The Transnistria parliament building with a statue of Lenin out front. In the city of Tiraspol, Transnistria. Photo taken December 9, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Tiraspol, Transnistria...the country that doesn't exist.

Where are they going next? Northern Moldova. Arrive December 11th.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Almost bit off more than we could chew...

Yesterday, we had signed up for the 1:00pm shuttle that would take us to a trailhead on the Senita Basin leading to the Milton Mine and the Baker Mine at Organ Pipe National Monument. We had a trail map, and enough supplies, but I still thought it was not a very logical time of day to be starting a long hike in the desert.

It would have been okay, if everything went according to plan!

It was about a half hour drive to the trailhead. We were dropped off at 1:30pm about 3 1/2 miles (5 kms) north of the Mexico border.

An emergency distress station. 

They have quite a few of these across the desert, although this is the only one that we have actually seen. We thought it was an odd location for it, since we're only an hour and a half walk from the border itself. Anybody who crossed the border on foot shouldn't be "distressed" quite this early into their hike!

If you need help, push the red button!

Lots of warning signs, and lots of evidence of illegal crossings. However we didn't see a soul (neither migrant or border patrol) the entire time we were out.

The first part of the hike was a little boring. Just walking on an old dirt road that led to the Milton Mine.

The cactus are pretty, but you can only take so many pictures of cactus!

At the Milton Mine, this was the last trail marker we would see.

About 45 minutes after the Milton Mine, the trail became confusing. We didn't see any markers or signs. There had been border patrol out here on ATV's and sometimes we weren't sure which path to follow. 

Eventually, the trail we were on simply ended. 

We could have retraced our steps to the Milton Mine, but then we might have had a tough time making it back to the campground before dark. And that was if  we could find our way back to the Milton Mine.

Hmm. Which way do we go?

Lost in the desert.

We were essentially lost. However, we had a decent topographical trail map that gave us a good idea of approximately where we were. But now at 3:00pm, we were still a good 6 miles (10 kms) from the campground, and it's much slower going when you don't have a trail to follow. All of the bushes are thorny and you have to be very careful of where you put your feet. You would be lucky to do two miles an hour, and that's if you're actually going in the right direction.

It's a frustrating feeling!

But, we had no choice but to keep going. Sometimes, we were going in the direction we thought we wanted to be going, only to be stopped by a wash that was difficult to cross, or a line of thorns and cactus that we couldn't get through. There was no way we were making two miles an hour.

We were headed in the direction where we thought we would intersect the North Puerto Blanca Scenic Drive. Sure enough, at 4:15pm we spotted a section of the road. By 4:25pm, we were on the road itself. 

So, we had slogged our way through the wild desert, without a trail, for an hour and twenty-five minutes. Not fun. How is it that we didn't bump into any of those 18,000 border patrol agents?!

So, now we knew exactly where we were, but we were still 5 miles (8kms) from the campground. 

Oh well...one foot in front of the other!

Walking on the scenic drive. 

We did see two vehicles who were driving on the road. We would not have turned them down if they stopped and offered a ride, but we weren't to the point of flagging them down.

We made it to the campground at around 6:00pm, just before the sun set.

We were beat. I figured it out, and we had hiked 10.3 miles (16.5 kms) without stopping for a break. However, we did have lots of water, and enough snacks that we ate while we were walking. The worst thing that could have happened was to be out after dark. So we had simply kept walking.

Obviously, I'm going to register a complaint of sorts with the park. There's no way that that trail should have been that confusing. If they're going to list it as an official trail on their trail map, then it needs to be easier to follow. We're not beginners at this, and we were fairly well prepared. Good thing, because it would have been easy for this to have become a problem.

Also, it didn't make sense for the shuttle to be heading out at 1:00pm. No, there is no earlier time listed. We're thinking 9:00am would have made a lot more sense! There had been two other couples with us in the shuttle van, but they were taking a shorter route at a closer drop off point, and we had already done part of that trail the day before. Plus, the late start time really wouldn't have been a problem had the trail been well marked.

Anyhow...we've had enough of the wilderness for a while! We're headed for the city of Tucson today...see you there!

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47 comments:

  1. I always bring (and use) a personal GPS receiver whenever I visit unfamiliar areas---even cities!

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    1. Up to this point we have never had a need for one but we certainly could have used you on this hike. Soon we will have our son's old Iphone so as long as there is a cell signal we will be all set.

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    2. Great! Not sure, but the Iphone's GPS might even work without a cell or WiFi signal.

