Regardless how you may feel about the way our hike turned out, I’d like to tell you about it. You can read this and take it as a learning experience (it most definitely was for me, seeing as this was my very first overnight hiking experience) Trust me when I say that before it went sideways, it was a very cool hike and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. At the risk of dramatizing things more than I should at a later date due to the details getting fuzzy, I’d like to just get it all down now while it’s pretty fresh. I like to consider myself a writer, seeing as it gives me a direction for my energy and makes me happy to create something. Even if it’s not necessarily a physical manifestation of creativity that one can put hands on, the act of creating something gives me joy. That being said, my duty as a writer is to translate my experiences into something readable for you. Are you ready to bite off this chunk of a story? It’s a bit of a doozy, let me warn you.
I went hiking this past weekend with my father-in-law (from this point on, I’ll refer to him as “JB”). We set out on early Saturday morning to hike the first passage of the Arizona Trail (referred to as AZT in this narrative). The Arizona Trail is broken up into 43 separate passages. This first passage is roughly 21 miles and runs north by northwest from the International Border to Parker Canyon Lake.
To make things interesting, I’ll lead in to my narrative with the jotted down thoughts in the pocket notepad I brought along, referring to my wife as “M” and son as “B”. The following notes are just a rough idea of what’s going through my head up there. The more detailed explanation will follow.
12/29 -Lost sunglasses. Not happy.
Set up camp @ 1800ish. Behind row of trees to break wind up. (GPS Coords – 31.38353, -110.29572 / Elevation 8,585′)
12/30 - JB just checked the weather. 90% chance of rain/snow tomorrow. We’re still @ 8,000 feet. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. I just want to get to the warmth of the car. (GPS Coords – 31.41138, -110.32437 / Elevation 8,089′)
12/31 - The snow is bad. Our tents are covered in it. I thought a large branch had fallen across my rain cover but it was a snowdrift. Not sure how today will go. Still have one more climb before we get to go down. Haven’t actually looked outside tent yet but hope we can actually see the trail.
-1 hour later-
Looking at SAR options now. JB spoke w/M on the phone and she’s researching. His cough sounds really bad. He looked outside tent and said there’s at least 2′ of snow. There is no way we can make the trail. We’re sitting in the tents for now, waiting to hear from M.
SAR on the way. This is so humiliating. I’d rather get down from here assisted than get lost or not make it at all. So much left to do; I’m not ready to punch this ticket. Want to kiss B, kiss M, sleep next to her again, thank Dusty for the sleeping bag, film Varner’s Wee Frogs video, go to Gas Light tomorrow, etc etc.
Heard illegals earlier. They were hooting and hollering. JB yelled back and then so did I. I could hear them talking and then yelled “Chinga a tu puta madre!” and laugh. In my experience, the only cocky loudmouthed illegals are the mules, guides, or bandits. I don’t want an interaction with ANY of those three. JB and I both laid in the tents silent. I rolled to my back, held my pistol across my chest, and tried to hear if they would come up to our site. My heart was beating so loud I could only hear that.
Harder to write. Fingers cold and lying on right side.
JB got out of his tent. Says he’s never seen this much snow before. I’m staying in the tent b/c it’s warm and relatively dry. My toes are so cold but I just keep wiggling them. I can’t believe this is happening.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the last of my handwritten notes that I’m sharing. It was at this point in my journal that I began writing down a list of both good memories I had and things I was going to miss if we didn’t get down off that mountain. I wasn’t quite to the point of giving up, contrary to what the existence of “The List” may seem. It was more of an attempt to keep positive and relatively active while we waited for the Search and Rescue team. The last we’d heard was that they were on foot and on their way up but the weather was not being too kind; intermittent snow and rain was keeping their pace slower than usual. Also worth mentioning, ALL the trails had been covered by the 2′ of snowfall. JB and I discussed the possibility of us needing to spend one more night up there if they called off the search due to the sunset coming in the next few hours.
