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.

A Change of SAR Plans -- Community Education to a Rescue Instead

I was supposed to go to a day camp with three other SAR members, to help teach kids ranging in age from five to 12 how to use a compass, what makes a "good pack" versus a "bad pack" (that is, gear you should bring on a hike versus stuff to leave at home), and how to not get lost or to "get found" if you do. We went to this summer camp last year, and our program was a hit with campers and camp leaders both, so they'd asked us to come back.

And I was going to, until right before I was supposed to leave the house. That's when there was a call-out for a rescue -- possibly a technical rescue, the message said -- in the Dorsey Springs area of Sycamore Canyon.

So, per the request of the deputy coordinating the mission, I bailed on my teammates going to the camp and responded to the rescue instead.

Late the night before, there had been a call-out for the search for this 41 year-old overdue hiker who now needed rescue. I hadn't responded to that call because of my prior commitment to the camp program in the morning. Apparently, this man was at least a day overdue when a concerned family member had reported him missing, and his vehicle had been located by deputies at the Dorsey Springs trailhead. Just after dawn, searchers had found him down in the canyon, severely dehydrated, weak and disoriented.

By the time those of us responding to the rescue call later that morning had arrived at the trailhead, the hiker had been hydrated and slowly walked with aid partway up the trail. At that point, the man said he couldn't walk anymore. The two deputies who were with him requested assistance and more water. Several of us hiked in with supplies to meet up with them.

When we arrived, the man was sitting under a tree. He drank some Gatorade and spoke to one of our teammates, who's a paramedic. The man said he was okay except for being dehydrated and clearly explained what had happened over the past several days. The searchers who'd found first his backpack and then, maybe a few hundred yards away, the subject filled us in on his state of mind and actions at the time he was located. He'd made quite an improvement after having something to drink and eat.

Sadly, the two dogs he'd brought on the multi-day hike -- adult, black-colored boxers, a male and a female -- were nowhere to be found. They'd stopped following him at least a day and a half earlier and laid down in the shade. Had they had enough left in them to find their way back to the last water source they'd been at with the man? I hoped they had. And that they'd survive long enough for someone to find them. I was preoccupied by those thoughts as I watched the short-haul procedure, when the man was short-hauled to the trailhead. He refused medical transport by the waiting ambulance.

Lessons for the day: Carry a LOT of water if hiking in hot desert canyons during the summer. Hike early and hike late, and rest in the shade during the day. Know where the water sources are and make sure they currently have water in them. Call the Forest Service or whichever agency oversees the area and check on those sources. For Sycamore Canyon, that would be:

Coconino Forest Supervisor's Office
1824 S. Thompson St.
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 527-3600
Fax: (928) 527-3620

See the Sheriff's Office media release about this rescue.

Also, see the media release about two other recent rescues, these in Oak Creek Canyon, conducted in part by the Coconino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team.

Update: I've been told that one of the two dogs that had been lost in the canyon has been located alive and returned home. The other has not been found yet. So keep an eye out if you're down there!