Friday, June 25, 2010

Terlingua Adventure, Disaster and Miracle

I have been hanging out at a really informative website about predator hunting for sometime and recently was asked to join the pro staff. The owner and administrator of the site and I have become friends through the site posts, email and phone. Chris has an informative website and runs a good ship with lots of good people. Next time you have a little time pay a visit and see how you like it. Enough about the forum, I wanted Chris to tell his story about what happened on his recent vacation trip to the Big Bend country of Texas. The following story is as Chris wrote it for those of us that frequent the site. I think you will enjoy it, Wild Ed

Those of you who know me, know I am not a really religious man but something happened to me this week that reminded me that god is out there looking out for us. Maybe even more so for us idiots than others.

Myself, my wife and our 2 girls (7 and 5) had been vacationing down in Terlingua, TX which is SW Texas near the Big Bend National Park and only about 15 miles from Mexico. This area is made up of the Chihuahuan Desert and Chisos Mountains and is very, very remote. We were staying at a resort there, but were doing a lot of exploring to get a better understanding of the ranch since we own property there that we have never seen.

After a few days of exploring, we set out Monday with new information that would get us to our property. We knew it was rough, and since no one had been there in years, they had no reason to maintain the roads to it. So we put a note on our cabin door that said "If we do not return by Tuesday morning, please send help to gate 2" which is where the property is located, and we packed enough supplies to survive out there for a few days.

After getting within 1/4 mile of the property, we made a wrong turn down a creek bed. We were trying to turn around when the truck came down off the embankment and got wedged between the 2 high walls of the creek. Both bumpers were buried, and the back with all of our supplies was totally blocked by dirt and brush. It was totally my fault, I screwed up but there was no taking that back. I tried for about an hour to get us out, but there was just no way. The heat was a killer (around 100 degrees at the time), it was fast approaching evening (4:00) and I had to make a decision. I felt that we were simply too far out to be found, even if our note was discovered the next day, so I had to do something.

I packed enough water for a days travel along with a flashlight, GPS, and sunscreen and set off in what I thought was the direction of the nearest cabin/trailer which may or may not have someone in it. As the crow flies, it would be a 5 mile hike, but winding through the mountains, washes and dry creek beds I expected it to be a real adventure. I left Nicole and the girls in the truck with food, water, and enough fuel to keep them in the AC for at least a day. (they could send the girls through the cab window into the camper for supplies) We discussed what we thought was a plan, but quickly realized that no plan would suffice. How long should she wait for me? If she sets off on her own, where should she go? If one of us was found, where would the others be? It all seemed pointless. We decided that they would wait only 1 day for me, and if they must travel, they would only do so at night. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, and just told them I would "be right back for them" and I got on my way.

I was only walking for about 30 minutes when I started to feel dizzy and almost drunk. The GPS would not pickup a heading so I had no idea where to go. I had a GPS full of marked way points - we had been flagging stuff for says but all it would do is spin in a circle! I started breaking off pieces of a plastic emergency reflector cone I had brought along and at each turn I would hang them from the trees, or shove them down in the sand pointing in the direction of the girls.

I would walk for about an hour before coming to a path that I thought looked familiar, but after reviewing my tracks on the GPS back at the cabin later that night, it would turn out to be a path we had never been on, and the complete opposite way of any civilization that we had previously flagged on the GPS. It was a mix of the screwy GPS, and my own instincts that took me that way. Not sure why, but it would turn out to be a good move. (Miracle #1?)

So anyway... as I hiked up the side of this hill and through a "window" in the mountain, I came to the hard realization that there would be no way I could get to anyone before sunset and it was also clear that all of my planning meant nothing. I had no idea of where to go and it was so hot that I didn't think I would make it even if I did know. I put my head down, and stepped to the top of the mountain where I could see 360 and there was no sign of life anywhere and I could see for miles. It was the worst feeling I've ever had in my life. Day travel was nearly impossible and I couldn't help but to think about rattlesnakes and mountain lions if I had to travel at night. At this point I was feeling pretty much hopeless.