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  2. Oh for goodness sake. We know exactly how you feel. We have been on trails that just end. We look at each other and try to figure out where to go from there.

    I agree...1:00 is a really late start for a hike in the desert. Let us know what they say about that. Glad your day turned out fine.

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    1. Yep, there were several times when Kevin and I would stop at the end of what looked like a trail until we could find where it continued. This one was bad because of the migrant trails as well as ATV trails from the Border Control which made it quite confusing.

      We spoke to one of the rangers about it the next day and he agreed that more signage was needed between the Milton Mine and the Baker Mine because this section is not well traveled and is also a bit overgrown in areas. He also said that the drop off should be earlier. Kevin also sent a complaint into NPS itself via an email.

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  3. Oh boy. Not a situation I'd want to be in.

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    1. We didn't enjoy it, and said to each other we don't know what someone else would have done if they weren't as well prepared or as fit of a hiker.

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  4. Replies
    1. I'm just glad we were well prepared!

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  5. Replies
    1. Us too, I wasn't looking forward to having to spend a night in the desert, that is for sure.

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    1. Yes, we obviously did but then again there is absolutely no signage for the trail in between the Milton Mine and the Baker Mine. There are a number of paths and one ATV trail that we could see in several areas and we took what we thought looked like the most traveled path and it looked like it was a developed trail. By the time we came to where it petered out it would have been a very long way back to where there was a noticeable split and by that time it would have been getting us back to the campground in the dark.

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  7. If the shuttle took you out there the shuttle should have picked you up and brought you back if not the driver should have registered a complaint and a lost party status which in turn should've sent somebody looking for you
    Two things
    I would've pushed a button and complained of lack of trail markers
    To carry a small signal Mirror they make tham about an 1 inch by 1 inch for a keychain works really good
    The part you may not have realized it you probably were being watched by the border patrol they usually set up on the highest point of the mountain and I'll pick you up under body heat surveillance also they have a drone it does the same thing you may have been lost but they know where you were
    Anytime you see a mountain and it has antennas on it in the distance that usually where they have surveillance sites. That's where the Mirror would have came in handy if you needed it
    However your biggest peeve should've been with the shuttle driver and lack of markers
    So the next time get the GPS coordinates of the pick up site find a decent small handheld GPS even if you Pick one up at a pawnshop
    If you get a decent one you can download it to your computer and see where you been
    So I know you probably still enjoyed your hike

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    1. This incident had nothing at all to do with the shuttle van driver. It was not his responsibility in any way to "look out" for us. His responsibility was to drop us off at the trail head and nothing more. This is a ONE WAY SHUTTLE ONLY, from the trail head it is your job to hike back to the campground via several hiking trails. They offer this service because the distance it is to far to do a circular route from the campground in a timely manner.

      We do feel that it is the NPS's fault though for poor (none existent) signage on the trail between the Milton Mine and the Baker Mine, even if they just placed some bright red plastic ribbons in the bushes or cairns along the path in intervals or at least where there are several "paths" intersecting so that we would have been able to follow the correct path. Also that section of the trail should have been better maintained (the growth cut back from the trail). We also couldn't turn around and go back because there are next to no cars on that particular stretch of road.

      We are happy that we were well prepared and experienced hikes and that we had a map with us.

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  8. That is a bit scary. If you had cell phones GPS might have helped but I know you don't have them. Do you ever travel with a compass? Good thing you were well prepared food and waterwise.

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    1. No we didn't have a compass either but as we said we did have the map and that was a huge help in keeping us in the right direction. We were so surprised to have come out just up the road from the actual trail itself. I am pretty sure that the farthest that we ever were from the original trail itself was no more the 1/4 to 1/2 mile away.

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  9. We had that lost thing happen near where we are staying but at least we were near enough to civilization we could figure it out and I had a cell signal so I could use a maps program but it makes for a very long hike. Where are you staying in Tucson? We are at Justin's Diamond J, there is a dry camping area not far from us just off Ajo highway.

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    1. We will soon have a cell phone so as long as we have a signal we will be able to use the GPS and maps on it.

      At the moment we are staying in the parking lot of the Casino of the Sun on Camino de Oeste.

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  10. I totally agree about a 1:00 shuttle into the desert for hiking. Even in winter, what are they thinking. Sounds to me like you did a great job with a badly marked trail and didn't have to carry every techno gadget available. Good for you.

