CREATED Jul 18, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
NOGALES, Sonora, Mex. (KGUN9-TV) - Before there was any fence along our border, something else let the world know where the U.S. ends and Mexico begins. Made of iron and stone, they were “boundary monuments.” More than century later, they still stand today, but many are crumbling. But a monumental facelift is now on the way for the markers in Arizona thanks to taxpayers.
Take as an example monument number 122. Standing at about five feet tall, it’s an obelisk made of steel in the middle of the walkway on Mexico's side of the border fence. The American border town of Nogales is steps away, but the monument is neither in Mexico nor the U.S.
Where is it? The markings on it declare: "Boundary of the United States." On the reverse side facing Mexico: "Limite de la República Mexicana."
“They're telling us where the line--exactly where the line is that divides the United States and Mexico,” explained Jose Juan Andrade of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).
KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen asked him, “But don't we have a fence that can tell us that?” “Yes, there’s a fence right there, but that fence--its purpose is to protect the line,” Andrade answered. “The fence is actually part of the United States.”
The IBWC is in charge of half of the 276 total monuments marking the border from coast to coast. Mexico is responsible for the rest.
“When a lot of people think about the border, they think, 'Well, there's a fence there.' But that's not always the case at all, is it?” Keen asked IBWC assistant operation manager Don Atwood. “No, not at all,” Atwood replied. “Some of them, we don't even have fence. Some of them, I think, (there’s) just barbered wire. Some of them, (have) like a Normandy fence. So, these are very prominent.”
The monuments are prominently placed atop mountains and hills. In theory, you can see from one monument to the next in a continuous line of sight.
Still functional and ever historic, the pyramid-pointed posts are a requirement of a series of treaties and agreements our country made beginning in the 19th century.
Monument 122, perhaps 156 years old, has held up well. Others made of masonry are crumbling in remote desert areas. Many concrete foundations are cracking and bolts are ready to bust.
But a monumental facelift begins this year. Congress approved money to repair Arizona's 96 markers, the IBWC reported. The first step: the agency will inventory every post along the 354-mile Arizona-Mexico boundary, recording coordinates and condition.
The IBWC said it’s too early to tell how much the project will cost, but workers will try to preserve as many monuments as possible--preserving as much history as they can.
“A lot of them, in the old days, back in the 1900s, it could mules up these huge mountainous areas so we want to continue with the history,” Atwood said.
If you'd like to take a closer look at the monuments back in the day, check out the slideshow of historic pictures on the Web version of this story.