Writeup by Adam Marsland
Date: October 1, 2016
Participants: Adam Marsland, Teresa Cowles
General Search Area: East of Quail Wash and northerly of Smith Water Canyon near JTNP Boundary.
Rationale for Search: Checking the area adjacent to the wash, a potential exit route for Bill if his phone went off near the mouth of Smith Water Canyon.
Impressions of Area and Findings: Easy terrain, scrub brush mixed with some scattered rock formations.
Coverage level: Good
Of all the remaining conventional explanations of Bill’s disappearance, the possibility that Bill’s phone pinged in Quail Wash near the mouth of Smith Water still seems the most plausible to me, though it might be better to call it the least improbable of a range of improbable options at this point (your mileage may vary – I believe Tom’s least improbable spot currently lies on the north slopes of Smith Water).
From this spot, the unsearched areas all lie to the north. The north slope of Smith Water Canyon is climbable at this point but steep – unless Bill was looking for cell reception or hoping to flag down searchers from the air, it’s hard to know why he’d go that way in a weakened state, or even if he could. Quail Wash itself however offers an easy (though hot) straight shot back to civilization, and it’s conceivable that in taking that route Bill might at some point have left the wash to find shade or water, expired, and then not been found, even though the wide bowl valley that it runs through north of SWC sees a fair amount of visitation from locals, particularly in the area near the park boundary close to Joshua Tree village.
My last few trips had been to check out the unsearched rock formations (offering potential shelter) and canyons on the west side of the wash, but the east side actually offers rock formations that lie closer to the wash and would be more likely to draw an injured man – particularly in the morning as the shadows would fall from east to west. I hadn’t covered this region previously because since this area is closer to the wash, it seemed less likely Bill’s remains could have been overlooked in the last six years. But having come up short on the west side I wanted to go back and check out the east side, particularly as I am about to leave the country for an extended period and this will be my last chance.
I had an opportunity over the weekend while en route to a show in Joshua Tree. We did not have much time but Teresa and I were able to make our way down to one of the areas in question and take a good look around. We found nothing but a few balloons, though this is a pretty area and Teresa is up for another look at another time. With two people and a not very large area to cover, our coverage of the places most proximate to the wash was good.
The area just south of us, on the far side of a rock formation that was the southern boundary of our search, strikes me as a somewhat more likely place for Bill to be found than today’s search, given that there are many more rock formations in that area and it lies closer to the potential ping spot (and thus further away from civilization). We did not have enough time to get down there, but it would be easy enough to do for an enterprising searcher. It’s an easy walk from the Joshua Tree village area and the remaining unsearched area east of Quail Wash is quite small. If not, I will probably get around to it someday.
If that last spot doesn’t pan out, it’s hard to know where to go next. If nothing oddball happened such as foul play or a staged event (I still have my suspicions but an open mind is always good), then Bill most likely lies somewhere north of Smith Water, either on the slopes, towards the top of the mountains on the north side, or even further north in or around the wide bowl valley we were in on this trip. But given that this is a large area and there would be no real logical reason for Bill to have strayed into this region, it’s pretty hard to narrow down any specific place to look. It’s all pretty much equally unlikely.
GPS Mileage for this trip: 4.7 miles
Cumulative GPS mileage to date: 912.0 miles