Purposefully Wandering

Day Three Photo (with Ray)
Morning scratches for Dusty

Day three started with a whimper. Or, more like whimpers. Getting out of bed was a challenge. Exhaustion and soreness have sunk in. Dr. Latham wasn’t kidding when she said day three is always the hardest. Although, I have to say this trip’s day three was more challenging than the trip in January. After some mental pep talks and lots of groans and moans from everyone, we went to breakfast to meet up with Don and Ray(!). Dr. Latham, Izzy, and I met Ray on the previous trip, but this was the first meeting for Jordan and Austin. He’s just at sassy as ever, and still a crucial team member of Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery.

Jordan and Austin searching the brush

We headed back to the same area we searched yesterday to continue searching for the missing migrant. We wanted to do our due diligence to cover as much land as possible to try to find him. Not only for our own peace of mind but to be able to tell the family that we’ve done as much as we can to try to find their missing loved one.

Luckily, Ray had his truck, so we didn’t have to test Sandy’s off-road capabilities again (even though she did amazing yesterday). Once we got to our location, we geared up and started our line search. We made sure to carry even more water than yesterday. Not even 30 feet in, I almost stepped on a very angry rattlesnake. Not the way I wanted my day to start, but it could only get better. I think.

Don and Ray taking a break

During our search, we found some evidence of migrant activity in the area like trash, water bottles, and old clothes. There is no way of knowing if it belongs to our missing person or exactly what time frame it comes from, but it does indicate a possible route migrants are taking. Atypically, the path didn’t follow a direct north/south direction or a landmark like a road, pipeline or powerlines but jumped between the MOTs in a general north(ish) direction.

We covered a lot of ground today (even more than yesterday), but eventually, the heat caught up with us. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. Jordan had to cut a chunk of hair that wouldn’t come unstuck from her shirt button. We were constantly eating Jolly Ranchers to try to get a little pep in our step and walking through what I like to call “spiky danger grass” that really liked to stab you. Izzy and Austin ran into a herd of javelinas in a MOT (they very nicely ran away). The physical challanges we faced while only walking part of the day with the proper safety equipment really brings persepctive to what the migrants face on their journey and why so many end up in a distressed situation in the brush.

Izzy driving the Uber to pick everyone up

On the final stretch, Izzy, Jordan, and I made it back to the vehicles first and drove Ray’s ginormous truck to pick everyone else up. After a final bumpy ride, we were reunited with Sandy and ready to get back to the hotel. While it is unfortunate and upsetting that we didn’t find who and what we were looking for, I know we did as much as we could. All we can hope is that he recovered and was able to keep moving to safety.

Olivia

Situational Awareness

Day two started bright and early with breakfast at our hotel. We then accompanied Deputy Don White to the southern part of the county to conduct a search. Dr. Latham skillfully maneuvered our rental minivan Sandy off-road. There were times when we weren’t completely sure Sandy would make it, but she did! Don was provided the name and age of a missing person and the coordinates where they were last seen, so we parked as close as we could and walked to that location. Many migrants pass through the ranches following the pipelines that run north. These areas are easy to follow in one direction and are typically cleared of brush for safety and access for employees.

We performed line searches at the location of coordinates and searched the surrounding area since there are many reasons why individuals would not be found at the exact coordinate location. We ended up walking several miles searching. We found some evidence of migrant activity, such as a backpack and a couple of water bottles. However, these items did not seem like they had been left there recently. Items such as these can be important because they could indicate the presence of someone who may have passed through recently or could be in distress nearby.

Olivia and Dr. Latham on one side of our line

Izzy and Austin on the other

We saw some snakes (to Olivia’s dismay), lizards, and plenty of bugs. It was hotter today than yesterday, with a temperature feel of 102 degrees. Although we had yesterday to adjust a bit, it was still quite draining. We are getting into a good groove as a team, even though it’s been such a short time. As a team, we set goals yesterday for things to improve upon for today and we did really well! We took lots of breaks and made sure we were all drinking a lot of water and staying safe.

