January 30th, 2016
Today was a long, hard, rough, day. Did I mention it was long?
This morning, I was greeted by some wonderful people at the animal shelter. Some had been searching with us before, like Scott and Eric, but others were brand new, and a very welcomed surprise.
John B. is from Tucson, but that didn’t stop him from being at the animal shelter promptly this morning. He drove all the way from Arizona, and slept in his van at a rest stop, just to be sure he was there on time. John has never commented on this blog, but he is always here.
There were two Davids today. The first David is known to some as NTMI. He showed up in his orange Jeep, and saved me more than once from the muddy depths of the roads around Monteso. David is such a nice guy, he offered to cook us all up some lunch on his mini rocket stove.
The other David was the drone operator for today. He was fully equipped. This David works at the Land Rover dealership in Albuquerque, on Alameda. He took his drone into places they would never tell you to take a drone. His maneuvers today were both bold and dangerous, especially for his drone. His drone was the most valuable tool we had today, aside from the brute force of three men pushing my 4Runner out of the mud.
Kevin is new to the search, and hadn’t been hiking in a very long time. He is also from Farmington. But, that didn’t stop him from showing up to help today. He worked just as hard and hiked just as far as everyone else, and you would never know he was ‘out of practice’. I was very grateful he came today, as he kept me company in some very tight places.
Anthony was a surprise, as well. He is younger than most of us, but he showed up with his camera prepared for a day of searching. He hiked the longest route with Scott, and he was almost tipped sideways in the Jeep with me and David, but he never complained once. He was happy to help, and his attitude was just what we needed.
On top of my group, there were two others on the plateau today, that I knew of, and apparently one that I didn’t.
John Brown is an unstoppable force. That man has searched more ground than any two of the rest of us put together. Just before I arrived at the animal shelter, one of the other searchers saw John pick up his son and head out – long before most people were there. He is a man on a mission.
I also had heard from DaisyMae. She was out before anyone today. She has a big job to do. She brought Sean with her, who also doesn’t comment. But, Sean did something today that was more helpful than we realized.
Slurbs was there today, as well. This guy spent the entire day lost in the maze of muddy roads. By the time he reached us, it was midday, and he was covered in mud. He said he had to put tire chains on in the middle of a muddy road.
DaisyMae got permission from Randy’s family to closely inspect the raft, and its surroundings. That job took her all day. She navigated the same disastrous muddy ‘roads’ that we did, and she made it all the way to the rim. She found the trail, and hiked all the way to the bottom, with her friend Sean. They then spent an incredible amount of time inspecting the area, taking video and pictures, and even closely inspecting the items. She did find that one of the oars were broken. The handle came off completely, and broke the metal clean. Now we know that it was broken. She didn’t find anything as far as footprints, but she did find Leo’s ‘home’ that he had made. He found a safe spot, underneath and behind a tree, where he had apparently spent some time, as it still looks like he lives there.
While Daisy and Sean were working on their task, the remainder of us searchers arrived to the same spot Daisy had parked. This was the closest spot to our search area, but if you look on a map, it doesn’t look much like a road. The trip in took almost 2 hours. There were side roads everywhere, to avoid the bad roads, but it was all bad. We had to stop twice to check our location, and make sure we took the correct fork in the road. After the first hour, I had to abandon my 4Runner on the side of the road. I could see the path ahead, and didn’t think she would make it. I was proven right, when I was riding in David’s Jeep and it turned sideways, completely lifting the wheels on the driver’s side of the car 3 feet off the ground. I could have kissed the ground if my window was open.
Once we all got unloaded, we headed to the canyon south of the raft. We got so close to it with the trucks, we were able to spend all of our time investigating the canyon, rather than hiking to and from it. David found a great spot right away and launched his drone within a few minutes. We knew where we had to focus our efforts.
While David was droning away, I went to get a better vantage point. I kept scooting further back and down the canyon, until I realized I had made it to the bottom. Kevin followed, and down into the canyon we went. I can say that no one has been in that canyon for a few weeks, except for a small bobcat. The snow was deep and pristine, and showed no signs of being disturbed. Kevin and I hiked down the canyon to the river. We boulder hopped all the way down, as far as we could go. Finally, we reached a sheer drop that went over 50 feet. No one was climbing up or down that thing – not without professional climbing gear. But, it was only about 50 feet from the edge of the canyon.
We could not see the object we were looking for, so David brought his drone down into the canyon, and launched right from that point. There was only about a 3ft by 3ft space for him to launch from, but he is very good at what he does, and that was more than enough space for him. He was able to get to everything, and even drop the drone down very low to get better shots of the objects we needed to see.
What we didn’t know, is just before we got down there, John Brown and his son had hiked down to the raft, headed south, and then hiked up the mouth of that same canyon, to the same waterfall drop. They inspected it thoroughly, and were able to determine that nothing had been in that alcove for a while. They also determined no one was climbing up that.
After we were done with the drone, and the battery was almost completely dead, we hiked out of the canyon. When we got back to our cars, we discovered that we parked right at the top of the path that leads down to the raft!
Scott and Anthony had headed this way before we got to the drone search. They knew John Brown and Daisy were both around somewhere, and wanted to inspect the rim and try to locate the others. They hiked all the way from the southern canyon to the one just North of where Randy’s raft was found. They didn’t find much, but they did find a pair of canvas yard work gloves, which didn’t look too old. We don’t know that these are related to Randy, but we haven’t put them out of our mind.
As we waited for Scott and Anthony to rejoin us, we all looked down to the river to see how the scouting mission was going. The people looked barely bigger than ants down there. But, we saw something very interesting. We watched a man wade across the Rio Grande – all the way across – both ways. It turns out that this man is Sean. Sean waded from Randy’s raft, across to Frijoles Canyon, and back. The water never got higher than his waist. He said he could have done it half asleep.
We scoured every inch of the canyon south of where Randy’s raft was found. We found no trace of Randy. He is not the object in question from the drone footage. Sadly, the footage does not do a good job of showing scale. It is far too small to be a person. It is just a play on snow and shadows, on two jagged edges of the same rock. I know that is hard to believe, so you will all be given the link to the footage from today, and you can see for yourselves. It is not Randy, even though we all very much wished it was.
I watched 12 tired, sore and hungry searchers come in from the search today. Some were covered in mud – literally – from head to toe. Some were drained and slightly sunburnt from an entire day in the canyon combined with the hike in and out. Every one of them came in and greeted me with the same smile they were wearing this morning. They are all amazing people, and vowed to return for the next search, if they are able.
There were some important things I learned today.
1. Randy is not in the canyon on the east side, south of the raft, with a 99% certainty.
2. If Leo ever left the raft, he didn’t go far. The cactus carpets the landscape so effectively that my shoes were filled with the needles. Leo’s paws would have been destroyed by all of it.
3. The water in the Rio Grande, at that point, is so low that a man can walk across it and the water won’t reach above his waist.
4. The trail to the top of the canyon is almost IMPOSSIBLE to find from below. John Brown and his son could not find it, and once they made it back up, they had to go back down and mark the trail for Daisy and Sean so they could make it out safely.
We didn’t find Randy today, but we did find where he wasn’t. He wasn’t in the canyon to the south. He wasn’t stuck in the water in front of the raft. He wasn’t on the trail up to the rim.
The weather is going to keep us from searching again for several days. In the mean time, we will work on the next plan of action, and keep you guys posted.
Thank you so much for all of your help, ideas, theories, pictures, well wishes, prayers, thoughts, and sympathies. It is what is keeping this pack of searchers going.