Pres drove our rig through some sandy washes, around a fallen Joshua tree, and over some narrow, rocky sections with cactus and brush adorning our camper with new desert pinstripes. We were eager to find the mine designated on our map for a turn-out in which to camp to enjoy a special Valentine’s Day dinner.
Earlier that day, we had left Mesa, Arizona after a 2-day visit with our Mom and family. We headed to Searchlight, Nevada for cheap diesel before crossing the California state line with plans to camp in the Mojave National Preserve on our way home. Once our 40-gallon tank was filled, we headed out Hwy 164 to find camping as the sun was going down. Our California Atlas showed a dirt road marked with the Aztec Mine about 15 miles out in the nearby mountains. We prefer to find our campsite in daylight so we headed to this closer destination.
For dinner, I had packed a special bottle of red wine, a rib-eye steak to grill and our favorite camp potatoes. We were both looking forward to a quiet, special evening together to celebrate Valentine’s. Pres drove down the highway to turn off at Walking Box Ranch Road and followed this graded route just past the Mile 3 marker where a smaller dirt road turned off at a “Designated Route” marker.
Stuck in the desert
As the daylight was vanishing, deepening shadows along the trail made it harder to see to avoid sharp tire biting rocks and ditches. The bottom of our truck scraped on a rock as we slowly made our way. Pres was maneuvering our rig over a couple of sharp turning switchbacks when the rear end slid on loose rock and the left rear shock blew apart as the wheel dropped into a washout too deep to crawl over. The rig leaned hard to the left and for a moment I feared we would roll over. The truck groaned as Pres tested going back or forward, but we were stuck fast.
It was difficult to climb out of the truck, pushing hard against gravity to open my cab door. The camper leaned so far over that it impeded Pres getting his door open as well. We unloaded the cargo from the back seat hoping to lighten the load. My Mom had sent us home with a little rocking horse and several boxes of gifts for family back home. Pres tried jacking the rear end but I was loudly vocal that I did not want to be a party to watching my husband getting pinned beneath a heavy sliding truck camper with no way to help him or to get help.
The rig was too badly tilted for us to sleep in either the cab or camper. We had no cell reception and darkness would soon be upon us. To my own surprise, I suggested that we walk out for help showing Pres where I thought we were our map, hoping we were no more than 5 miles from Hwy 164. We could flag someone for help there or hopefully get cell reception to call 911.
Night hike by flashlight
Pres quickly agreed and we donned our jackets and filled our small backpacks with water bottles, our wallets, phones, and light blankets. We left the little rocking horse and backseat belongings out in the desert night, wasting no time to start walking out.
We brought hiking poles and 2 flashlights each, leaving the truck about 6:30 p.m. heading towards a glow on the skyline where Pres felt confident we would find the highway.
The night grew darker and the stars were incredibly beautiful with Venus shining like a bright diamond and the Big Dipper and Orion helping me feel something familiar despite not knowing the country we were walking through.
I spoke a prayer out loud, asking Jesus to direct our steps and for God’s protection. I thanked God that He knew right where we were and welcomed His Presence with us. Pres agreed with an amen as he held a flashlight to see the trail. Despite my hiking poles, I fell down once, trying to walk faster than was comfortable. We were grateful I was not injured and Pres encouraged me to take it a bit slower, as he would wait for me if he got ahead. Pres held the flashlight and I found a good stride and was able to keep up with him.
Cold and doubtful
After an hour of walking, I could feel my body wanting to slow down as the air grew colder. I began to question our decision. Should we go back and pull out our sleeping bag to sleep on the road? Could I even find my way back to the truck? Why are we heading uphill when the highway should be downhill? What if we can’t find help and freeze? Neither of us thought to wear gloves and our hands stung from the cold.
I voiced my doubt to Pres, and he strongly reassured me to keep walking as it was getting too cold to stop. Sensing this could be life or death, I asked God to silence my fears and to give us the strength to keep going.
We finally came to a wider, main dirt road. There was a large white sign that had fallen over and Pres turned it over, in hopes of discovering the name of the road or our location. The sign stated, “No Trespassing – Mine Area.”
Finding a more traveled road gave us hope that we were getting closer to finding help. I knew we needed to continue to stay together and renewed my efforts to keep up with Pres knowing our walking helped us to stay warm.
