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Michael Ballard

Travel Troubles

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Greetings all. I wanted to share a rather unpleasant experience I had recently while traveling along an old alignment of US 80 in Arizona.

My husband and I were traveling between San Diego, CA and Phoenix, AZ on the Saturday before Christmas. As we had more available time, I wanted to finally take the original route of US 80 through Dome Valley, also stopping by the McPhaul Bridge north of Yuma, AZ. I had done a bit of research before we left, as the old road through Dome Valley had many turns. After visiting the McPhaul Bridge, we headed north on US 95 to the turnoff for Dome Valley. After we made the turn, we found that the old road had signage for a detour for I-8 and directions to "Old US 80" and I-8, which made travel a bit easier. With only one exception, all the turns were well marked with these signs. Near the first big turn, we noticed a border patrol car parked alongside the road, pointed toward traffic. I didn't think too much of it, other than was disappointed to see them. Not long after this, however, I saw they had passed the car that was behind us and was getting closer to us. Again, didn't think too much of this but was a bit concerned. I hadn't been speeding and I had been coming to a complete stop at the stop signs, despite the lack of limit lines. I would have anyway.

Now, we proceeded down old US 80 south toward the "newer" alignment of US 80 which follows I-8 a lot closer. Still, the border patrol car was following us at varying distances. We saw another border patrol vehicle just north of the Old US 80 turn near Wellton. At the junction, we turned left, to head down old US 80 toward Wellton and Mohawk. Well, that is when things turned into a problem.

After we turned, the border patrol vehicle that had been following us pulled us over. After we stopped, we asked why we were being stopped. They first asked us if we were familiar with Dome Valley. They also asked us where we were going to and where we were going from. They asked why we went a different way and evaded a "Federal Checkpoint", calling it that instead of border patrol checkpoint. They had said the route was "popular with smugglers". They had also taken our driver licenses to, well, we weren't sure what. They told us they were doing a background check on us. They checked their records and asked why we took a different route because, according to their records, we normally took I-8. Remember that when you pass those cameras alongside the roadway. They are indeed tracking your movements. I suspected before but this was proof.

I told them we were following old US 80 and even showed them our book by Eric Finley, which shows the alignments of the highway, including Dome Valley. They asked us if they could search the car, even ran a drug sniffing dog by our car. They kept us alongside the roadway for nearly 30 minutes. They had no probable cause other than the fact we drove an open public roadway, which was even signed by the state as a through route. They humiliated us by stopping us alongside a public highway while others looked on. Three border patrol vehicles stopped us. Three. They violated our rights by stopping us without cause. They were truly on a fishing expedition after they asked us why we were going that way, which was still none of their business. Why did it take so long to do a "background check" on us? Why was that even needed? This was a truly disturbing experience, one which I do not intend to let slide. Formal complaints will be filed with various agencies, including the ACLU.

So, with their excuse for pulling us over, it does beg many questions. How often does this happen? If the route is indeed an issue for them, why is there no checkpoint along it? Why is the border patrol, not the DEA, looking for drugs? If they are "just doing their job", then why do they need to stop random cars on a public roadway? It would seem that the fact they did so says they are not doing their jobs.

This was not how I wanted to travel old US 80. No one should have to deal with this sort of harassment and illegal activity by law enforcement.

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Not to minimize your rather harrowing experience with 'La Migra', but the road you were following through Dome Valley was not actually the old Bankhead Highway/Broadway Of America/Old Spanish Trail/US 80.  There is doubt whether the road through the valley ever actually was signed as '80', as the 'new' route through Telegraph Pass, which is still the route of eastbound I-8, was completed and opened for traffic in 1927.

Anyway, from your description I gather that you were traveling on the paved, 'stairstep' road through the valley that runs north and east of the Gila River bed, following section lines.  This road is newer than the actual old highway, which has never been paved and runs very close to the railroad tracks that are south and west of the normally dry Gila bed.

In his exhaustively-researched 2009 book, "Drive the Broadway Of America--the U.S. 80 and Bankhead Highways Across the American Southwest", author Jeff Jensen gives a mile-by-mile account of this early alignment, and strongly recommends attempting to drive it only with a 4WD vehicle, as parts are extremely sandy and rough.  This original alignment comes out to what is now US 95 about a mile south of the historic McPhail bridge that you mention above.  

Ironically, had you taken this old but rough original alignment, you probably would not have encountered any BP vehicles at all--but you may very well have gotten stuck in a sandy, dry washbed!

For what it's worth, I was traveling the opposite direction on I-8 the following day, heading to Encinitas CA from Tucson, and wishing I had the extra time to explore some of the old sections of US 80!

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