Image a sensation akin to sticking your face in a furnace, except the furnace is everywhere and you are walking through it. The air is not just hot. It actually burns against your eyeballs. Every step you take is met with a hidden conspiracy of loose rocks, barbed plants, and poisonous animals. You can’t touch anything. Your body’s internal alarm system blinks red. If you stop moving for any significant amount of time, you die. Even if you keep moving, you might also die. In fact, the heat is already killing you.
This is not some future hellscape. It was the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona, on a typical morning in August 2018. A team of humanitarian aid volunteers were searching for a young man who had gone missing while crossing the border. I was along to report. The search was ultimately unsuccessful, though we did find two sets of suspected human remains. The man would join the thousands of migrants who have died or disappeared in the Sonoran Desert since the U.S. government began funneling them there a quarter century ago.