interest in me. I therefore gave no advice in that article and I belatedly apologize for that. However, this website presently receives over 12,000 hits per month, which greatly increases the likelihood that someone now reading this will one day be confronted by a mountain lion. I therefore surely have a duty to explain in detail what to do, should you be so confronted.
Make eye contact. Remain calm and speak loudly and firmly. Do not approach it. Hopefully, it will try to avoid a confrontation, so give it a way to escape. Do not run away because this may trigger its instinct to chase you. Stand and face it, while slowly backing away. Try to appear larger than you are and open your jacket. Raise your arms and wave them slowly. Do not crouch or turn your back. The idea is to convince it that you are not prey. If attacked, fight back and be sure to remain standing and facing the animal, which usually tries to bite the head or neck. I have no idea whether any of this works, never myself having ever met a mountain lion. I can accept no legal liability for any injuries that you may suffer by adopting these tactics. If they do not work and if you are still well enough after the experience to complain, I can only refer you to the Arizona Game and Fish Department who kindly provided me with this information. But whether or not you are successful in fighting the animal off, remember (as you struggle) that poor Lieutenant Cushing would surely have preferred an encounter with a mountain lion on May 5 1871 than a fight with one of Cochise’s top warriors.