Dead in Their Tracks
Crossing America’s Desert Borderlands in the New Era
During the Sonoran Desert’s glorious and brutal summer season Annerino, a photojournalist, author, and explorer, watched four border crossers step off a bus and nonchalantly head into the American no-man’s land. On assignment for Newsweek, Annerino did more than just watch on that blistering August day. He joined them on their ultramarathon, life-or-death quest to find work to feed their families, amid temperatures so hot your parched throat burns from breathing and drinking water is the ultimate treasure.
As their water dwindled and the heat punished them, Annerino and the desperate men continued marching fifty miles in twenty-four hours and managed to survive their harrowing journey across the deadliest migrant trail in North America, El Camino del Diablo, “The Road of the Devil.” Driven by the mounting death toll, John returned again and again to the sun-scorched despoblado (uninhabited lands)—where hidden bighorn sheep water tanks glowed like diamonds—to document the lives, struggles, and heartbreaking remains of those who continue to disappear and perish in a region that’s claimed the lives of more than 9,700 men, women, and children.
Following the historic paths of indigenous Hia Ced O’odham (People of the Sand), Spanish missionary explorer Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, and California-bound Forty-Niners, Annerino’s journeys on foot, crisscrossed the alluring yet treacherous desert trails of the El Camino del Diablo, Hohokam shell trail, and O’odham salt trails where hundreds of gambusinos (Mexican miners) and Euro-American pioneers succumbed during the 1850s.
As the migrants kept coming, the deaths kept mounting, and Annerino kept returning. He crossed celebrated Sonoran Desert sanctuaries—Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Barry M. Goldwater Range, sacred ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham—that had become lost horizons, killing grounds, graveyards, and deadly smuggling corridors that also claimed the lives of National Park rangers and Border Patrol agents. John Annerino’s mission was to save someone, anyone, everyone—when he could find them.
Dead in Their Tracks is the saga of a merciless despoblado in the Great Southwest, of desperate yet hopeful migrants and refugees who keep staggering north. It is the story of ranchers, locals, and Border Patrol trackers who’ve saved countless lives, and heavily armed smugglers who haunt an inhospitable, if beautiful, wilderness that remains off the radar for journalists and news organizations that dare not set foot in the American desert waiting to welcome them on its terms.
—National Geographic Adventure
“This Southwest classic is based on extensive firsthand research, including risking death on foot in the desert. John Annerino chronicles deeply personal events for both the immigrants and for the Border Patrol. This vivid book is mandatory reading for anyone wishing to understand the human costs of illegal immigration, costs for crossers, locals residents, and Border Patrol agents themselves. Dead in Their Tracks is Annerino’s finest and most noble work.”
—Bill Broyles, Southwest Books of the Year
“The book is a testament and a memorial. Thirty pages list the known dead. . . . On its surface, Dead in Their Tracks is about immigrants. At its core, it touches something fundamental about need and family and the struggle to survive. Annerino deserves praise for putting this story into words and pictures.”
—San Antonio Express-News
“Anyone interested in this slaughter should run, not walk, to John Annerino’s Dead in Their Tracks.”
—Charles Bowden, author of Blue Desert
“Annerino’s evocative words and haunting pictures make the issue impossible to ignore.” —People magazine
"The story is riveting. Annerino's writing is emotional and graphic." —San Diego Union-Tribune
"Dead in Their Tracks is an important and troubling work about a desolate corner of the American Southwest and the Mexican men and women who follow the Camino del Diablo in search of the American Dream." —San Antonio Express-News
"This book, which includes many photos and maps, is a stunning portrayal of the dangers, including death, faced by immigrants eager to work in the United States."
"This book jars the senses with images of death and survival." —Arizona Daily Star