I’d spent the last couple of months researching this hike, contacting fellow hikers, and plotting the trail in Google Earth. When I got a new Garmin eTrex 30 for Christmas, I loaded it up with all the points I’d been plotting to keep us on track. I’d been informed that making it in two days was POSSIBLE, but not likely with the weather playing a big part in that. As the dates for our hike got closer, I checked the weather reports and it didn’t look like things would be all that terrible. The last night before we left, I checked again. It looked like Saturday and Sunday would be absolutely perfect hiking weather, but there was a slight chance of rain/snow on Monday morning before 11am. Maybe it was optimism or male doggedness, perhaps it was even a combination of the two, but our plan was to be picked up at the northern trailhead on Sunday afternoon/evening by my wife, thereby completely missing the inclement weather. Lesson #1 learned; optimism can address SOME shortcomings, but the unexpected always wins out when it throws a wrench into your plans.
DAY ONE – December 29
The closest you can get to the beginning of the AZT, by vehicle, is the parking lot that’s roughly 2 miles north of the border. We arrived at the Coronado National Monument @ 8am and said our goodbyes to M, who’d dropped us off up there (31.351120, -110.285270). I stashed a few bottles of water in some rock crevices on the southern end of the parking lot and then we gathered our trekking poles and our backpacks, posed for a couple of pictures and walked south to the border so we could be completely official in our hiking of Passage 1.
Make no mistake; it’s a beautiful hike. Although I’m not too keen on hiking when I’m off-duty, due to all the hiking when I’m ON duty, it was perfect weather and the view into Mexico from such a high vantage point was pretty spectacular. After we’d been walking for awhile, we arrived at the International Boundary and took a few pictures of the monument there.
Several minutes later, we turned around and headed northbound towards the parking lot to regroup and water up again. Upon arriving back in the parking lot, I gathered up our stashed water bottles and brought them to the picnic table that JB had set his pack on. It was at this point that I realized I should have packed my food supply in a more accessible spot and so threw my own pack on the table and did a quick reorganizing of supplies.
After exchanging grunted monosyllabic “pleasantries” with a handful of sightseers who’d arrived at the parking lot after our initial departure, JB and I observed a couple arrive in a red Jeep Wrangler Sport. Dropping down from the Jeep, they engaged us in a quick round of small talk before asking the eternal tourist question; “Would you take a picture of us?” JB obliged their request and shortly after they took off, we gathered everything up and headed towards the northern side of the parking lot to truly begin our hike to Parker Canyon Lake.
The altitude at the parking lot down there is roughly 6,400 feet to begin with. The highest point that the AZT will carry you is on a trail that hugs the base of Miller’s Peak, roughly 9,200 feet. As we continued to place one foot in front of the other, we ran into more switch backs and continued to climb up in altitude. The sun would be setting around 5:30 pm on both days we were planning on being out there so the goal was to arrive at a suitable camping spot and set up for the night while we still had some light to work with. Once we got moving up towards the peak, it felt like the day was getting darker quite a bit quicker than it should. I’d been told this would be the case, by the passage’s “trail keeper”, via email a couple weeks prior so I wasn’t really that surprised. Although I had hoped we could be past Miller’s Peak and down to Bathtub Springs (31.405700, -110.313480) before dark, I realized that we wouldn’t make it that far by the end of this first day. I hiked ahead of JB and tried to find us a relatively flat spot to set up our tents for this first night.
As I arrived at the trail split to Lutz Canyon (31.384430, -110.294820), I found a decent spot that was covered to the south by a row of trees. The ground was relatively flat and the wind coming from the south was immediately lessened by the trees. I was standing there when I heard some twigs cracking and looked to my right to see a doe looking at me through some of the brush further up the trail. I continued to look at the deer as it walked out to the trail, sniffing the air and never taking its eyes off me. The deer came out to me, stopping finally when it was only 25 feet away. I’m unsure what it was expecting from me but it was the closest I’ve ever come to a deer before. After standing only yards away from me for 20-30 seconds, it turned around and slowly walked back into the brush on the east side of the trail.
JB arrived a couple of minutes later, agreed that as the sun was going down this would be our best camping option, and we proceeded to unpack our tents. We hung our packs from a tree branch using some of the parachute cord I’d brought along, hoping to avoid critters digging around in our food after dark, and hopped in our tents. Even though the wind was cut down quite a bit by that row of trees, it was still pretty cold after dark. After that first day’s hike, curling up in the sleeping bag was a welcome end to the day.