Mistaken for prowlers?
At about 9 p.m. I could see distant lights. I exclaimed to Pres, it’s a house! Those are house lights! As we walked closer we could hear what sounded like a generator running at the house. We found a long, dark, intersecting driveway and walked past parked RVs and a boat, making our way towards the lighted windows.
I breathed a prayer for safety from being met by a shotgun or mean dog, mistaking us for prowlers as we approached this remote spot. We agreed for me to step onto the lighted deck to knock on the door. As a woman, hopefully, I would be a less imposing figure in the dark. After several knocks on the door, I could see toys and hear children playing. I immediately felt relief, realizing we had reached a family home rather than my imagined lone, drunk miner with a shotgun and mad Pitbull.
Meeting our 1st angel
A barefoot, young woman tentatively opened the door and asked how she could help us. We briefly explained our plight and that we needed to call the State Troopers for help. She apologized for not inviting us in out of the cold as she was home alone with children, waiting for her brother to return from shopping for groceries. Our kind host explained that she does not drive but welcomed us to sit on her porch swing until her brother got back in a couple of hours. We reassured her that we understood she needed to keep her kids safe as we were strangers coming out of nowhere.
There on her deck, we discovered we had enough bars to call 911. The call went to the California Highway Patrol. Because we were across the state line, in remote Nevada, our call was transferred to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. While on hold, our call was dropped and we had to call back.
Our kind angel was able to describe our location, knowing the name of the closest roads, even though she had no home address. The officer was familiar with our remote area but was still concerned about finding us. Pres offered that we would go back to the road and continue walking until the police came upon us to pick us up.
Rescued by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
We walked 15 to 20 minutes getting us closer to the highway. The LV Metropolitan Police came in a patrol car followed by a marked police pickup truck. We were greeted to full flashing emergency lights as well as a strong spotlight so we could be easily seen. We were questioned briefly before being invited to ride in the back of Officer Grey’s police car. I was thrilled his car heater was working well!
Our rescuer decided that he and his partner wanted to drive us back to where we had walked out to find our truck to see the situation. On the warm bumpy ride, the officer noted that we had walked through mountain lion country. I was glad to know this after the fact. I had told myself it was too cold for rattlers and that cougars like water, so the most we might encounter would be a snarly javelina or hunting coyote. I had my small pepper spray and hiking poles which seemed like a poor defense against a mountain lion!
The officer used a high power spotlight, looking for our boot tracks on the road, to give us a clue, as there were several narrow roads going into the mountains. Several times he stopped the car to get out and closely inspect the ground. He noted that a curious fox was following us. I grinned, as that is our mascot for Boondocker Camping, and I could sense my heavenly Father giving me His smile.
After several rough routes were checked-out, Officer Grey decided to give up the search and encouraged us that we had a better chance the next day in daylight. He and his partner wanted to get us pulled out if they could, as we told him our rig was blocking the road. We thanked him for his efforts as he headed down the mountain to take us to a motel, as we were clearly stranded.
The nearest town was Searchlight in Nevada. We were told that miners working from out of town had filled the only 2 motels and it was doubtful we could find a room. Laughlin was 40 miles away but would have a place to stay. After only driving a few miles back on the main highway, the policemen were asked to respond to an accident on the highway only a few miles ahead of us.
We could see a pickup truck badly crushed while some good Samaritans had lit road flares and were assisting. Office Grey directed his partner to stay at the scene and he would drive us to a motel. However, just as we came into Searchlight our officer heard a call for assistance from his partner with a complication at the accident scene. Since he was close, Grey apologized to us that he had to drop us off in Searchlight, knowing we’d be safe at the 24-hour casino. He pointed out the motels within easy walking distance and dropped us off at the warm, well-lit casino. We watched him quickly leave with his emergency lights flashing.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Stranded in Searchlight
We walked to both motels, posted with No Vacancy and no one would respond to our knocking on the door. We called the posted phone numbers and left messages. Cold, tired and hungry, we walked back to the casino to figure out our options.
Wesley, the bartender was kind as we briefly explained why we had no vehicle or place to stay and inquired where we could find something to eat. Nearing midnight, the few eating places were closed. He offered to make us fish and chips. Gladly we accepted. We asked him if he knew of someplace we could stay the night as we were stranded. Our tired, aching bodies just wanted to rest awhile. Of course, the casino would not be the place to get any sleep, yet we seemed out of options.
