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.

Two in One Day, Take Two

First, there was the suspicious rental car and empty baby carriage left at the Midgley Bridge parking lot. At 3am on Sunday, Sergeant D sent out a page, and seven of us shook off sleep and responded. We drove down the switchbacks into Oak Creek Canyon to the bridge, where we were updated on what little additional information had been gathered.

There was a campground ticket on the dash. The campsite had been checked, deserted since early Saturday. Another camper said they'd seen two women but no baby at that site. In the tent, there was a suitcase with a sleeping bag and a few other items inside, and that suitcase had an airline tag on it. The baby carriage at the bridge also had an airline tag on it. Also at the campsite, a book was found--"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, the professor who lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. A family photo was tucked in the book. The rental car company's computers were currently down, so we didn't yet have information from them, but a locksmith was on the way to open the vehicle, inside which Sergeant D could see a cellphone.

The seven of us SAR volunteers and Sergeant D huddled over the Sedona trails map, laid out on the hood of his truck and illuminated by our eight headlamps. We had no idea what to expect from this search, but we had tech gear with us just in case.

It was decided that two team members would hike to the bottom of the canyon and make their way under the bridge. Midgely Bridge had been used as a jumping-off point, so to speak, a number of times before, so we needed to rule that out. We hoped.

Meanwhile, two other teams of two would hike two of the three trails that departed from the area. The third trail, which climbs Wilson Mountain, would be covered next. Our seventh team member, a man in his mid-seventies, would drive around to other trailheads to check for cars and people and to pick us hikers up when we got to the other ends of our trails.

My companion and I covered the three-mile Huckaby Trail, calling "Hello!" and "Anybody out here?" I blew my loud whistle periodically, making my ears ring. Eventually, we learned a name via radio transmissions between Sergeant D, dispatch and another deputy, and then we called "Laura!" as we went along. Apparently Laura had rented the car, and Sergeant D had been in contact with her friends and family, having dialed numbers programmed into her cellphone, which was retrieved from the car. Laura was from Canada.

After a careful creek crossing on some narrow logs, Scott and I continued up the trail as the sun came up, but we soon stopped when we thought we heard a distant whistle. We called and listened again, straining our ears against the sound of the wind in the trees. When we were sure we were hearing a whistle, we announced it over the radio, only to learn we were hearing one of our other teams above us on another trail.

Our radios were pretty quiet as we hiked, but just before Scott and I reached the end of our trail, we heard Sergeant D's voice. "The two subjects just arrived at the bridge, Code 4." They'd been a fairly short distance up the Wilson Mountain trail, the one we hadn't yet checked. They'd been on their way down yesterday evening when darkness overtook them and, with no light, had decided to stay put for the night. Apparently, they weren't particularly shaken up about their unplanned, bare-bones campout, but, boy, were they freaked out when they got back to their car and found a bunch of Sheriff's Search & Rescue vehicles all around it. I expect some rapid follow-up calls to worried family and friends took place.

Oh, and the mysterious baby carriage had no connection to the two women. Tucked into a carriage pocket was a Phoenix hotel map. It's my own guess that a couple with a baby got back to their hotel and, when they unloaded the car, they said to one another, "I thought you put the carriage in the trunk."

So, after breakfast with my teammates and the drive back to Flagstaff, I returned from that little adventure soon after my husband had rolled out of bed. We spent a relaxing Sunday together, much of that time sitting at an outdoor cafe where I think I actually fell asleep for a few minutes while I had my head tilted back with my face to the sun. But, after a long, early evening walk with our dog, my pager went off again.

This call was for a carry-out on Kendrick Peak. It was a girl with a knee injury, Sergeant D said, and it was probably going to be at least a six-hour deal. Without enough people to take shifts, we'd probably only be able to switch sides of the litter, to give one arm a break for a while.

But, as has been the case lately, things didn't turn out quite like we expected. After the long drive to the trailhead, one SAR team member who'd responded directly to the scene since he lives nearby, had already reached the victim and victim's friend, along with a deputy who'd headed up the trail on his own. They were apparently a good hour's hike up there, but they were going to try an assisted walk-out.

Sergeant D decided to send four of us who had first responder training up the trail with medical gear, so we could make a brace for the girl's knee and help with the walk-out. The others would remain behind in case we ended up needing the litter after all. Since the victim had already refused ambulance transport, there were no Guardian medical personnel on the scene, just Search & Rescue.

We set off at a good clip, not rushing but not wanting to waste time getting up there to help. Thinking we had the better part of an hour's climb, we were surprised to see lights heading towards us well before that time. I stepped aside as the rather beefy and very sweaty deputy whooshed by with a girl on his back. Wow! Can he come with us all the time?

Our group did have to pause briefly while the deputy removed his gun belt, because the weapon and other equipment around his waist was jammed into the injured hiker's backside and inner thighs. I'd imagine that was probably painful enough to distract her from her knee. Seeing how she limped and wobbled when he set her down, I can see why the attempted assisted walk-out hadn't worked.

A short time later, the grateful victim, her friend, and their two growling dogs were returned to their vehicle, and we headed back to the SAR building to fill up the vehicles so they'll be ready to go for the next call-out, put away the tech gear, and then drive our sleepy selves back home.

Just before midnight, my head hit the pillow, and I didn't budge till 9am.