DAY TWO – December 30
Waking up on Day Two, it was cold. JB had a tiny thermometer attached to his pack and I wasn’t surprised at all to see it below 30 degrees. It was actually cold enough that the hose on my Camelbak was frozen. The bladder was actually fine, but the line from the bladder to my mouthpiece was stiff and wouldn’t allow me any water. I assumed that it would get unfrozen as we got moving so I wasn’t all that worried about it. We ate a couple of bananas and apples as we began to disassemble our tents and drop our packs to the ground. After 10-15 minutes, we were packed and ready to get back on the trail. Now splitting to the right towards Lutz Canyon, there was some snow on the ground already. The snow was obviously old, however, and looked to only be in the spots that the sun couldn’t completely reach. Seeing as we’d fallen a bit behind on Day One, I was really hoping we could get to a point where all the altitude climbs would be over with. I was hoping that since it was obvious we’d be out here for another night, we could set up camp at Sunnyside Canyon (31.429070, -110.367960) at least, which would give us only a few downhill miles to finish up on Monday morning before any weather might move in.
There were several spots that the snow, although crusty and nearly melted, actually was a huge inconvenience. Some of the trails that curved in and out of shade had intermittent snow drifts on them and the act of lifting one’s legs higher than normal to make it through can be a bit tiring. After making it through one of the snowiest parts, I stopped in a spot where I could see the houses in Sierra Vista and turned on my cell phone to check signal. Hopping on Facebook, I commented on one of M’s posts with the GPS coords that I was standing at, hoping to just pass along an update on how far we’d gotten (31.39380, -110.30112 and 8,800 feet elevation in case you were wondering). We trudged on and made it to Bathtub Springs, where JB filled up one of his water bottles with the fresh water in the tub there. We started out on a trail that took us more north than northwest and walked a little ways before realizing that we weren’t on the trail we should be on (I’d been told to keep an eye out for trails made by illegals as well and sure enough, this wasn’t our first time being misled) so we turned around and headed back to the trail junction by Bathtub Springs. If you’ll plug some of those coordinates into Google Earth (or whatever mapping application you use), you’ll see that from Bathtub Springs, the trail actually curves back a bit southwest towards some switchbacks that carry you up towards Carr Peak before dropping back down on the other side of the ridge towards Oversight Canyon (31.408130, -110.319330) and pushing towards Bear Canyon (31.411220, -110.324670). At the top of the switchbacks, before dropping back down onto the southwest side, there is a Trail Junction with the AZT logo on both the sign AND a tree next to the trail. JB and I rested there for a few minutes, enjoying some peppered beef jerky before getting up and heading out again.
I was in the lead and was misled yet again by a trail that continued straight west. In hindsight, especially after making it back to the main trail, I can’t see how I would have missed the switchback but I did. We wasted a good half hour or so trying to reacquire the trail again, in the process climbing up and down more than we should have. Backtracking our sign and where we KNEW we had walked, we came back out to the switchback and could see exactly where we’d gone off track.
Seeing as we’d set up our tents in the dark on our first night, the goal was to have a little daylight so we could see what we were doing this second night. As it became obvious that we wouldn’t make Sunnyside Canyon by nightfall, we settled on Bear Saddle/Canyon for our second night of bivouacking. We arrived over in Bear Saddle around 4pm or so and the wind was funneling through the saddle something fierce. JB suggested we look on the north side of the saddle for any flat ground so we could break the wind like we had the night before. Unfortunately, it was a pretty steep drop north of the saddle there so it was going to be either east or west that we set up for the night. There is a slight uphill to the east of the trail junction sign there at the saddle so I walked up there to check it out. Sure enough, it was flat enough to put a couple of tents up there. It was actually even flatter than the previous nights’ spot. The fact that we stayed up there actually worked to our benefit the next morning (don’t worry, it’s coming on the morning of Day three). JB and I set up our tents with our heads to the south and feet pointing north, side by side at the top of this hill. I was starting to get cold (at least my face and hands were, my core was fine) so I hopped into the tent and sleeping bag while JB set up his camp stove and boiled the water he’d picked up from Bathtub Springs to make some coffee and dinner. The site we’d picked to camp, just uphill from the trail junction sign, turned out to be good for cell phone service. JB used his iPhone to check the weather report again and informed me that the forecast had taken a turn for the worst with the prediction of snow at 90% during the night. I jotted this down in my little notepad and then bundled up in my sleeping bag, thoughts racing of how much ground we had left to cover and if it would be possible to complete this hike even by the end of New Year’s Eve the next day. I was bound and determined to be done and out of the area by the evening of the 31st, as M had already mentioned that she didn’t want to be spending a whole lot of time on the road with the yearly influx of DUIs to come that evening. I had a headlamp and a flashlight, and I knew that JB had a flashlight as well. I was hoping we could just make our last 4oo’ ascent and then make our way down even walking through the dark, out to the waiting car, if need be.