While waiting for the food to come, I pulled out the map to see how far it would be to try and find an Uber or taxi ride from either Las Vegas or Laughlin. I saw Henderson was about 45 miles away and I quickly became excited as we have dear friends that live there. I hated to call them so late, yet I really needed my friend Anne to help me think through our situation. I called shortly after midnight and when Anne heard my voice, she responded, “what’s wrong?!”
I assured her we were okay and apologized for calling in the middle of the night. The call also woke up her husband, Mark. As we talked, Mark decided the best course of action was to simply hop in their car to come to get us. Yay!! My heart was so relieved. I knew from their place we could rent a car, charge our dying phones, call our insurance for help and most of all to get some sleep.
We quietly waited at our small table for our ride. An enthusiastic woman with a beautiful smile walked up to me with her arm outstretched and said,” Hi, I’m Rosie.” I shook her hand wondering how she could be so bubbly and what she might want from strangers at this hour. She met Pres then quickly explained that the bartender had shared our plight with her and she wanted to help us.
Rosie worked at the BV Motel, behind the casino and told us there were indeed no rooms available. However, she could arrange for a bed in their storeroom where we could get some sleep. There would be no bathroom, but the casino was close by.
Also, she felt sure she could recruit a guy to help us pull out our rig. She told me how Searchlight is a small community and that they help each other out – including pulling stuck trucks and cars out of the desert. Wow! I immediately dubbed Rosie as our guardian angel. She giggled and shot me a big smile and reassured me she would find us some help.
Our friends who were driving to get us would be arriving any minute, so it was decided that Pres would stay the night in the storeroom so he could meet-up with Rosie’s contacts in the morning to figure out how to extract our stuck rig. I would go with our friends where I could rent a car to come back and give us a way to get around.
I thought, Dear Lord please take care of my man as we are trusting complete strangers for a safe place for him to sleep as well as a trip with strangers to the remote desert to find our rig. For just a moment I considered thoughts that Pres could be held for ransom or much worse! Mark had a phone charger to fit Pres’s phone so that Pres could keep in contact with us. We felt a peace that this was what we should do as we parted our separate ways.
Close but no cigar
Pres had a nice bed and protection from the cold in the storage room. The next morning Rosie introduced him to Bruce in hopes he could help us. Bruce had an abundance of tools and his trusty 4×4 Ram truck. He is an old-timer resident of Searchlight with desert backroad savvy. Pres and Rosie piled in Bruce’s truck and they all set-off to find our rig and figure out a plan.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed a hot shower at our friend’s house and got the ball rolling with our insurance, looking for a repair shop, setting up a tow and arranging to rent a 4×4 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
I got back into Searchlight later that afternoon. Bruce and Pres had worked most of the day trying to get the rig out from the rear end. All of them worked to gather large rocks to try and build up a foundation for the rear tire while jacking up the back end. The apparent damage was that the left shock had pulled apart while pinching and breaking the rear brake line with its force.
Rosie inspired the fellas with her enthusiasm for the beautiful weather. Her eyes danced when she later told me of the pretty rocks she found, and of the beauty, she discovered there on that back trail. She helped to load up the little rocking horse and boxes that had been left overnight on the side of the road into Bruce’s truck to be transported to our rental car. I would love to know the story that cute pony could tell of his night all alone under the desert stars.
It was decided to go back the next day to find a route around the other side of the mountain as it would be much better to pull the rig from the front hooks. Our rig was blocking the road with no way around it. Rosie and Bruce scouted the area through scratchy cactus, cat’s claw, and Joshua Trees but were unable to find a connecting side road.
Help and a plan
I hadn’t met Bruce yet, and immediately dubbed him our other guardian angel! Dressed like a working cowboy, his face was suntanned with wrinkles that crinkled kindly when he smiled. He had a treasure of knowledge about the area and suggested a great solution for a temporary fix of the broken brake line.
That night we enjoyed the hospitality and time with our dear friends in Henderson. Good food and rest helped us to recoup from our long, cold night hike just a few days before.
