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Desert Diary


Sometimes, you'd think people would know better! But all too often, they don't. Rivers are notorious for shifting their beds. Yet, what did Mexico and the United States do when they signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848? Yep, that's right! They based the international border in the El Paso region on the deepest channel of the Rio Grande.

Doing what comes naturally, the river, charged with melt water from the far away mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico, frequently flooded. Since deep, fast-moving water tends to respect few boundaries, new channels were carved with ease. In one area near El Paso, the river slowly migrated southward, leaving what had been Mexican land north of the river--and north of its deepest channel. This area became known as the Chamizal and was a thorn in the relationship between Mexico and the United States from the late 1800s until 1963, when the Chamizal Treaty was signed. Today, parks in Mexico and the United States commemorate the peaceful settlement by focusing on the arts, the universal language.
pen and ink

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Web Resources

Handbook of Texas Online.

Chamizal National Memorial, U.S. National Park Service.