This is a brief story about how I got started smuggling marijuana into the USA from Mexico. I was just seventeen years old and a senior at Westwood High school in Mesa, Arizona. I would not want the reader to think I am proud of this. I am not. Everything is true with the exception of the names of a few of my old friends who are still among the living. All the places I’ve named exist to this day.
The full Moon rose like a big brilliant orb over huge saguaro cactuses, some of which were nearly two-hundred years old. These giant sentries stood with their arms upraised towards the heavens as the marijuana was passed over a three-foot barbed-wire fence, which in those days was the only barrier which separated the USA from Mexico. The place was Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona.
Organ Pipe had been designated a National Monument in about 1937. It was, and still is, a true national treasure. Hunting has always been prohibited in all national monuments and this meant the park was teeming with all types of wildlife. There was a large contingency of coyotes and more rattle snakes than I have ever seen in my life. Most of these animals were nocturnal and Organ Pipe came to life each night. The State of Arizona law makers originally deeded the land to the Federal Government during prohibition. Prohibition banned all sales of alcohol in the United States. As strange as it might seem, the legislative record from that time frame clearly shows legislators wanted a paved highway to facilitate the movement of illegal alcohol through Arizona. Go figure. All I can say about this is, only in Arizona.
On that night, I waited until the full moon began to rise and took myself and my five friends to an isolated spot along the border that separates the USA from Mexico. It was not by accident that I chose a night when I knew it would be a full moon. Out there in the middle of the deserted desert, under a full moon, it was like daylight. Nor was it by accident that I had chosen this spot to cross the border that night. I had earlier that night climbed a hill in Mexico as it began to get dark. I could easily see the headlights of the Customs and Border Control trucks as they headed out for the night to set up shop. They tended to pick a spot each night and most often stayed at that spot until morning. They always stayed close together, safety in numbers was, and still is, a rule of thumb out there in the “Pipe.” Even back then, it could be a dangerous place to be alone.
I had taken five good friends on this adventure. Most of them I had known since childhood. I knew they were all trustworthy, honest and in great shape physically. Some were high school athletes. More importantly they trusted me and were willing to do as I asked. I told them I would give each of them three kilos of pot, about seven pounds, for their efforts that night. I had purchased expensive back packs, one for each of them, and made sure they all had good boots to wear. The desert in Organ Pipe is hard on regular shoes and can destroy a new pair of tennis shoes in one night.
I had already placed the kilos in large bags and secured them to back packs and had only to remove them from the vehicle once we reached the border fence. I did so, placing the loaded backpacks on the ground and had all but one guy grab a backpack and cross over the fence. I told them each to grab one backpack and follow me. I took them to a spot about 30 yards from the border, loaded the packs and told them to wait for me to return.
I quickly went back to where I had left my best friend Tommy. I went a few yards back into the desert on the Mexican side of the fence and cut off a small branch from a bush, which had many small leaves attached to it. I told Tommy to take the one remaining backpack, cross the border fence and watch me. I then proceeded to use the branch from the bush and used it to erase all of the footprints on both sides of the border that might give away our location to any law-enforcement officers who might drive along the dirt road on the American side of the fence. I felt that seeing a bunch of footprints would be a dead giveaway that something was going on in the “Pipe” that night. I then followed Tommy back to the others erasing our footprints. I explained to Tommy that I wanted him to follow all of us, making sure no one got lost and to erase our footprints whenever we crossed a sandy wash. He simply nodded his head. He was and still is, a man of few words.
By the time Tommy and I made it back to where I’d left my other friends, they had put on the backpacks, which had the pot tied and taped shut on them. One for each and Tommy had one already on his back. I carried nothing but two gallons of spare water. Each of my friends had also been given one gallon of their own to carry. Each backpack held about 15 kilos, about 30 pound more or less. It added up to about 150 pounds, far more than I’d ever had at one time in my life.
By the time I returned with Tommy to where my other friends were hidden, the young coyote pups had just begun to cry out for their parents who were no doubt out hunting food for their children. Despite what many people think, adult coyotes are extremely family orientated. Both parents take part in raising their young pups. Because no hunting of any kind had been allowed in Organ Pipe National Monument for over 40 years the coyote population had thrived and there was great numbers of them. For anyone hearing these pups yelp, it is like no sound you have ever heard. It’s otherworldly and actually a little scary. At least that had been my experience the first time I heard it. It usually starts with just one or two pups and rapidly increases to many hundreds of them. When the yelping reaches its full crescendo, it’s quite loud, which under the circumstances suited me just fine. It’s easily loud enough to cover the sound of a few men walking through the desert at night. I explained to my friends what all the noise was and they seemed to relax a bit.