DAY THREE – December 31
Due to the cold weather (when you’re curled up in a warm sleeping bag, who truly wants to wander outside and pee anyway) and an attempt to ration what water I had left in my Camelbak, I hadn’t been too keen on drinking it all down the night before. I planned on refilling at our next stop in Sunnyside Canyon, due to it being listed as the next water refill spot. I had checked my water bladder the night before and was still holding at over a liter of water left to drink. Considering the temperature was anywhere from 40something degrees to 50something degrees, we hadn’t been sweating all that much and the hike had actually been relatively comfortable up to this point. As I woke up and felt that urge hit me, I noticed that the rain cover on my tent was completely enshrouded with what almost looked like a tree branch. I unzipped the main compartment and leaned out to take care of my business and saw that a snow drift was actually covering the rain cover. I think my exact words were “Oh no, oh no”. JB was awake and asked what it looked like out there. Considering how high the drift rode up my rain cover, I had no desire to open up the outer zipper and let any of that drift into what was still relatively dry and warm. Seeing the color of my urine had me worried a bit. Looking at it now, it had been stupid of me to attempt any rationing of my water. This is a great example of little things that could do me in out there. Considering how pure and powdery the fresh snow was, I grabbed a couple handfuls of it and attempted a quick rehydration. I’m aware that snow isn’t always a great choice, but this snow was pure white and was still falling down. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t grab any yellow snow.
I’m not quite sure how much time passed, but as JB and I discussed what we had left to hike and the upcoming ascent, it was finally brought into the open; “Do you think we should ask for help to get down from here?”
We both agreed that with the amount of snow that had fallen the night before (and continued to fall even as we were talking), it would be better to get some help and deal with the embarassment than to stay up there and freeze to death slowly. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we weren’t exactly sure how long this snow would be falling and at the altitude we were at, how long it would take to clear up enough to see where we were going.
JB had brought along an external battery pack to charge up electronics and that maintained his iPhone battery at its full charge. He initially called the park ranger’s number that he found for the Coronado National Forest but was sent to voicemail. He then called M and asked if she could look into some options for us. I suggested Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, but was unsure of much else beyond that. I had brought my work radio, just in case, but didn’t want to put anything out on the radio and create a panic. Bringing it along had been more of an informational thing and a worst-case-scenario option. Considering how the snow kept falling, it was looking more and more like the latter.
JB was able to get someone on the phone at the CCSO and she told us to stay put and they would get something put together for us. She mentioned a possible helicopter extraction but not to get our hopes up due to the level of the clouds up there. We had been camping at 8,100 feet but the clouds were not that much higher than where we were.
About an hour after we got off the phone with CCSO, there was a loud hoot. I say “hoot” because I can’t think of any other way to describe the hollering we heard. I said, through the tent to JB, “did you just hear that” and he replied that he had in fact heard it. JB hollered back and we were met with silence. Both JB and I thought that the search party being up there already was awfully quick but perhaps they’d been dropped off by the helicopter on a trail further behind or ahead of us. I sat up in my tent and yelled “WHO IS IT?” and was once again met with silence. A few seconds went by that felt like an eternity and then I could hear muffled conversations taking place below. In Spanish. I wasn’t able to tell exactly how many people were below us but I could tell that there were at least two down there. I immediately turned off my work radio, thinking that the last thing I needed was to let them know we were not just your run-of-the-mill hikers out here. It would appear that neither were they. All I could make of the conversation was a rising level of agitation before they yelled again. “CHINGA A TU PUTA MADRE!!!” If you’re a Spanish speaker, then you know exactly what that means. If not, trust me when I say that it was not kind at all. I was truly not spoiling for a confrontation with the guys at the bottom of the hill. In a different situation, when I had the upper ground for sure, things might have played out differently. In this particular situation, however, I had a radio with very iffy comms. JB’s cell phone was our best option for communication with the outside world and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make another sound with this group so close to us. After their hollering, I could hear them stomping around at the bottom of the hill, around the trail junction sign there. I laid on my back, clutching my pistol to my chest, and tried as hard as I could to listen to what they were doing down at the saddle. I continued to hear mumbling and conversation, but with the mixture of them speaking so quietly and my heart sounding like it was a drumroll for a rock concert, I couldn’t make out what was going on down there. JB and I laid in our tents, in silence, for almost an hour after that initial back-and-forth before we felt comfortable to talk again.
