See the landscapes that a border wall would bisect

Terrain along the Mexico border ignores the man-made divide.

  • Just north of the border fence, cars whip down Interstate 10 in El Paso, Texas. To the south, the unhurried Rio Grande flows through Juarez, Mexico.

  • For a few miles along the rugged hills that divide El Paso, Texas, and Juárez there is no border fence. It resumes on each side of the hills, running west into New Mexico and southeast beside the Rio Grande.

  • To the north, tracks veer through dunes just outside of Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico. The Boquillas economy depends on tourists traveling from Big Bend National Park. The river crossing was closed after 9/11, and the remote village suffered until it was reopened in 2013.

  • A child's backpack, abandoned, along with heaps of water bottles and food cans, marks a trafficking route. Here the border crosses a few miles of the steep Huachuca Mountains, too rugged for anything more than a barbwire fence. The international line is faintly visible through a juniper and oak forest.

  • Steel anti-vehicle fencing cuts through the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico as a border patrol helicopter roars overhead.

  • The sun illuminates a thousand-foot limestone wall along the U.S.-Mexico border just past the Río Grande and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The official park website describes the 118-mile border as "an artificial boundary imposed on the natural environment, and as such is subject to political and social pressures that continue to evolve."

  • Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle border fences meet in southern Arizona.

  • Steel bars of an anti-vehicle fence separate the designated wilderness of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the outskirts of Sonoyta, Mexico.

  • A February sunrise makes first contact with volcanic craters of the Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in northern Sonora and the mountains of southern Arizona.

  • In Texas and New Mexico the border stripes across the Chihuahuan Desert. In eastern Arizona it rises and falls over the Sky Islands mountains. In central Arizona the border drops in elevation and rises in temperature into the Sonoran Desert filled with Cholla cacti.

  • An 'X' marks where the U.S.-Mexico border crosses into Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona.

  • Historic grave sites like this one in Big Bend National Park speak to the many generations when the Rio Grande was a gathering place and not a dividing line.

  • A border patrol jeep seen through the border fence watches for illegal activity in southern California.

  • Night descends across the Rio Grande and the village of Boquillas, Coahuila, Mexico. Everyday entrepreneurs from Boquillas illegally canoe across the river to place colorful trinkets on rocks for tourists to purchase by placing money into cups left behind.

  • The Rio Grande is framed by fresh yellow creosote blooms and the Chisos Mountains in West Texas.


On March 17, the Customs and Border Protection agency released a memo with clues about what President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall might look like. The report stated the design of the wall would be “physically imposing.” Contractors have until the end of March to submit proposals. But as Trump seeks to drastically alter the landscape along the border, photographer Daniel Lombardi spent six weeks traveling along between Mexico and the West, from West Texas to California, capturing the landscapes in which history has sliced a political line. Lombardi sought to document how the landscape would reflect the divisive debate that surrounds it.

Many unauthorized immigrants travel to the American West from Mexico and Central America; it’s along this contentious southern border that President Donald Trump has promised to expand to limit unauthorized immigration. The borderlands are hot and harsh, and the people who make the journey risk being caught or dying in the desert. Lombardi’s images show an unexpected truth in this divided place: political divisions are indiscernible in the geography. 

Culturally, he found few dividing lines. Instead there were places where people and societies on both sides of the border overlapped and mixed together. Even geographically distinct lines — rivers and canyons — that mark the border seemed to make political matters more complex. In other areas, the landscapes are not easily separated: Along one southwestern vista, a man-made border started and stopped where the terrain became too rugged for a fence.