Assault Rifle With Ammo, 40 Pounds of Pot Among Items Found in Clean-Up of Federal Desert Lands Near Interstate 8

An assault rifle with loaded magazines and 40 pounds of marijuana are just some of the objects found during a clean-up of federal lands near the smuggling corridor of Interstate 8.

Dennis Godfrey, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, says he'll try to find out exactly what type of weapon for us, and we'll update this post when we know.

But whether Colt or Kalashnikov, the point is that this gun and ammo were simply found lying on the desert floor, unattended.

In a news release, Godrey wrote that law officers and rangers also separately found "what appeared to be a 40-pound bale of marijuana" also abandoned by smugglers. Godrey tells us he worded his release that way because he didn't know if the plant material had been tested.

Of course, he readily admits it's "very unlikely" it was oregano.

The finds are just the latest evidence that Arizona's desert is dotted with large caches of dope -- and even guns.

(UPDATE: Godfrey called back later to say that the magazines were not found right next to the assault rifle, but scattered throughout the area.)

Last month, two hunters found 126 pounds of pot near Sasabe. That was just over a month after Border Patrol agents stumbled upon an abandoned load of 220 pounds of pot.

Most of what was found during BLM's two-week "surge" conducted with rangers and law enforcement officers was trash. Workers hauled out about 7.5 tons of smuggling-related garbage from the Sonoran Desert and Ironwood Forest national monuments.

The operation also netted about two tons of pot, which wasn't abandoned, in 13 different encounters with smugglers. During the two-week period, 233 suspected illegal immigrants and eight U.S. citizens were arrested.

The enforcement and cleanup efforts are part of BLM's Operation ROAM, which stands for Reclaim Our Arizona Monuments. The southern Arizona desert lands are used heavily by smugglers and immigrants on their way north to Interstate 8, where they catch rides to their final destinations.

The problem of smugglers trashing pristine preservation areas has increased in recent years as more traditional smuggling routes are closed. More than a year ago, the BLM installed several "Normandy-style" metal barriers on lands south of Interstate 8 to prevent unauthorized vehicle traffic from passing through.

Hikers, hunter and other visitors to these areas may run into smugglers, authorities warn.

If attacked, don't panic -- a loaded assault rifle may be just behind the next cactus.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern