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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another Adventure in the Wilds of Churchill County, Nevada

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 roadway.

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 to make.

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 eleven!"

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 coyotes.

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?