Mount Signal, seen off center in the background, is about five miles from El Centro, California, where I grew up. Mount Signal is the region’s largest natural landmark. Our church’s youth group would go on hikes up the mountain, and I remember being at a high point during one of our walks and a boy falling about fifty feet down the mountainside. But boys at that age can pick themselves up from such falls and shrug it off as if nothing happened. The sad fate of this mountain is due to its location — it straddles the United States and Mexican border. On one of my last trips to El Centro, I drove out to the base of Mount Signal to take some photographs. I heard a sound behind me and turning around saw a Border Patrol vehicle stirring up a cloud of sand as it sped towards me. A patrol officer got out of his vehicle and asked me what I was doing there. I am a photographer, he was told, and I want to take some close-up shots of Mount Signal. “You need to get out of here fast,” he said. “But why?” I asked. “Because there are bandits up there, and they will come out and steal from you, and maybe even hurt you, if you do not leave.” So I left. Mount Signal, a rugged playground of my youth, had become a place for Mexicans to climb through to get into our country. “Bandits” was a strange word to hear, but I was, after all, standing near the Mexican border, and bandit is Spanish for robber. Since then I have had to enjoy Mount Signal from afar, as this photograph shows.
This was photographed in 1998 with my old, much-loved Ricoh film camera.