About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

August 17, 2008

Two Nights In a Row and Now on Stand-by

So I'm sitting here with my pack loaded, ready to be self-sufficient for 48 hours as instructed, waiting to be called to leave for the Grand Canyon with other members of our SAR team.

Last night around 8pm, my pager went off with an 888 code, meaning it was a stand-by call. Our coordinator's message said that four boats had been found floating down the Colorado River about ten miles past the confluence with Havasu Creek. Life-jackets were tied to the boats, but no one was on board. The boats were pulled from the river at Fern Glenn Rapid, but the status of the passengers was unknown. Sergeant D said he'd update us either late last night or early this morning.

By 9:30a.m., there had still been no further update, so I decided to go running. When I returned, though, I found a cellphone message from one of our team leaders, asking if I'd be available from "now" through Tuesday night. I called him back and found out that the boat incident from last night had become part of a much larger situation, and the National Guard was now being called in.

Click here to read the breaking news story.

Apparently, flash-flooding caused a dam break near Tusayan, in turn flooding Cataract Canyon, which leads into Havasu Canyon. Havasu Canyon then intersects with the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The Native American village of Supai, with 400 some-odd residents, is located at the bottom of Havasu canyon, and that village is now being evacuated along with an unknown number of campers. Havasu canyon is a popular destination, in particular its waterfalls and beautiful natural pools. (View a photo of Havasu Falls.) At the moment, I don't know much more about the unfolding situation, but I was told that Search & Rescue will be asked to "look for bodies." Yikes.

So as I sit here next to my backpack full of gear and 48 hours-worth of food and liquids, I'll tell you about Friday night's search. Thursday night was the Kendrick Peak search for two men in their 50's who'd tried to take a short-cut that backfired quite miserably. I'd gotten up Thursday morning around 6am, was just about to fall asleep Thursday night when the page came at 11pm. That mission lasted until 9:30 Friday morning, at which time I had to go take care of a full day of obligations. At 8pm on Friday night, my pager went off again, this time a call-out for a search for two young men in the area of the Arizona Trail on Anderson Mesa near Flagstaff.

So off I went for a second time in two nights. I soon found out that the two lost hikers had called in on a cell phone, so I figured this probably wouldn't be a tough mission. There are all sorts of Forest Service roads up on the mesa, so access shouldn't be a problem. And by the time we got to the staging area, the helicopter had spotted the two men and provided coordinates.

But getting to them wasn't quite as easy as I'd assumed. Four members of our group set off on foot along the Arizona Trail, while Bob and I drove some really rough dirt roads at a snail's pace. The hikers were no longer on the AZ Trail but on one of those secondary FS roads, and we didn't know if we could get all the way to them by vehicle.

Sure enough, a large mud puddle put a stop to our driving. So Bob and I set off on foot. We had some trouble locating the intersection with the obscure road the hikers were on, and, in the meantime, the other team on foot reached the young men. As we finally located the intersection, the team with the hikers headed our way, and soon we met up and walked to the truck. We skirted around the big mud puddle and everybody piled in, with some of our team in the bed. Bob and I gave 'em a good teeth-rattling and sore heineys on the ride back, but all was well that ended well.

I returned home at 2am and got the best six hours of sleep I think I've ever had. Probably could have used more, but the sun shining through the window wouldn't let me stay in bed.

Okay, now I'll go back to my waiting and knee-bouncing until it's time to go to the Grand Canyon.

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