JT21, 3/25/2011

Date:  3/25/2011

Participants:  Jeri and Tom Mahood, Heather Mahood

General search area:  California Riding & Hiking Trail from Eureka Peak area, northerly

Rationale for searching this area:

We realized had Bill been taking the usual CRH Trail route toward Quail Mountain and missed the turnoff to Juniper Flats, he would have continued on into this general area.   There are signs indicating distance to the Black Rock Ranger Station, which would have offered the possibility of help, even though it was some distance further on the trail.  Finally, there are some small areas of cell phone coverage by the Serin Drive cell tower along portions of this route, very near a 10.6 mile radius.  Even though this trail is often used by people from the Black Rock campground, it seemed conceivable someone on this trail, in distress, could have gone off the trail a short distance seeking shade, and succumbed.  The possibility that trail users might not even notice was highlighted by our finding of Norman Cox in Death Valley only 150′ from a main trail.  As this route was never searched during the initial search, it became imperative we do so.

Impressions of area and findings:

The area is primarily a canyon with the trail along its bottom.  There were areas on the side of the trail which someone could have sought shelter, and we checked those.  At our turnaround point, we came upon an interesting find which will be discussed below.

Coverage level:  Given our off-trail coverage and the normal use by recreational hikers, this route is essentially 100% covered.

Comments:

As we reached our turnaround point, approximately 3.25 miles southwesterly of the Black Rock campground and ranger station, I spotted a bit of blue about 100 yards east of the main trail.  Going over to investigate, I found the remains of a sleeping bag, a backpack, some clothing, food wrappers and other personal effects.  It became quickly apparent it didn’t involve Bill (he wouldn’t be carrying a sleeping bag), but who or what was it?

Carefully going through the contents of the backpack, we found a computer printout with directions for the trail we were on.  It had a print date of 3/27/2008, which suggested it had been in place for three years.  There was also a blue nylon windbreaker embroidered with “Arcadia Flutes, 98-99, Yoshi”.  No wallet or valuables were noted.  There was animal scatter of various foodstuffs from the pack over perhaps 150′.  None of this was visible from the main trail.

We really weren’t sure what we were seeing.  We preferred to think it was merely someone who abandoned the backpack at that location intending to return, but never did so.  A more disturbing (but less likely) possibility was that it was a completely different individual from Bill, lost in Joshua Tree.  We somewhat allayed ourselves of the latter fear by doing a search, spiraling out from the effects, and finding no evidence of human remains.  Still, this was an extremely odd finding!

The next morning on March 25th, I sent out an email to the individual at JTNP I had been regularly submitting our GPS tracks to. I included a description of what we had found, a fairly detailed inventory of items and photos of the site and effects expressing my concern that it could be more than just someone dumping their backpack.

And….I waited.  A few days went by, and no response.  Not even an acknowledgement they had received my email (I had occasionally received acknowledgments for GPS tracks I had sent in).  Being a bit fed up by our constant treatment as being a general annoyance to JTNP with our Ewasko activities, on March 31st I sent an email directly to Judy Bartzatt, the Chief Ranger of the park.  Essentially it was a WTF? email, perhaps a little testy, but I tried to maintain a certain level of professionalism.

Finally on April 6th I finally received a response.  Now I’ve worked in local government  for many years, and I know how to write  letters to “handle” irate citizens.  I had to do it many times.   The response I received was such a thing.  Mostly platitudes about thanking me for the work we had been doing and giving me names of people to contact with any information.   And oh, by the way, perhaps I’d like to join the park as a “volunteer”?  (This had been suggested before, as a way to incorporate our renegade activities into their structure, but we quickly realized the park was more interested in controlling what we did rather than assisting us.)

Despite the irritation this delayed response created in me, I responded positively to Judy and apologized for any abrasiveness my email may have contained, explaining my frustrations with the one way flow of information in this case.  We were always keeping them up to date with where we had searched in exchange for….well, nothing.  My interest in smoothing things over was partially due to Judy calling up Paul Caraher and giving him grief for my actions, overlooking that I wasn’t part of RMRU any longer and could say what the hell I wanted.  Paul’s a good guy and didn’t deserve bureaucratic crap from what I was up to.  And besides, Judy had mentioned to Paul that perhaps we should all have a meeting to revisit basic facts in the case and find a way to move forward.  Seeing as how our idea engine at that point was running on fumes, we desperately needed more data on the Ewasko case.  And if it meant playing nice with the bureaucracy, then I could do that….for at least a while.

A meeting was tentatively scheduled at JTNP with a few of the RMRU guys and myself.  Unfortunately, it ended up being set for a date that coincided with a potential Federal government shutdown due to the budget wrangling in Washington.  So not knowing if they were going to have their doors open that day, JTNP had to cancel the meeting.  They never rescheduled and subsequent events changed our relationship quite drastically with them.

GPS mileage submitted for this trip:  10.6 miles

Cumulative GPS mileage submitted to date:  314.9 miles

JT21 GPS tracks (T. Mahood)

JT21 Site showing sleeping bag (T. Mahood)

JT21 bag and jacket (Arcadia Flutes, 98-99, Yoshi) (T. Mahood)

JT21 Wind pants (T. Mahood)

JT21 backpack (T. Mahood)

JT21 Backpack partial contents (T. Mahood)

JT21 Document closeup with date (T. Mahood)

JT21 Sandal (T. Mahood)

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