After standing there for about a minute trying to collect myself, my phone made the "You've got a voicemail" tone from my pocket. I thought "Yea right, there is no way I would have a signal here". I dug it out (wasn't even going to bring it!) and sure enough, I had 1 bar of signal and it was alerting me of a voicemail that I had received earlier in the day! I looked at the time and it was 5:10 and the ranch office (30 miles away) was already closed but they were the closest place I knew so I called anyway. After 3 rings, the machine kicks on and starts to speak...(my heart sinks) and just as it's saying "Goodbye" I hear: "HELLO! This is Frank".

Turns out that Frank (the ranch manager) had stayed late to do some work and just happened to answer the phone. (Miracle #2?) I quickly told him about the situation and gave him the coordinates to the girls back at the truck. He said he would get on his way but it might take 1-2 hours to reach us.

I hung up and headed back to the girls. Even with my flagging of GPS way points and marking with orange reflectors, I still managed to get lost by 1/4 mile in the wrong direction. (the GPS was still acting screwy). On the way back I was nearly insane from the heat. I thought I was hearing cars, running water, etc. I understand the stories I have heard about the desert now. At one point a snake came off an embankment and I just drew my weapon and shot it, almost like a reflex. I guess I was in true survival mode.

I finally got back to the girls around 6:30 or so and we waited for Frank to show up. I began to think that even with the coordinates he wouldn't find us because of our position within the base of these mountains and the many ways in and out of the general area so we set off on foot to the end of the wash where I had put the last reflector. At around 7:00 I heard what I thought was a horn honking from outside the creek so I fired a couple of shots into the dirt to get their attention. I turned the corner and there was Frank, walking towards me with GPS in hand. WHEW!!!! We had been saved!

Frank told us later that they must have JUST got a cell tower back up in the area I had made it to because it had been down for some time. (Miracle #3??) I was surprised because we have never had cell service in ANY part of ranch that I could remember, and surely didn't think we would ever get one in these mountains. In fact, I wasn't even going to bring my phone, and wasn't checking it for signal either. The voicemail tone was the only thing that got me to look at it. (Miracle #4?) Frank brought us back to the cabin and his wife surprised us with a warm spaghetti dinner for the family. Needless to say, we were pretty dang thankful.

Tuesday Frank took me back out and helped me get the truck out of the creek bed. It took a lot of digging and pulling but we got it done after a couple of hours. No way I could have ever done it myself. I'm sure grateful to have had Frank around, and for how everything worked out.

I'm not a church going man, but I do believe god looks out for us. I told this story to my good friend who is a youth pastor in Colorado and he knew of our trip down and what our plans were. He was hesitant to tell me this, but turns out he got a strong urge at exactly 5:00 our time on Monday to send up a prayer for us. Heading down a path I had never been, sudden cell service, a random voicemail that would alert me, and Frank working late would all happen in the minutes that followed. According to my call log, I connected with Frank at the ranch at 5:16.

To top it all off, we had a little chat with Frank before we left. I couldn't help but to notice that he seemed oddly out of place at this ranch. Turns out he was just hired to run the ranch a few weeks ago, and in fact he's a preacher from Louisiana who was in the area helping a friend at his ranch when he was offered this job. Frank doesn't have to work, he took the job just to have something to do, and because he likes the area. He told me that him and his wife had been questioning WHY they were there the entire time, in the middle of the desert instead of home with their families and such. I think we know why now. From the sound of things, I don't think Frank will be there when we return next time, but I am sure glad he was there this time.

After downloading the GPS data to the computer, it was clear that the GPS was not working correctly during this whole event. It was only connecting to a satellite every once in a while, and because of that I was misguided to the area that I had never been, which also ended up having cell service.

The entire series of events brings me to tears when I think about it. Needless to say, I'm not questioning my faith now like I might have been when the truck first got stuck.



Tim Covington said...

Along with the miracle of getting help, this is a lesson to all people who go off the beaten path. Do not navigate solely by GPS. A real map, compass and the knowledge of how to use them should always be taken into the wilderness. There is a reason the army still teaches soldiers how to navigate without GPS.

Wave Fishing Lures said...

My goodness, that must have been a frightening ordeal. I did not realize that GPS was not always accurate or operational in some areas. This is good to know and with all the preparations taken to make sure it was a fun safe trip, there was a lot to deal with. Nice job at handling the situation.