One of my friends asked, “Allan, how the hell do you know where we are going?” I pointed to the lights of the parking area of the visitor center, which were clearly visible, and told all of them that’s where we are going. One commented that it seemed only a few hundred yards away and I explained that in the pristine desert things often seem closer than they are. I also told them for the first time that I had already done this by myself just to make sure it was safe. I also told them that it would take between one and one half hours of steady walking to reach our destination that night. Actually, I had already done this twice. The first time I carried nothing but water and the second time I carried 15 kilos myself. I had used the money I made from those 15 kilos to finance this trip. So off we went on our first great adventure together.
Something else I did not tell them was that I had recruited another of my best friends to drive the pot from the rest area back to Phoenix. As planned, he had taken a room in an old landmark motel named The Space Age Motel in Gila Bend, Arizona. As far as I know it’s still there. I knew my friend was already at the motel because I had instructed him to leave the car we were going to use to transport the pot in plain sight. I had seen the car as we drove through Gila Bend earlier in the day.
The Space Age Motel sits on the main drag going through Gila Bend and you can miss it as you drive through the town. To get to Organ Pipe you leave Phoenix, drive through Gila Bend, then on to a small town called Ajo. From Ajo, you drive a few miles from town and come to a small hamlet called Why. At Why, you have two choices: drive through and go to Tucson, or turn right and head to Mexico. The entrance to Organ Pipe Visitor Center is on the right side of the highway about six or seven miles from the actual border separating the USA from Mexico.
A few hundred yards beyond the entrance to Organ Pipe Visitor Center there is highway road sign telling you that the border crossing closes each day from midnight until 6am the next day. I felt I could use this to my advantage. I had instructed my friend who was going to drive the pot to not leave Ajo until it would be too late to cross the border that night. I told him rather than drive right into the visitor center to instead drive right past the entrance until he saw the sign, pause long enough to read the sign and turn around and go to the visitor center. I did this on the off chance that someone – Border Patrol or custom officials – might be watching the entrance to the visitor center at that time of night. It would simply appear to them that arriving too late to cross the border that night, the person driving the car had simply decided to spend the night at the visitor center. I had told my friend to park as close to the edge of the parking area on the side nearest to Mexico. He had already done this once with me when I brought the 15 kilos across myself so he knew exactly what to do and why. The only difference was that we were in a different car this time. I told my friend to simply park the car and set up the little two man tent he had next to the car and crawl into it. I also told him to take the key to the trunk of the car and leave it in the trunk lock.
My friends who were carrying the pot and I arrived about one and a half hours after we started. We had, at my insistence, taken about a 15-minute stop to rest a little and drink some water. Upon our arrival just below the parking area, I had everyone stop. I told them to take off the backpacks and wait for me to return. I went up the steep incline to the rest area to make sure the car had arrived safely and was in the proper place. It was. I then returned to the others and had Tommy help me to take the backpacks to the rest area and place them into the large trunk of the car. My friend Tommy had never met my friend in the tent and never even saw his face that night because I told him to stay in the tent while the pot was being loaded into the trunk of the car. When we were done, I took the key to the trunk with me when I left. I did this not out of fear my friend would try and steal anything from me, but rather on the off chance if he was to be pulled over on the way back to Phoenix he could honestly tell anyone who wanted to look in the trunk that he did not have a key.
All went well that night and the next day. It was the beginning of what would turn into my worst nightmare in just a few short years. I fully realize that I have given anyone who reads this a blueprint for smuggling small amounts of pot into this country. I beg you to please pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you. All of this took place in the early 1970’s. If you tried to do this today you will get busted the very first time. Times – and border security – have changed. Aside from being illegal, it is morally wrong. It set me on a path in which heartache and death became commonplace. As I said, I am not proud of all this. Truth be told, I am ashamed.
Click here for Weird Al’s previous guest blog about him waking up in a Mexican jail handcuffed to a corpse