Another Adventure in the Wilds of Churchill County, Nevada
Out of the starting gate our mission for today was to photograph birds,
or at the very least, find the elusive Fallon National Wildlife Refuge
located about thirty miles northeast of Fallon, NV.
I searched the route on the computer and erroneously thought that it was
simple enough that our GPS unit would not be required. That was a
mistake as there are no street/road signs once you leave pavement and
all of the numerous dirt roads look the same. After making several
choices by the "going in the right direction" method (and being lucky) I
pulled out my cell phone and called up Google maps to verify that I was
indeed on the correct path. "Path" is a better descriptor for what we
were driving on as it was more of a cow path or Jeep trail than a
Just before the worst section of road which I dubbed the "mud hole
minefield" because of the large and numerous craters, we spotted a black
Subaru Imprezza WRX pulled off of the trail to the east. In my mind a
car like that was just out of place where it was. It was a street racer,
not a car you would want to take off-road.
There was no one visible in or around the vehicle. We supposed a person
could have been sleeping off a hard night of drinking, or might be hiking with friend or dog, etc., and decided to push on to find the FNWR.
We did indeed find the refuge, thanks to the google map. There are no
signs, no buildings, no indication that it is a National Wildlife Refuge
anywhere. I find that disturbing and intend to ask the folks at our
Fallon office why. The pessimistic answer in the back of my mind says it
is because if there were any signs they would either be stolen or shot
full of holes by idiots who I am convinced, live only to destroy things.
It is probably just lack of funds sufficient to reach far enough down
the priority list.
On the way back as we came out of the minefield we could see that the
car was still there. I was even more suspicious of such a built up ride
being so far out a seldom used road, so we slowly drove up behind the
car and stopped. The car had a temporary tag which had expired on
1-11-2015, six days ago. It was our gut feeling and best guess that
this was either 1. a stolen car, or 2. a suicide.
Having gotten crossways of a drunk with a gun in my younger days, I had
Anna stay in the vehicle and stepped out of my Jeep and listened
intently for a bit. Hearing no sounds I cautiously approached the
vehicle going wide to the left where I had the best view and wouldn't
mess up the footprints and other possible evidence on the ground.
There was no one in the vehicle front or back seats. No keys in the
ignition, no evidence of hot-wiring the car. No scratches to indicate
the windows were pried or a slim-jim was used. Lack of personal possessions and or trash in the vehicle noted.
There were footprints of a sneaker much larger than my own and a stride a
good six inches longer than my own, which lead off into the brush at
the two o'clock position relative to the vehicle. Most likely, a male,
six feet or so tall and about 250lbs+ (depth of shoe tracks exceeded
that of my own lesser weight imprints.)
On the right side of the vehicle there was a spot where a male had
urinated recently (holes bored into soft sand, spray pattern, etc., for
those who just had to know) facing the road.
On either side of the vehicle there were fresh butts of Camel filter
cigarettes (open end facing west but no sand in them. Wind is
predominately from the west here.)
Conclusion: One large man had pulled the car off the road into a
convenient spot, gotten out, flicked away his cigarette, walked around
the car to see if anyone was in sight, urinated while facing the road,
and then walked off into the desert.
Obviously pursuing the departed man was outside of my pay grade and
would not be helpful to the local constabulary, so I called the
Churchill County Sheriff's Office dispatcher to report finding said
automobile. As usual the dispatcher answered right away but was very
busy so I had to repeat the information multiple times. A 911 call
interrupted our conversation so I hung up and headed for town. I did
note the mileage so that I could give a reference point for any
responding units, should they return my call.
A few miles from town we spotted a CCSO unit on the side of the road and
pulled in next to it to speak to the deputy. It was a lucky connection
for both of us; I would have been upset not knowing if any action had
been taken and would likely have driven back out tomorrow to check the
vehicle, and I doubt that law enforcement would have found the vehicle
without an air search considering how far out and how many turns you had
The deputy was very happy to see us and called into the duty officer for
a message, that message being that the car matched one reported to
Fallon Police Department as stolen and we were to wait until one of
their units joined us before proceeding. Eventually the PD unit arrived
and I lead the parade back to the car in question.
I joked on the way out that it looked like we were leading a low speed
(OK, 40 mph) chase and if anyone flying over saw us it would be "film at
It would be understandable if the police officers following us began to
wonder if I was leading them on a fantasy ride and I said so, but as
Anna reminded me, she had taken a photo of the car and we had shown it to the deputy while we waited.
As we pulled up to the car the officers, in an abundance of caution,
pulled out their long guns and proceeded as if a shooter might appear at
any moment. In my estimation this was the prudent way to approach as we
could have been facing a suicidal nut, even though it was more likely
just a stolen car. You can't get those seconds back if you guess wrong
and your car thief wants to cap you for getting in his way.
After a search of the area following the tracks that I showed the deputy, they determined that possibly two people had walked off into the brush, the large male I had found the tracks of, and either a woman or a small man wearing cowboy boots. I did not want to get in the way and mess up the tracks so I did not see the other tracks myself to be able to read them.
Once happy that the area was reasonably secure, the vin number on the
vehicle was checked and it positively identified the car as the stolen
vehicle FPD was looking for. As is customary in such events I gave a
written statement to the FPD officer who would be handling the case and
we departed on our merry way to dinner at Jerry's, which is where we
always go after our adventures.
Possible scenario based on the above:
The direction the man walked is the most puzzling thing of all to me.
Why take the most difficult path into a desert that could kill you, when
there was a road behind you that you could eventually walk out on.
Granted, it would take you a good twenty hours of non-stop walking to
reach town, but it was doable.
The same distance through the desert would take you three days, and the
direction he went, there isn't going to be anything there when/IF he
gets there. Without water and considering the exertion, even with mild
temperatures he will dehydrate and feed the coyotes. If he tries to
drink the seriously alkaline water he will get very sick and feed the
Night time temperatures in the high desert can be brutal in the
summer, but they will suck the heat right out of your body in the
winter. I would guess that he does have either a lighter or matches with
him (cigarette butts) so could possibly build a fire and stay kind of
warm. A formula for a slower death, but still not a good plan overall.
One fly in the ointment; the car was unharmed, the doors were locked,
and the keys were gone. What kind of car dumping thief does all that?