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.

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A First Snow's Mission

It's still Sunday. I got home from the "Drunk on Devil's Head" mission at 4:30 this morning. At five-something this afternoon, we had another call-out. Between the two missions, Steve and I enjoyed a midday dog walk, during which the sun was shining and it warmed up enough that I shed my winter coat and tied it around my waist. Sometime during the afternoon, however, while we were busy painting our bathrooms (too yellow, unfortunately), the clouds moved in, the temp dropped, and white stuff began falling for the first time this season.

And now I'm in a warm SAR vehicle, while several of my teammates are hiking in the precipitation, alternating between flurries and whiteout conditions throughout the evening. Three other volunteers have driven around to the other end of this five-mile section of the 800-mile Arizona Trail, which stretches from the U.S.–Mexico border to the Utah state line. The two lost subjects, a man and woman, are stuck between Sandy's Canyon and Marshall Lake.

This is a basic unprepared hiker scenario: no maps, no lights (save for the flash of a camera, we're told), improper clothing. But they do have a cellphone that ain't dead yet. So, when they got lost and it got dark, the couple called for help.

As a result of cellphone communication with a deputy, we pretty much know where the stranded hikers are located. In fact, they can see our spotlight from here at Incident Command and even heard the deputy yell when he walked a short distance into the forest. So, as the crow flies, they aren't far from here, but there's a canyon between us and them, and they can't safely move in the dark. They're also now wet and cold.

Fifteen of us are out tonight, so more than enough SAR as long as things go smoothly and no one gets hurt or overly hypothermic. That's why I'm toasty and snug in the vehicle along with two of my teammates, while four others are getting some exercise. The leader of the ground team just called in some coordinates on the radio, and I could hear him huffing and puffing.

Time passes as my vehicle-mates and I chat about this and that. I keep one ear on radio comms and the other on the conversation in the truck. Oh good, they have voice contact. And soon, the ground team reaches the subjects. They're going to warm the two up and give them additional clothing before hiking them out.

Turns out, they're closer to the other SAR vehicle near Marshall Lake, so that's where they're headed. The rest of us drive around to rendezvous there.

We wait for a while until the ground team arrives with the rescued hikers, who appear to be in their fifties or so. They look happy and grateful. I can't hear what they're saying, but I see their smiles, their single Camelbak (water pack) and one water bottle, the camera around the man's neck, their cotton sweatshirts. While I don't personally condone hiking with cellphones to the exclusion of other essential gear, it's a good thing they were able to make that call tonight. Otherwise, severe hypothermia would most likely have caught up with them before anyone else would have.

Another happy ending.