Tag Archives: saguaro national park

Lost in the Desert Part Three – The Rescue

15 Feb

Sometime during the day, one hearty traveler ventured into the camp while I was attempting to summit Mica Mountain starting from the campground. I don’t recall the individual’s name, but he traveled alone and did not use any kind of shelter – he just slept in his bag. I thought this was unusual because it was quite cold and windy. He also told me that winds the preceding evening were strong enough to knock over one of the oldest and largest saguaros in the area.  We spent some time talking and getting to know one other that night and discussed traveling out together the following morning.

I can’t remember exactly how the events  unfolded, but I believe the following morning this individual decided to break camp earlier than we had planned. Unfortunately, I was still in the process of breaking down my camp and wasn’t able to accompany him. I think I left approximately an hour after he did. That’s really when the trouble started.  In and around the campground, there are a number of use trails, and it is difficult to discern which is the main trail leading out of the camp. I am not exactly sure where I got lost, but I think it happened pretty quickly.

One of the  interesting things about Saguaro NP East is  housing developments abutt the park boundaries. So when traveling in and out of the mountains,  many of the distant views are of residential areas. I think this gives the traveler a false sense of security because everything looks closer than it is, and it is impossible to tell the lay of the land.  At times, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch the houses, but they are much further off than they appear. Another major mistake I made was using these homes as a guide point to determine which way I should be traveling.  I’ll try to describe to you what happened next….

Instead of following the ridgeline down and off the mountain at approximately a 45 degree angle, I descended straight down a 90 degree angle.  Needless to say, before I realized  I was traveling in the wrong direction, I had already passed the point where it made sense for me to try to turn around and retrace my steps. I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way back if I tried. Part of the problem was there were a considerable amount of game trails in the wilderness and I was deceived into believing that I was traveling on an actual hiking trail. I saw an astonishing amount of deer during this adventure.  At one point, I must have spooked a herd of nearly 50, right in the middle of day, just galloping through the groves of giant saguaros. It was really quite a site.

Once I realized that I was lost, my game plan was to follow the washes down and out of the wilderness. Often times, the washes represent the path of least resistance. Occasionally, they cliff out and you are forced to circumvent around. That happened a couple of times, and I basically resorted to bushwhacking through some nasty desert terrain. By this time, my water supply was quickly dwindling. I had a couple different plans for my water. One strategy that I’ll sometimes use is to hold the water in my mouth for as long as I can without swallowing, which keeps your breathing passages hydrated and moist. If had completely run out of water, I knew that I could probably find some stored in the park’s many barrel cacti and would not hesitate to cut one open if my life depended on it.

That ended up not being the case, but I was a complete mess by the time I wandered off the mountain. I never saw a single soul during the entire length of my descent, which took about twice as long was what it should have taken. My thighs to my ankles were completely covered in scratches ranging from one to five inches in length. It literally looked like I had been attacked by a wild animal. By the time I reached the base of the mountains, I ended up in a remote section that had just a single trail. That trail eventually led out and I ended up soliciting a neighbor for some water and the use of their phone.  As it turned out, I was a good 15 mile drive from my car when I should have been able to walk right off the trail and throw my gear into my trunk. I called the park for assistance, and they sent a ranger out to drive me back. After searching all my stuff for “petroglyphs,” he returned me to my car. It was the only time I had to be “rescued” and I was thankful  I made it out in one piece. It was quite the adventure!

Lost in the Desert Part Two

8 Feb

I arrived at the barren Juniper Basin campground, nearly seven miles from the trailhead, to have my pick of campsites. I was the only one there.  By this point, I was at about 6,000 feet in elevation and there were patches of snow just starting to appear. There was a small stream near the campsite, with just enough running water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. There was also an outhouse, bear boxes (bears in the desert!), and fire pits. My goal for the following day was to hike to the summit of Mica Mountain at 8,666 feet.  This was an ambitious goal, as getting there involved a round trip hike of nearly 20 miles.

