The Devil’s Highway

La Cabeza Prieta Symbol Analysis

La Cabeza Prieta Symbol Icon

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is the vast sprawl of desert which is home to the Devil’s Highway, named the “dark-head desert” for the range of mountains that rise out of the flat plains of the Yuma desert. Urrea relates a tale, early on in the narrative, of a “source” close to him who once, on a drive through the desert, saw a large, dark head rise up out of the desert sand and laugh. The dark head in Urrea’s source’s story represents the spirit of the desert, and symbolizes the ways in which the desert seems to come alive and even express contempt for and malice towards those who attempt to traverse it only to become lost within it. As the Wellton 26 attempt to cross the vast desert, they become lost and disoriented due to the fatal mistakes of their smuggler, or pollero, Jesús “Mendez” Lopez Ramos. The desert takes on a character of its own as the men grow more and more lost, and many express anger at it and try to best it, even as they can feel it mocking and tricking them through mirages, endlessly repetitious hills and mountains, and scorching temperatures which literally bake many of the men alive. All this horror and treachery seems, within the narrative, to have been precipitated by the frightful mockery of the desert’s dark head itself.

La Cabeza Prieta Quotes in The Devil’s Highway

The The Devil’s Highway quotes below all refer to the symbol of La Cabeza Prieta. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown and Company edition of The Devil’s Highway published in 2004.
Chapter 1 Quotes

They came down out of the screaming sun and broke onto the rough plains of the Cabeza Prieta wilderness, where the sun recommenced its burning. Cutting through this region, and lending its name to the terrible landscape, was the Devil’s Highway, more death, another desert. They were in a vast trickery of sand. In many ancient religious texts, fallen angels were bound in chains and buried beneath a desert known only as Desolation. This could be the place.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Devil’s Highway quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Somebody had to follow the tracks. They told the story. They went down into Mexico, back in time, and ahead into pauper’s graves. Before the Yuma 14, there were the smugglers. Before the smugglers, there was the Border Patrol. Before the Border Patrol, there was the border conflict, before them all was Desolation itself.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 12 Quotes

They agreed to stick together and walk north. All of them. It had to be north. Mendez had gone north, the bastard, and he was saving himself. They’d follow Mendez. Once more, the men stood, and they walked. Now the illegals were cutting for sign.

Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 158-159
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 14 Quotes

It is important to note that within ten minutes of finding the lost men, the Migra was already fully engaged in rescue. While Mike F. cut for more sign, the old boys were kicking off their desert race. The Border Patrol sped there so fast, with so many vehicles, over such vicious terrain, that they suffered twenty-six flat tires. Some agents drove on rims to get there.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker), Mike F.
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 16 Quotes

“Five miles from the border, nobody knows. Nobody cares. Nobody understands. They don’t want to know.”

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Afterword Quotes

Part of the idea was to foment discussion. Make us think a little about those people who are “like, illegal.” But the deeper idea was to bear witness—we saw an exodus straight from the biblical template, and it felt that no one was paying attention. As I started the work, I will confess, it was all about the good men who died. But it didn’t take long to see that the story was really about all humans—all of us in those ancient deserts are lost wanderers.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Devil’s Highway LitChart as a printable PDF.
The devil s highway.pdf.medium

La Cabeza Prieta Symbol Timeline in The Devil’s Highway

The timeline below shows where the symbol La Cabeza Prieta appears in The Devil’s Highway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Rules of the Game
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
The men are in the Cabeza Prieta (Dark-Head) National Wild Life Refuge, at the southernmost end of the US Air Force’s Barry... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
...for Díaz to die—twenty days until “the fallen angels of Desolation came out of the Cabeza Prieta , folded their hands over him, and smiled.” (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Urrea describes how “a source close to this story” once observed the titular Cabeza Prieta itself out in the desert. As Urrea’s “source” drove through the desert one “brutal” afternoon,... (full context)
Chapter 9: Killed by the Light
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...the dune buggy waiting for help. That same summer, another couple hiked out into the Cabeza Prieta without enough water and perished, again, just yards from one another. (full context)
Chapter 10: The Long Walk
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
...at 6:00 a.m., chaos descends upon the Wellton 26. The men are deep in the Cabeza Prieta . If Mendez had known where to look, Urrea writes, he could have found “several... (full context)