The next morning we made coffee at Mark and Anne’s place and then took off for breakfast in Searchlight, to be ready to meet Bruce and head back to find our rig from the other side of Crescent Peak Road. We had high hopes of getting the truck out and to ascertain the true extent of damage done.
Pres drove the 3 of us in Bruce’s truck to where we had hiked out in the night, to look for our rig. From the backseat, I spoke out loud asking Jesus to guide us to find a route. Finding the intersecting road into Crescent Peak, we took the 1st dirt road on the left, heading into the mountains towards an old mine site. After crossing several sandy washes and rough terrain we spotted our white truck camper just as we’d left it sitting tilted and blocking the road.
Timber and a big jack
We were so grateful to find the truck quickly and we got right to work pulling out the many big timbers that filled the back of Bruce’s truck. Pres used Bruce’s 20-ton jack to jack up the rear end, placing the timbers in the ditch underneath the lifted tire that was stuck. Pres repeated doing this at least 4 times until the rear wheel was nearly level with the road and other 3 wheels.
Pres brought brake fluid and vise grips to make a temporary repair to the rear brake line per Bruce’s idea. The front brakes were still in good working order.
The men then hooked a heavy chain from Bruce’s truck to our front hooks. They had used a rope the day before, which snapped under the load. I got my camera ready to video the extraction as both men started up their truck engines. Pres gave the signal for Bruce to take up the slack in the chain, and then Pres simply drove our rig up and over the timber platform to be free and back on the road! I whooped for joy, danced a jig and gave Bruce a high five.
Bruce backed his pickup out of the way so Pres could drive by. I hopped in with Bruce to drive his truck to follow Pres out to the highway. We used our Motorola 2-way radios to communicate as there was no cell service. We had hoped to make it to the main road where a tow truck would be able to get to us. However, Pres was able to drive the short 10 or so miles on the rural highway to
get into Searchlight. Thankfully, the rig did not show any other signs of damage than what we had already discovered.
Dark alley camping and the wrong shocks
I called and arranged for the tow to Bullhead City, Arizona for the closest repair shop that our insurance would approve. We got into Searchlight about 3 in the afternoon. Due to the agent recording the wrong phone number, the tow truck did not come to get us until after dark.
Nick, our tow truck driver wanted to drop us off where we could camp in our rig for the night. However, our insurance required our getting left at the repair place in order for the cost of our tow to be covered. This landed us in a dark alley with a barking junkyard dog and loud boom box drivers cruising through. We managed to get some sleep and left at daylight, able to drive a short distance for a place to eat breakfast. We had given away our food as it would not keep, needing to turn off all propane and power to our rig while it was stuck for nearly 3 days.
As it turned out, the shop could not schedule us for repairs for a whole month. We finally found kind help at Anderson Ford. They got us in right away and ordered the necessary parts to do our repair. We stayed overnight in a nearby hotel, the historic Colorado Belle, while waiting for the parts. This gave us the opportunity to check out nearby Oatman, a fun tourist ghost town where braying burros rule the road.
Pres informed the service department that our rig has a 3-inch lift kit in the rear to level the truck as the front is raised with the install of heavy-duty leaf springs. With this information, a pair of shocks the right size for our truck were ordered. Upon installation, it was discovered that the shocks that had been on our truck were the wrong size and way too short. We may not have become stuck if we’d had the right shocks, or at least the shock would not have broken our brake line.
Jason, Jim, and the capable Ford service department got us back on the road and we headed home with grateful hearts. We feel so blessed to have met so many kind, caring people who came to our aid! The outcome of our accident could have been very different. God provided strangers to help, who we now gladly count as our beloved friends.
After this incident, our 1st truck “accident”, we are making some changes to how we camp.
- Don’t drive an unknown 4×4 road after dark or if the vision of the road directly in front of our vehicle is impaired. Stick to our rule of finding a campsite before sunset.
- We will have headlamps ready to wear rather than just our handheld flashlights.
- Pres has more tools he will carry with us including brake fluid. Thankfully Bruce had the tools we did not.
- We may install a winch, something we have never needed before.
- We now know the right size shocks to have on our rig, despite prior professional installation.
- Bring our charging cords too when walking out with a cell phone.
- Be cautious yet still open to meeting strangers – they just might be a guardian angel in disguise!