That night, the winds were some of the hardest I  have ever experienced in the backcountry. As I understand it, over 60 mile per hour winds were whipping through the mountains. I could hear the wind coming before it smacked into my tent. The next morning, after a breakfast of soup and dried peas, I readied myself for the long day ahead. Because it was the middle of December, I was dealing with one of the very shortest days of the year. Daylight was certainly at a premium. I was also leery about starting too early because of the weather and running into any potential predators, specifically mountain lions, which are known to frequent the area. 

It was  beautiful day and I encountered just a few small hang-ups along the way. Specifically, around the area of Tanque Verde Peak, where I lost sight of the trail and spent close to a half hour trying to find it. That incident set me back a bit. The snow got deep as well, and it was quite a different scene when I arrived at Manning Camp.

I want interrupt here for just a brief moment and apologize for not having any pictures. I checked my old hard drive earlier today and cannot find the images from this trip. Anyway, Manning Camp is a high camp used by the park service as a backcountry HQ. It is located at about 8,000 feet near a number of intersecting trails.

I knew I didn’t have far to go to get to the summit, just 1.4 miles and in the end I decided to be prudent and turn around so I could get back before dark. This part of the story reminds me of an image I took of an eight point buck just lying in the snow, not 25 feet from the trai. It didn’t even flinch when it saw me coming. It just laid there and chilled. So cool! I’d love to share it with you, oh well…not today I guess. Anyway, I arrived back at camp safely an hour before dark, fueling skepticism in my mind that I could have summited the mountain and returned safely in time. No matter, I really didn’t want to potentially cross paths with a mountain lion at dusk anyway.

To my surprise, there was one other adventurous soul setting up camp upon my return….to be continued on the next post.

Tucson Road Trip…#3 Wild Moments Preview, and the Super Bowl

20 Jan

I am leaving tomorrow for a four-day road trip to Tucson aka, “The Old Pueblo”. We have a full itinerary planned starting with an afternoon stop at Saguaro National Park West, where I’ll hopefully shoot sunset.

It is supposed to be clear all weekend, keeping that in mind, I have some ideas to expand my portfolio.  These include photographing some of the city’s old buildings, structures, and churches as well as possible stop at the Biosphere 2. Tucson is full of activities and there is no shortage of other places to visit as well (Sabino Canyon, Chiracuhua National Monument, Bisbee to name a few) Saturday afternoon we plan on returning to Saguaro National Park East – The Rincon Mountain district to shoot sunset. It will be only my second time in that district of the park, and my first since a solo 3 day/2 night backpacking trip there in December of 2004.

It was that trip which inspired Wild Moment #3 entitled “Lost in the Desert”.  Together we’ll revisit the highlights and lowlights on that adventure sometime next week, probably around Wednesday or Thursday!

On Sunday, we have mostly an open itinerary and we want to get back to our hotel room sometime in the afternoon to watch the NFL Championship games. And since this is my blog,  I am going to talk about the games a bit. Both should be excellent. I am going against conventional wisdom and picking the Bears vs Steelers in the Super Bowl.  Personally, I think the Bears are getting a bit disrespected as a 3.5 point home dog, although I can’t say that I trust Jay Cutler to win a big game.  Not only that, but Aaron Rodgers looks practically unstoppable. He is an amazing quarterback.  Somehow, with a slightly better running game, more team playoff experience,  and home field advantage I think the Bears pull this one out by a field goal 23 – 20.

In the AFC, I think the Jets have been running their mouths too much and I expect a bit of a let down from the Patriots game last week.  Both teams played one another about 6 weeks ago and it was the best game I saw all season. The Jets pulled it out as time expired on the Steelers and I just can’t see that happening again. I think the Steelers pull through at home and beat the Jets 19 – 14.

We’ll be watching the games, but if sunset looks good I am skipping out and heading back to the park for another photography session. I sure hope that is the case. Please check back early next week as I should have some new images up on the website and my next blog post “Lost in the Desert” by the end of next week. Have a wonderful weekend and God Bless.

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