Monday, April 6, 2009

The Helper

This past weekend I had the unique opportunity of visiting Ruby, Arizona, located in Santa Cruz County, nestled in a bowl of the Montana Peak, thirty miles west Nogales, and only four miles north of the Arizona/ Mexico border. Ruby was an old west mining town that was the leading producer of lead and zinc from 1934 to 1937. 

However, in 1970 the mine shaft collapsed and Ruby shut down as a mining town.The rich history behind Ruby includes many murder stories of Mexican bandits who would come across the border and kill visitors and residents of Ruby. Now, Ruby is considered to be one of the most well preserved ghost towns in Arizona.

While I was visiting, I was able to spend time with a man who calls himself Sundog, the one and only resident of Ruby, Arizona. He is the caretaker of the run down town who's responsibilities include collecting an entry fee, providing a map and brief history lesson of the town, cleaning the outhouses, and tending to his garden full of herbs, vegetables, and fruits.

Sundog relaxing on his chair

However, there is much more to Sundog than meets the eye, because after spending time with him I learned one of the things he enjoys most while caring for the town of Ruby. He helps those who are crossing from the border through the desert with basic needs such as food and water.

Sundog describing the old mine shaft

Since Ruby is located so close to the Mexican border, only four miles, he often receives visitors who need a place to rest along the way. He said most of the travelers come with coyotes, and they often do not stop through Ruby, but those who are traveling alone or in groups find themselves stumbling upon Ruby, and the small house perched on top of the hill belonging to Sundog. 

During my visit, Sundog received a visit from the volunteer group, Samaritans, who are a Tucson local group of people committed to helping border crossers in the Sonoran Desert when they are in need. The individuals provide the border crossers with food, water, communication equipment, medical assistance, maps, and individuals survival packs.

Many people ask, well isn't that illegal? However, according to their website, "It is never illegal to provide water, food, & medical assistance to another human being in distress." In addition, border patrol is aware of the group and sets limits for the volunteer group as to where they can travel.

Samaritans came to Sundog to ensure he had plenty of water and food packs for the travelers. He described that he was awakened at 7 a.m. by a large group of travelers just that morning to wiped out half of his food and water supply, "But don't worry, if ever some of them come and I am out of food packs I'll just give them some of my own food supply. That's not a big deal," he said. Sundog said he enjoys helping the travelers and they are always very friendly to him.

In addition, Sundog told us of other Mexican travelers who come through Ruby, only these visitors are there to stay for the entire summer. They are known as the Mexican bats. Upon my visit I had heard of this unique phenomenon, but listening to Sundog's stories were much more fascinating. He said during mid April to early May the colony of bats make their way to an enormous cave located in Ruby. He said once all the bats have finally migrated for the summer, to watch them leave as the sun is setting is an unbelievable site to see. 

The cave that becomes home to the Mexican bats from mid April to late August

"It takes all of a few minutes for all the bats to leave the cave. And
 when they return in the morning the sound is so loud it wakes me up," said Sundog. He said even though he has seen the bats every summer of the six years he has resided in Ruby, "I never get tired of watching it. The site still sends chills up my spine every time I watch them."

Sundog is able to meet people from all over the world who come to Ruby to see what it's all about. He said people come from all over the world, "Especially Germany. I meet a lot of Germans." Sundog is also able to help out struggling travelers from the border and view the beauty of the Mexican bats who come for a visit each summer.

Sundog at the old post office, the site of some Ruby murders.

1 comment:

  1. Did you make advance arrangements to visit Ruby? Or just showed up?

    Nice photos. Sounds like a neat trip.

    Cheers -- Pete Tillman