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.

Searching for Those Who Don't Want to Be Found

I could feel the sweat dripping down my neck and back and occasionally off the tip of my nose. It was late at night, but Oak Creek Canyon was holding in the heat and monsoon season humidity. I turned off my headlamp as my partner and I stopped for a brief rest, and, in the absence of a moon, couldn't see the drop-off to my right.

We each called one of the missing boys' names. As we'd expected, there was no response from the darkness.

These were not "just" missing teenagers. They were runaways. Earlier that day, they'd taken off from some sort of camp for troubled or IN trouble youth, scrambling up a very steep slope, towards what we didn't know. Did they?

Randy and I picked up some human tracks, off-trail, soon after we'd arrived at our assigned search area along Route 89A in Oak Creek Canyon. But we lost those tracks amongst the thick pine needles and game trails partway up the calf-burning slope. We later wondered if the boys had stopped and hidden until the coast was clear, then gone back down to the road.

Picking and slipping our way back down to the road, I stopped frequently to pull bits of forest debris out of the palms of my hands. Mental note: wear my work gloves when doing stuff like this.

When we got to our vehicle, we drove down the road (up and down, actually, until we found the nondescript trailhead we were looking for) and headed up the Thomas Trail to the rim, calling and searching upslope and down with our headlamps. We needed to be sure that the boys, though they intentionally ran away, hadn't gotten themselves into a bad situation -- cliffed out, for example, or injured -- in the process.

Meanwhile, other ground teams were searching by ATV and UTV up on the rim. Another pair of searchers was hiking the Telephone Trail, parallel to ours, maybe a mile away. All reported negative contact.

Before Randy and I hiked back to the bottom of the canyon, we contacted Incident Command and found out that our Coordinator had gone further down 89A to assist with a multiple fatality, head-on collision near Grasshopper Point and Midgley Bridge. He asked us to look closely for "sign" (footprints or other clues) at the top of the trail, but we saw nothing of interest around Thomas Point.

About an hour later, we slipped our sweaty packs off our sweaty backs. Randy then called I.C. on the radio for our next assignment.

"You can return to Flagstaff," our Coordinator told us. "The subjects have been located."

Back at the SAR building close to midnight, we learned that a family member had contacted law enforcement and said the boys were safe ... somewhere.

Hm, interesting.


Earlier last week, our SAR team responded to a call to search for a missing suicidal female. We were given the description of her vehicle, and our search area was based on information from a cell phone "ping" from her most recent call. We were instructed to contact Incident Command if we located the woman and/or her vehicle but not to approach. She was eventually located in that vehicle, alive but in need of medical assistance.


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