When we finally did talk again, I told him that I honestly felt there were only three types of illegals who would have been that cocky and rambunctious that far up in the mountains; guides, mules, or bandits. None of those three would be pleasant to have come face to face with, considering our location was hours from any sort of outside assistance. These guys obviously knew the area better than we did and weren’t frightened by the snowfall in the least.
After we were certain they had gone on, JB got out of his tent to take a look around. He told me that he’d never seen that much snow before and I knew that it had to be pretty bad out there. He walked over to the edge of the hill and could see the foot sign of our visitors from earlier, saying that they had stomped around the trail junction sign at the base of the hill but never came up the hill at all. I guess the combination of our tents being far enough back from view and the snow that covered them worked in our favor that morning. JB called the CCSO again to see if we could get any idea of what was going on; he was told that the team had our GPS coordinates but was still 2,000 feet below us. They were still on their way up but it was very slow-going since all the trails had been covered by the snowfall. If we wanted to start hollering to them, we could. The last time we’d hollered out to people hadn’t turned out to be our rescue party so I wasn’t real thrilled about hollering out again until I was sure it was the right folks.
After walking around for a few minutes and taking some pictures of the snow surrounding us, JB got back into the tent and we both went back on autopilot waiting for the rescue party to arrive. It was about this time that I started writing up my list of things I would miss and events that had made me happy in my life. I won’t publish the list in its entirety on here but it was all over the map; from trivial items of food that I liked to memories shared with family and friends, all the way to upcoming events like our family pictures and our tickets to the Gaslight Theatre in Tucson (one of my FAVORITE things about Tucson; there is no way I wanted to miss another one of their shows) along with the double-hand touch football game I was looking forward to on the morning of my birthday, it was definitely a variety of positives.
Every so often, I would fire up my GPS and see what time it was and how much daylight we had left. As it got closer and closer to sunset, JB and I talked about the fact that we may need to face the fact that we could be stuck up there for another night until the weather cleared. Looking at the entire thing, objectively, I would completely understand if I was down there on the ground. To risk a team of people in the interests of saving two guys was not necessarily a wise decision. We had gotten ourselves into the predicament we were currently in; why should more people be jeopardized? Staying up there one more night was an option and it wasn’t an entirely terrible option. Yes it was cold, but it had BEEN cold the entire time. Granted, after the sun went down the temperature did as well but I still had two more layers of clothing I could get back into. I was ready. Tallying up the food left in my pack, I still had a handful of Kind bars, Lara bars, sunflower seeds, granola, and the remainders of the single MRE I’d brought that were all ready to be eaten. I was, in the interests of staying as dry as possible (JB had some snow/moisture that had made its way into his tent already), continuing to do my best to remove the snow as it piled up on my tent. I used the REI trekking poles I’d bought a couple weeks prior to hit the sides and the roof of my tent to stop the pile-up of snow. JB had also cleared a bunch of snow out when he’d been outside the tents.
It seemed to take forever lying in our tents. I know it wasn’t though. JB had gotten out of the tent around noon and since he’d returned to the tent, there’d been intermittent snippets of conversation mixed with catnaps as we waited it out. Every so often, I’d hear JB coughing but for the most part, we laid there quietly. I’m not sure what thoughts were going through HIS head, but he threw out “Life’s an adventure isn’t it?” several times.
Sometime around 5pm, I thought I could hear more mumbling. I strained to hear what language it was in. The timing seemed right but I still couldn’t make out any words, only voices. Several minutes later, the voices were more discernible and it was obviously English. I told JB that I could hear people and we yelled out a couple of times and were met with more yells. I could hear footsteps coming up through the snow to our tents and a friendly voice said “I hear there are a couple of cold, tired campers up here; am I right?”