Austin, Olivia, Don, Dr. Latham, and Izzy on one of our breaks

Today was enlightening in many ways. There were a few times when we easily got off track from our decided course or got caught up in groupings of mesquite trees, oak trees and scrubbrush. It is an extremely difficult environment to move through and be in for long periods of time. I cannot even fathom traveling for so long, through this terrain, with limited supplies. Throughout the day there were many circumstances where situational awareness was necessary. This pertains to things like snakes and lizards, trucks, Don and his ability to blend into the environment, and the environment itself.

After our search, we went back to the hotel to eat and clean up. Some of us went to the pool to cool off. Afterward, we had our debriefing meeting and headed out to H-E-B for some more supplies. For dinner, we had Laredo Tacos, and it was delicious. Then we relaxed and rehydrated in our room. Olivia made friends with Dusty the stray cat outside the hotel while we did some laundry.

Olivia and Dusty

Where’s Don?

Izzy showing me her flower

Jordan

Dry, Dirty, But Not Dehydrated

It has begun! The long anticipated first day of searching the remote wildlands has finally come. The day started with a cacophony of alarms going off in the hotel room. We frantically scrambled to get all of our gear packed in time to meet Deputy Sheriff Don and Dr. Latham for breakfast where we discussed our plan for the day. I made sure to eat some Activia yogurt (you can ask Izzy, Jordan, and Olivia why). Once we were finished, we squeezed into the minivan where we relished in the last chance to feel cool air conditioning for several hours. The saying is true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.


When we got to the search location, we started our line search right away. We used the caliche road as the landmark our anchor would walk next to in order to orient ourselves. Because the road we followed led us north, we spread out our team towards the west and continued north to cover as much ground as possible without getting lost. The landscape was different than I had anticipated. The ground was covered in thick grass and weeds which made our search difficult. At first, we all did a really good job staying together as we traveled through the desert, checking under trees and in the thick brush. We managed to find some faint footprints, old water bottles, a distressed lunchbox and backpack, and a pair of pants. The pants were fairly new, however, nothing suggested the items were from recent activity.


We walked for nearly a mile north before we regrouped and headed back to the car for lunch. Luckily I wasn’t as thirsty as I anticipated. I have my team to thank for this because they suggested that I buy a “camelback” backpack: a bag you wear on your back that contains a pouch than can hold several liters of water. While you are walking, you can simply grab the attached hose for a quick drink. Personally, it makes me feel like a gerbil, but it is truly a life-saver and I recommend it for anyone who works outside in the heat. We kept annoying each other to keep drinking water because, well, we care. Food was much needed, however a comfy seat in the van with a full belly made it difficult to resume our search.


The second time around was much more challenging. We searched the other side of the road, however our path led us each astray from one another deeper and deeper into the brush. We checked under trees, avoiding so many thorn-covered branches. I’m not a botanist, but in my opinion there is no need for every tree in Texas to have that many thorns. It’s a bit ridiculous and unnecessary if you ask me.


We didn’t get very far before we needed to take another break. The constant ducking under branches and crawling through the shrubs tired us out real quick, not to mention the 98 degree heat. During our rest, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Don about what he does and how his career led him to where he is today. He is a very welcoming and down-to-earth individual. I admire his sense of compassion and dedication to save lives. We are so fortunate to have him with our team this year, and I look forward to working with him within the next week.

  
Our last search was conducted a few minutes north at the site of a windmill surrounded by fences to contain livestock. We suspected this would be a good location to find evidence of migrant activity because of the landmark and the water. Dr. Latham was a little nervous about taking the minivan further out on the dirt road where it might lose traction in the sand. We then agreed that if the car made it out successfully she would officially be granted the long awaited name: Sandy. We searched the area and in the surrounding woods but found nothing. We gathered back at the van and Izzy brought back an animal skull for us to see. Thanks to Dr. Nawrocki’s comparative osteology class, I was able to recognize it as some sort of pig skull. Fortunately Sandy got us home in one piece.


Although our search did not lead us to find anything substantial today, the thought of not discovering anything gives me some hope that the individuals we were searching for are still alive to see another day. Being out there today really gave me some perspective of just how treacherous the journey is. There are so many elements of nature against you out there. I am just glad to know that there are people out there like Don and the rest of our team that can be available to help them when needed. Today was a very humbling experience.

Austin

Day 1 Complete!

“I enjoy long walks by the dirt roads”

Grasshopper

Discussion

 

Snap

Dr. Latham