I’m grouping these three efforts together for a couple of reasons. First, they are geographically close and represent the final clearing (in my mind) of the Covington Flats area. Second, they are also very low-probability “loose ends”, the sort of locations I wanted to cross off before moving on to other, more remote areas.
Further, there has been some progress in teasing out more significance from Bill’s cell phone ping. Mike Melson of Trinity Search and Recovery recently did some measurements in the Covington Flats area with his phone and the Verizon system. He was running an app that showed when he was connected to the Serin Drive tower, even in weak signal conditions. When this occurred he sent out test text messages while at the same time noting his GPS positions. Later he was able to obtain from Verizon the distances the Serin tower recorded between him and the tower when the text messages were sent. Comparing his GPS positions to the tower’s distance measurements showed them to be fairly close, on the order of 10%. This suggests Verizon’s distance measuring arrangement for the Serin tower is accurate, does work and thus may serve as validation for Bill’s 10.6 miles measured ping.
Dates: JT39: 11/07/2012, JT40: 11/16/2012, JT41: 11/20/2012
Participants: Tom Mahood
General search area: Miscellaneous areas in the vicinity of Lower Covington Flat.
Rationale for searching these areas:
JT39 was an effort to check the off-trail area lying between the Stubbe Spring area and Covington Flat. The hypothesis was that it might have been possible for Bill to have done the Stubbe Spring loop and perhaps missed the trail by staying in the wash too long (This possibility was noted in one of the field reports by the initial searchers). If he failed to connect with the California Riding and Hiking trail, but knew its general orientation, the terrain would have forced him into a large wash that roughly paralleled the actual trail, but to its west, headed toward Lower Covington Flat. While it’s unlikely any ping to the Serin cell tower could have occurred from this route, it always bothered me a bit that none of the original searching included this route. This was my effort to clear that route.
There are very few routes by which an individual can make it to the north of Quail Mountain (and thus be within a 10.6 mile radius of the Serin Drive cell tower) and not ping the Verizon cell system. The California Riding and Hiking Trail from the Juniper Flats trailhead to the Lower Covington Flat trailhead is one such route. However once the Lower Covington Flat trailhead is reached, a very fine dirt road proceeds northwest from there all the way into the town of Yucca Valley. Why wouldn’t someone simply walk on that dirt road until civilization is reached? Is there anything in the topography that could seduce someone not familiar with where that road goes off of it? Possibly.
On my JT37 search, I first explored that concept of a rationale for leaving the dirt road and heading northerly down to Quail Wash. It appeared plausible and could have got someone into significant difficulties were they unaware of the true topographic situation. In my travels to and from Covington Flats I noted two other saddles just to the east of the road that could be a possible attraction. These saddles, closer to Nolina Cove than the JT37 saddle, seemed much less plausible than anything I had considered prior, but needed to be examined. That trip constituted JT 40.
Having cleared the saddles to the east of the Covington Flats road, there was one last possibility to consider. As you travel northwest to the park boundary the topography prevents you from seeing the homes just beyond the park’s border. However as the road nears the Nolina Cove gate, it makes a sharp turn to the right (east) as it reaches a high point. It is then homes first become visible in the distance. They look surprisingly close, but are in fact 2.5 miles away. With the road seemingly turning away from the homes, and them appearing so close, it would be plausible for someone in distress to leave the road and head directly for the homes, especially if they were unfamiliar with when the road actually went. As far as I know that seemingly close-in area has never been searched.
Impressions of areas and findings:
In regards to a route between Stubbe Springs and the Covington Flats area, there are other possibilities, even more remote than that explored by JT39. However JT39 remains the most probable cross country route, dictated by the terrain. There were one or two significant dry waterfalls in that canyon, but they appeared climbable by someone determined enough (for the record I was not and detoured around them!)
For the canyons northeasterly of the Covington Flat road (JT40) I noted some foot traffic in parts of the canyon bottom, presumably by locals. Between that and my coverage those canyons received enough coverage such that if Bill had been in them he would have been found.
The area just westerly of the Covington Flats road and just inside the park boundary seemed surprisingly plausible when actually visited on JT41. There were a few tracks from locals but they appeared restricted to the primary wash in the area. There was substantial acreage that received no foot traffic. I ceased searching about 3/4 miles from the actual park boundary. The reason for that was the area had been burned in the past and was very open and devoid of concealing shrubs. Once the park boundary is reached the homes are still about a half mile further, but there’s evidence of significant local use with trails running in all directions.
Coverage level: Very good for the target areas. I consider them cleared and have no desire for additional searching absent new information.
The majority of JT39 was spent in a rather remote canyon with steep, rocky walls and a sandy bottom (when there weren’t dry waterfalls). I am very aware of any tracks in the areas I search, since if there are human tracks it means someone has already been through the area and my presence isn’t necessary. The canyon of JT39 was full of tracks, clearly animal, so I didn’t pay really close attention at first.
After a while my mind focused on what looked like large hoof prints in the sand, sort of like what a horse would leave. It slowly bubbled to the surface of my thinking that there was no way a horse would ever be down in here, so I decided to have a closer look. Ummmm…It wasn’t a horse. I could see the faint indentations of toe pads at the front of the tracks and realized it was the track of a mountain lion. Hello Kitty!
Fortunately the weathering of the tracks in the sand indicated they were at least a few days old. That meant the critter could be a hundred miles away. Or right above me on the rock walls. From that point on my attention shifted from looking for clues to looking for cats. In the end, I saw neither.
A note about formatting: I had been using Garmin’s Mapsource software to take screen captures of GPS tracks for presentation here. Unfortunately Garmin has changed Mapsource and it now looks real crappy. So I’ve switched to a USGS topo underlay in Google Earth.
GPS mileage for these trips: JT39: 10.5 miles, JT40: 5.1 miles, JT41: 3.6 miles
Cumulative GPS mileage to date: 556.1 miles