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    1. Yes, our biggest complaint was that the trail should have been better marked. You shouldn't have to go miles before seeing a marker, if they had used markers or coloured plastic ribbons in intervals along the way we would have know right away that we weren't on the right trail and would have turned around until we found the next marker and continued on. The section between the two mines isn't well used and has now started to get a little overgrown which also made it hard to know if you were on the correct trail along with all the other paths made by the illegals trying to get through the desert. Our other complaint to them was obviously doing a long hike with an afternoon drop off, this just shouldn't happen.

      We let them know this at the Visitor's Center the next day and Kevin has also sent an email to the NPS so hopefully these can be rectified quickly before someone else has a problem and doesn't do as well as we did.

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  11. And that is how those dead bodies get found in the desert! Be careful!

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    1. We were being careful but having said that, I was hoping that we wouldn't come across any dead bodies on our off trail trekking!

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  12. Use the proceeds from amazon to buy a gps and stay safe. This could happen anywhere.

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    1. After all the years of hiking this has been the only time we have lost a trail, having had the map with us was probably the best thing. Remember people used to hike without a GPS until just recently. Having said that we will be getting our son's old Iphone soon so as long as we have a cell signal we will be all set. If we ever see one of these GPS units at a great price, then who knows we might just get one, we have looked into them before.

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  13. We have been lost on a hike years ago, in Ontario when the marked trail ended in the bush, got dark and we wandered about for quite a while, not a great feeling.
    Glad you made it back safely.

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    1. Wow, that wouldn't have been fun! That was my only worry, we didn't want to be out there in the desert at night.

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  14. Scary that you got turned off trail, but very good that you had the topo map. Good trail practice to carry one! Glad you made it back safely.
    Nina

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    1. Yes, we were happy to have that map and also to be able to read it so that we knew right where we were and where we needed to go.

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  15. we would have been toast....would still be out there wandering around.
    as you said this is by far not your first rodeo and if you had problems novices would really be in trouble

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    1. Yep, we talked about what someone would do if they didn't know how to handle the situation or didn't have enough water or food with them. I don't know if it would have turned at so well if we weren't so experienced.

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  16. Thank goodness you two are experienced. That could have been very bad! Glad you made it back safely. Grace (in Tucson)

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    1. We were too! We keep asking ourselves where all these Border Control guys were, they never seems to be around when you could use them. ;-)

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  17. Glad you guys kept your wits about you and had your map.... and came out where you figured you would! We were on a trail that petered out once, and managed to find our way back. When we complained.. they said that WAS the trail and its just maintained that well anymore. geeesh! Side note--- at Steve's state park, the trails are well marked, and one that looks like it continues, Steve put up a sign saying it was not the right right trail and go back!

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    1. That was our biggest problem the trail between the two mines isn't used much and so it isn't maintained very well. Then add in the trails/paths used by the illegals and it makes it even more confusing. I really hope after talking to the ranger yesterday that they go out and put some markers up on the trail in between to two mines and clear the trail a bit so that it is recognizable, what's the point in having one otherwise.

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    1. Glad it turned out OK. Can you imagine that hike through the desert during the heat and dark with children in tow. Crofts comment is right on.

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    2. Nope can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for them and after that hike we have a better idea. As we were hiking along I was hoping we wouldn't come across any bodies, that would not have been nice!

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  19. Talk about living on the edge. At least you survived to tell the tale.

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    1. We always say, our life is never boring but we certainly could have done without that bit of excitement.

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  20. Thank heavens you knew how to be prepared in advance and had plenty of water to carry you through. The desert is like the ocean, beautiful but can kill you in an instant if you're not careful.

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    1. You are totally right Paul and Marti!

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  21. Dang, that was a little longer hike than expected. Good thing you had the map and were prepared, more than can be said for the trail maintenance crew.

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    1. I think that we may have only put on an extra mile but we were still beat when we got back to Sherman. We were happy we had that map too!

      Hopefully the maintenance crew will get out there on the trail and clear the part up between the two mines. I don't think many people hike the entire trail, they probably start at either end and only go as far as either of the mines and then turn around and go back, so the part in between doesn't get so well used.

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  22. I would have freaked out. I'm glad you made it back safe and sound.

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    1. We were a little worried but we knew that we had lots of water, we had some snacks and we had a map so even though we weren't on the path we knew we weren't "totally lost" because we knew which direction we needed to head in. Our biggest worry was not being able to get back to the motorhome before dark, luckily that didn't happen.

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