After unzipping the tent flap, I was met with the smiling face of Eric the team leader. He shook both of our hands and gave a us a quick breakdown of how the rest of our evening would go now that we had been reached. There were two options; a helicopter ride out or a 3-4 hour hike back down the trail they had just blazed on the way up to us.
JB and I scrambled to get our sleeping bags rolled up and tents packed away. It was only after I’d gotten out of the tent that I realized how cold it truly was. My hands were freezing and wet from the moisture on the outside of the tents. I have a pair of Under Armour gloves that I had been wearing for our hike and they had done quite well against the cold. They were useless after getting wet though and I was trying my best to pack up with no gloves on. I was disassembling my tent in waves. I’d get one pole broken down before I thrust my hands back into my pockets. Sixty seconds later, when I felt a bit more comfortable, I’d bring them back out to break down the next component of the tent. After I was done, I looked down at the back of my hands and they were turning purple. I put them back in my pockets and kept them there as we listened to Eric coordinate our egress, via the radio they’d brought with them.
One of the men who’d come up with them was having a difficult time maintaining his own body temperature. As he tried to get on his rain/moisture suit, I could see that the back of his pants were wet as was the back of his shirt. Unsure if he’d been sweating or had fallen into a snowdrift, I could tell that he was wet, and in this cold, was a recipe for trouble. He attempted to bundle up as we awaited word on the helicopter.
We could hear the dispatcher for the rescue team relay that they were planning on sending a Border Patrol helicopter from Tucson to attempt a pick-up and they’d be in the air momentarily if the cloud cover would open up. As we waited, one of the other gentlemen shared his water, seeing as mine was still frozen and inaccessible. We continued to see if the helicopter would be able to make it to us, as the minutes ticked by. As the sun went down and it got darker and darker, someone made the suggestion for a campfire while we were waiting. The most obvious benefit to a fire would be the warmth, but another benefit would be that if the helicopter came in using their night vision we would leave a pretty big heat signature as a signal. Using the superfuel that I had purchased for my buddy Dusty’s camp stove, we poured a tiny amount on a branch as it was formed into a pyramid and then lit. Our fire lasted over an hour before we could hear the Blackhawk’s “fwap-fwap-fwap” signifying its arrival between 7pm and 8pm.
Eric and another of the search party members had hung some chem-lights towards the top of the hill in the most open area they could find but unfortunately it wasn’t enough room for this particular pilot to land. Although he tried 3-4 times he wasn’t able to make it work. Each time he tried to land, the powdered snow would flurry up and come towards all of us in the form of a miniature avalanche. The team was optimistic that he could maybe hover and we could run up the hill to him and load up, but turns out that wasn’t going to happen either. In another humorous quip for the evening, the pilot asked the team if they had a chainsaw to cut down some of the trees and clear a bigger landing spot. I’m not sure if he meant it to be humorous, but it provided a good laugh for the team. Seeing as they were laden with extra water and some basic first aid kits, carrying a chainsaw while ascending nearly 3,000 feet would be a sight to behold.
After the Blackhawk took off, telling us that he’d fly around and see if there were any better landing spots, Eric informed us that there wouldn’t be a helicopter extraction and we would have to make the hike back down. We began the descent from 8,100 feet around 8pm in one long line, JB directly in front of me and two of the team members behind me. The first half mile or so was probably the worst. They had warned us that there was quite a bit of over-and-under climbing involved and they were right. Several huge trees had fallen across the path at certain spots and some were “over” and others were “under”. Every so often, we would take a few minutes to rest and drink water, reassess how far we were from their command center at the bottom of the mountain, and grab handfuls of snow once we were out of bottled water.
Jim, the gentleman who walked directly behind me, had put on his bright yellow rain suit and he was talking about how warm it was. I told him he looked a bit like Walter White and asked if he was preparing to go cook some meth, to which he laughed and said that his wife and him were both fans of the show. That conversation occupied us for awhile as we talked about other shows we liked.
Several more stops took place before we got down to a relatively flat walk. Every corner we’d turn in the canyon was reflecting the moonlight and I was fooled more than once into thinking I saw their vehicles. On one of our final turns, I saw the two red taillights of the Tahoe that we would eventually be carried back to Sierra Vista in and knew that the moonlight reflections on the snow were done. This was no longer a mirage. We were actually back in familiar territory.