It was a wet summer in ‘73. A friend came to visit and we packed for a hike in the Huachucas. The desert was an emerald green and all the little snakes were out of their too-moist holes trying to dry off. The south-eastern end of the Huachucas cross the border with Mexico and the entire length is a common and easy smuggling route with all the canyons and oaks that afford cover.
We were only a mile in and passing along a pine shaded trail and up a slight rise where at the crest we surprised and were surprised by a string of mal-hombres. They were numbered, three gringos and four Mexican "mules." Neither side could see the other coming and so the encounter was sudden. The coyotes were carrying long-guns, side-arms and big knives. The carriers were dark thin Mexicans carrying tall, bulky packs that extended over their heads. We halted before each other at a range of about forty yards.
Their armament was not meant to be raised against the law nor for passersby but for use against squads of rip off teams that ambush such smugglers. Neither I nor my friend had ever had such an encounter before. With a flash of a friendly waves and tense smiles each side reassured the other and each quickly surmised the other to be more interesting than a threat. And so we closed the gap. They and we spoke in soft, low voices.
Their leader inquired if we had seen any "law." His eyes darted nervously behind dark shades as he munched one end of his handlebar mustache. We informed him of the Forest Service truck we had seen at the head of the trail. His nervousness increased and he conferred in whispers with his fellow coyotes. They decided to continue along their path. We wished them luck and stepped to one side to let them pass and spent the next few days in relative peace, being serenaded by rattlesnakes.