In Memory of GPS Joe.
It was one year ago to the day that GPS Joe (Joe Domin) went missing in the Mazatzal Mountains. So on this anniversary date, Hank asked Angela and myself to accompany him on a trip to the Mt. Peeley Trail Head, as it was here that Joe's car was found. Since I have been on the trails with both of them in the recent past, I gladly accepted the offer.
The trip up Hwy 87 was a nice early morning drive with snow visible on the higher peaks along the route and a sunrise that indicated a pleasant day lay ahead. Hank drove the Grasshopper Jeep and Angela and I followed in my Ranger 4-wheel drive pick-up. At the FR201 turn-off, the road began to show the first signs of the recent snows. As we proceeded up the road, the snow gradually got deeper and it was obvious we were the first vehicles to make the journey.
The thermometer was inching its way upward and as we entered areas that still held trees, it was like entering a winter wonderland. The snow was compacting on the trail and hung heavily on the pine branches forcing them to bend with the added weight. In the valleys we could observe a low fog layer covering the entire valley and blocking it from view. Angela was in a photographers heaven, shooting stills and videos almost simultaneously. Frequently, she would say "Jack, just look at that view". As much as I wanted to divert my eyes to follow her camera, I was too focused on keeping my truck on the trail ahead. FR 201 can be a tricky drive on a good day, but with about 4 inches of slippery wet snow, well, it's a long ways to the bottom and no shoulders if you should wander even slightly.
As we continued driving to the trail head, we had to clear some downed branches and a couple of small tree trunks that had fallen across the trail and at one point, Hank scared up a couple of deer that had been wandering down the trail. When we arrived at the trail head, the snow was almost magical, it hung heavily in the trees and was beginning to melt and rain down on us. Hank nailed a new poster on the sign at the trail head warning hikers entering the trail system to be on the alert for any signs of the missing hiker. A second poster, a memento to GPS Joe, was attached along side the first with a set of photos from Joe's collection of the area.
We backtracked along FR201 until we came to a Jeep/ATV trail that dropped off into an old mining region below us in the Sycamore Creek area. As we were changing into our trail gear, a light whisper of wind began blowing the fog bank up the side of the mountains and across the trail we were parked on. I gave a sigh of relief that it happened now and not earlier as we were navigating the snow covered trails.
We dropped down to the Sycamore lined creek to find the trees dressed in their finest autumn colors and with the sun shining down, the leaves seemed to have a glow that should indicate they will soon be littering the creek bed and the valley floor. There were signs that this was once a busy little mining area, as there were concrete foundations, a retort, and a large concrete slide along one hillside. There were several mine tunnels around the area but none looked safe enough to enter so we just took photos from the entrance.
We continued to follow the Jeep/ATV trails up the opposite side of the mountain and after a fairly arduous uphill hike we topped out at about 5,500 feet. The views from here were breathtaking, Saddle Mountain, Sheep Mountain, Mt. Peeley and other unnamed peaks lie to our South. A snow crowned Mt. Ord was to our North and the Mogollon Rim well behind that. The Juniper that covered the hillside were giving off an odor that was refreshing, so we took a lunch break here and took photos of the surrounding mountain peaks, basking in the now warming sun.
After the break, we began our return and got to the vehicles around 3:00 where we had a brewski and snacks then headed back to the valley. It was a fine ending to a great day, but the lingering question remains, Where are you, Joe.