Corridor B, Arizona’s Bermuda Triangle, And The Man-in-the-Fog
In the Tuscon sector of Arizona’s U.S-Mexico border, there are a series of hills east of Douglas that extend to the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge and Chiricahua Peak. They are uninhabited, waterless, isolated, and hard to traverse. They are also assiduously avoided by the Border Patrol at night.
The hills are known inside the Border Patrol’s Tuscon sector offices as “Corridor B” — an informal designation that does not appear on maps or official documentation. That is in part because nobody quite agrees on why it is known as Corridor B — since there is no Corridor A, nor a Corridor C.
What is known is that it is one of the deadliest strips of territory for migrants moving into the United States from Mexico.
Some of that surely is because the hills are uninviting and confusing, especially in the dark. For migrants ill-prepared for the long journey through the desert, the harsh sun and the nighttime heat at the wrong time of year is fatal.
Yet even such pedestrian explanations are surrounded by darker rumors. In the most fatal sector of America’s borders, Corridor B is far more than merely an unlucky stretch of territory ready to parch hapless migrants who dare traverse it. It is a place avoided by coyote smuggles and border patrol agents alike.
And though few agree on precisely what it is that makes Corridor B so deadly, there are stories.
Corridor B is in some ways analogous to the Bermuda Triangle. Many drive safely through State Route 80 that crosses it, and some even live in its poorly-defined boundaries. And perhaps its fatality rate truly is simply the product of a harsh environment and poor preparation.
The Residents of Douglas, Arizona, are often aware of the rumors but few pay them any mind. Like the residents who live beneath the Bermuda Triangle, familiarity breeds contempt. Common explanations include UFOs, a secret government base that controls the weather, and Mexican cartels who want to dominate the route for drugs by ginning up the area’s danger.
But beneath those mostly pedestrian rumors, there is the story of the Man-in-the-Fog — and the events of 1988 and 2007.
In 1988, U.S.-Mexican migration flows were reaching new all-time highs. The Mexican economy struggled to produce jobs for many poor Mexicans, who increasingly gambled on a northward run to the U.S.-Mexico border. The Tuscon sector was then as now a popular choice, with its vast open deserts challenging the overstretched Border Patrol.
May 1988 was relatively temperate — the highs were in the mid-80s. From what the Border Patrol could deduce later, approximately 25 Mexican migrants, including children, began a trek through Corridor B’s hills somewhere at the beginning of the month. They must have thought they could get deep enough into Arizona, then either hook around to reach the town of Douglas or simply meet up with another coyote smuggler along Route 80.
Instead, on May 28, 1988, the Border Patrol found their bodies scattered in a canyon, after noticing buzzards swarming above.
Border Patrol Agent Raul Gonzalez is recorded as the officer in charge of the investigation.
“Cannot explain the scene. Many signs of a struggle & massacre. People tried to run. Mothers protected children and men protected women. But no bullet wounds. No traumatic wounds. All bodies look like they have been in the sun for months, not days,” he wrote in his initial report.
Indeed, the canyon scene defied clean explanation. The bodies were dehydrated and mummified, yet some still had water bottles with them. One body was found with an itinerary that indicated they had set out only around May 4, 1988 — far too short a time for their bodies to desiccate as they were discovered.
The Border Patrol repatriated the bodies back to Mexico. The final investigation was never published, not at least publicly.
Then there was 2007.
A pair of hikers, Erik Lefler and Roger Morris, were crossing the approximate location of Corridor B in March. Exploring the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge, the two wandered outside of the boundaries of the watershed. Experienced hikers with access to a GPS, the two nevertheless found themselves lost. Lefler recalled the incident later to an Arizona Highways journalist (who did not end up publishing the article). The notes of that interview were later made available:
“Between two hills, there came this rolling bank of black fog. I mean, really dark grey, but so grey it looked black. Roger and I both thought this was very strange but it was picturesque, so we decided to get a little closer. And I can’t explain how this happened, but in just the few hundred feet we took towards the fog, the landscape shifted, and suddenly I didn’t recognize anything. The hills were flipped around and suddenly the fog was behind us. I checked the GPS and it was scrambled. Somehow or another the sun went down to the horizon in just minutes. I couldn’t get my bearings via a compass either. The fog then somehow got around us and I couldn’t even see the horizon.
But on the hillside, there was this figure. It was clearly a person. I called out to them. There was no answer. Roger said to me that we should double back and get out the way we came. In retrospect, that would have been the smart thing. But instead — and I swear I don’t know why I did this — I insisted we go find the person standing on the hill. He told me that was insane. I told him I was going with or without him.
Thank God, Roger followed me, because I don’t know what would have happened otherwise. I got within a few hundred feet of the figure when he [Roger] started to claw at me. ‘You see them, right?’ he asked, and he pointed off in the direction of what I thought was the eastern horizon. At first I had no idea what he was talking about. But then, as my eyes adjusted, I spotted this group of people staring our way. They couldn’t have been more than a few hundred feet away.
‘We have to double back,’ Roger insisted. I wanted to argue because I still wanted to get to the figure on the hill. There was this unnerving obsession that crawled all through me, telling me I had to get to the man on the hill. But Roger grabbed me hard.
‘They’re telling us to double back,’ he said. I didn’t hear a word. I saw them, clear as day, but to me they were silent.
Roger’s a bigger guy than me. Once he decided we weren’t stepping a foot closer to that hill, that was that. When I tried to keep moving, he grabbed me and threw me to the ground. We wrestled for a while there on those rocks and brush, cutting ourselves up in the scuffle. But eventually, Roger got a hold of me and just held me in place, pinning me to the ground. I watched the sky above change colors, I saw the stars dance side to side, and I felt that burning desire to get to the hill, as the black fog moved over us. Roger was so patient, just told me to wait, as I kept trying to get out from under him.
It must have been an hour or so before the fog passed entirely. When it did, I felt myself come under control. Roger let me up. I looked around and the black fog was disappearing into a shallow wash.
We hiked back to our car without saying a word. But you know, the strangest thing about it? When I commented on the fog to Roger, he claimed he didn’t remember a thing.”