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.
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.
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.
This story reminded me of the old picture above, which appeared in the June 2014 Wild West. This was also an Arizona case, and I believe the skeleton’s location might have been the country around where Roosevelt Dam was built sometime before 1910. I don’t know anyone ever identified the dead man, however. The skull in the more recent case has been ID’d but there’s no hint as to where the rest of his remains rest of how they came to be separated from his head, or how he came to be out in the desert in the first place.
Nana and his warriors left quite a few corpses in the mountains and desert, of course. I’ve seen a couple of graves myself and can guess where there are others. But it’s likely some were never found or discovered so much later they were never identified as the old man’s victims.
Left over from my recent trip to AZ/NV, here’s the story of one very tough old man Nana would have appreciated. His adventure reads like a page out of True Grit, and I can’t help but admire his cojones even as I have to question his good sense. Exploring abandoned mines is a very dangerous hobby and rappelling down into an old shaft solo borders on the suicidal. Years ago I spent some time tagging along with the state’s Abandoned Mine Lands team surveying the country around Madrid, Golden and Hagan south of Santa Fe. There are at a minimum several hundred and by most estimates a thousand or more abandoned mines in the state, ranging from extensive underground complexes like the labyrinth under Madrid to rough prospect holes scratched a dozen or a hundred feet under the surface. These doghole miners never heard of today’s mine safety regs and they likely would have paid no attention to them if they had. What sketchy shoring they put in place they salvaged as they pulled out. Another danger, as the Arizona guy discovered, is that the old shafts and nearby building foundations attract snakes. One of my archeologist acquaintances described the ruins of Hagan as a scene out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The only thing worse than being trapped in a cave-in, in my nightmarish imagination, would be to be trapped in the dark with a den of buzzworms for company.