Desert Survival Tips

This site is about the Apache Wars, not wilderness adventure/misadventure. Still, there are occasional stories I find worth mentioning for those tempted to trace Nana’s footsteps. Here’s some good advice on the subject.




The backcountry search for Barbara Thomas, who disappeared in the Mohave National Preserve 11 days ago, has been suspended,  S&R teams working with K9 units, members certified in cave searches, rope climbing and desert terrain combed the area yesterday but found no trace of the missing woman. “Detectives from the Specialized Investigations Division have assumed the investigation,”  according to the Sheriff’s Department.


Still Missing

The search for Barbara Thomas, missing since the afternoon of July 12, is still underway, but chances she is still alive somewhere out in the Mojave are now vanishingly small. Another strange story, this one from the California mountains, offers a sinister alternative template to her disappearance. Found after missing for four days, the woman claims she got lost fleeing from a man brandishing a knife. I’ve been wandering the mountains and deserts of the Southwest for better than 50 years, more often alone than not, and I’ve had some unsettling encounters with strangers. While I can’t say I ever felt seriously threatened, the world (and esp California) seems to get crazier by the day. Personally, I feel more comfortable carrying a pistol when I hike (more for snakes, feral dogs and rabid animals than for two-legged predators). Unfortunately, that’s not a legal option in CA, with its restrictive gun laws.

Missing in the Mojave

I try not to post on back-country misadventures too often, since the plot lines are so often drearily familiar. But every once in a while one comes along sufficiently out of the ordinary to attract my attention. Such a one is this report from California. Search continues, but air temp is around 104 today, the ground underfoot is 20-30 degrees hotter than that, and shade is minimal to non-existent. If the missing woman has been out there for more than 72 hours with no water and no clothing to speak of, her survival chances are slim. What’s puzzling is that she’s no feckless German tourist, but a local resident who should have been aware of what that desert is like this time of the year. Unless she’s no longer entirely compus mentis (in which case a responsible adult should have been keeping a closer eye on her) it’s hard to understand why she would go hiking in mid-afternoon, without a cell phone, any water, or any covering but a baseball cap, hiking boots and a black bikini. I pray she survives to tell her story.

Coyote Science

Following up on my previous posts, here’s an informative piece on man’s continuing battle of wits with Wile E. Coyote. Story notes the feds killed 68,000 coyotes last year, with no noticeable impact on populations, while mule deer numbers are down by nearly a third over the past 30 years, due in part at least to coyote predation. While some  advocate less lethal methods, the coyotes are too smart for us. “We’ve used noisemakers and sirens, and they work for a period of time, and then the coyotes realize they’re not going to get hurt.”

Another Death at White Sands

Sounds like a great title for a novel, but true enough. These tragedies seem to happen every couple years. I wrote about some of the history of the Arena Blanca here. And my book follows the bloody trail Nana’s raiders left through the sands back in 1881. I would expect that, as at Grand Canyon, fatalities at White Sands will become more common with increased visitation. Since Tracking Nana is a combination pop history and travel/hiking guide intended to encourage people to get out and explore New Mexico by retracing the old man’s footsteps, I feel obligated to remind folks of the risks inherent in venturing out into the deserts and mountains of the Southwest.

‘Forgotten Winchester’

The invaluable History Blog has a couple of add’l facts on what has been dubbed “The Forgotten Winchester” — although as I said in my earlier post it seems to me unlikely the old gun was forgotten or even simply misplaced. The Stars & Stripes story referred to a bullet found in the stock of the rifle, but I assumed that must have been an error in terminology, since the Winchester’s tubular magazine runs underneath the barrel, not up through the stock (as some earlier repeaters did). Turns out I should have trusted the reporter’s accuracy. An x-ray did in fact discover an unfired cartridge in the stock, in a compartment designed to hold not bullets but a cleaning rod and accessories. Why the owner would have pushed a bullet up there is another minor mystery to add to the other questions about the gun’s history.

Second interesting fact: “The Juniper tree that was its home for so long alas is no longer with us. Just two years after the rifle was found, a wildfire burned the hillside above Strawberry Creek where the Forgotten Winchester had resided. Its comfy leaning tree was devastated in the conflagration. All that is left of it is a black stick. Had Eva Jensen’s keen powers of observation not spotted the rifle — which had weathered to such a consistently grey color that it looked practically indistinguishable from the tree — it would have burned to nothingness and nobody alive would have known it ever existed.”