An Unusual Find in the Desert: Entrance Road to First Water Trailheads, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, May 24, 2015
Awaking early to another cool morning, I decided to go looking for birds at a location that would avoid traffic and hordes of people on this Memorial Day Weekend.  That meant I would skip all my usual places like the Salt River Recreation Areas, Gilbert Water Ranch, Boyce Thompson Arboretum and more. So, where to go?

Having traded in hiking for birding a number of years ago, I realized I had never explored the First Water Trailhead area for birds.  When I turned into the marked dirt road (about 1/4 mile or less past the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park) I was energized immediately by the morning chorus of desert birds.

So, rather than continue to the hiking trails at the end of the road, I pulled off at the “Crosscut and Massacre Grounds” trail head parking lot, being only the second car parked there. Wanting to not take the trails into the Superstition Mountains, I walked the wash and the desert closer to the dirt entrance road where the birds were singing.

The mesquite, palo verde and ironwood trees as well as the desert shrubs held various birds from Verdin and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers to Black-throated Sparrows and a singing female Northern Cardinal. The brittle bush had lost its early-spring mound of yellow flowers and was mostly dry, dark and brittle, but the Cactus Wrens liked the lower limbs and the shady root area.  

Creosote plants had also lost their covering of yellow flower heads but were vibrant with glossy green leaves. 

Desert Cottontails bounded out of sight as I moved slowly and carefully through the desert trying to locate each bird voice.  Where was that Ladder-backed Woodpecker? It caught my attention with its whinny before I heard its light tapping.  I searched a nearby mostly-bare mesquite tree for it but it had flown and gave its “pik” call from another mesquite where I located it.

I was keeping my eyes on the ground, too. Unknowingly, earlier in the week while I was looking up at birds, I was standing on an ant hill.  I got bit badly and was not thrilled to have the bite leave a large red/black hard spot (as big as the mouth of a coffee cup) on my calf muscle.  My “After Bite” ointment was not with me, but it reduced the inflammation immediately when I got home.  The other holes in the ground, I didn’t want to think about but kept my eyes peeled for whatever might peek out.

Cat’s claw acacia was the only tree in bloom. It attracted Verdin who were well camouflaged among the yellow blooms. I tried to avoid coming in contact with its nasty  thorns that grab and hold and can easily tear fabric and skin. While I tried to follow open spaces between plants, my shoes were full of foxtails and with jeans on, the cat’s claw failed to impale me as I brushed past it several times.

Having walked the west side of the dirt entrance road toward Route 88, I crossed over to the east-side desert to return to the parking lot.

There I spied something that caught my attention. Through my binoculars, it appeared to be a white table with a sheet over it and included something that looked like a gold ribbon.  My first thought went to a possible “ceremony” in the desert since I’ve participated in such things, but it seemed unusual to have left anything behind.

Curious, I walked over to it.  As I got closer, I thought it might be a refrigerator. When I got really close, it seemed to be a box with a smell emanating from it that would attract Turkey Vultures.

Unusual Find in the Desert
I wondered if someone would bury a dog like that since digging in the desert caliche is like trying to dig through concrete.  Continuing to bird my way back to the car, I couldn’t shake the images that my intuition and imagination were conjuring.  

Having decided to report what I found, I drove out to Route 88 to get a phone signal.  An Apache Junction Police clerk decided that I was outside its jurisdiction and transferred me to the Pinal County sheriff’s office clerk to whom I repeated my report. She asked that I meet an officer there, so I returned to the entrance road from where I had driven on Route 88 for a cell signal.

Then I got a call back telling me that First Water was in Maricopa County but that call got dropped as it was hooking me up with Maricopa sheriff’s office. So, I left my spot, where I had resumed birding at the entrance road off of Route 88 and headed to Starbucks wondering:  a) should I have bothered reporting it?  b) will it get pushed aside because it’s a holiday?   Although I enjoy a good mystery story, local newspapers carry stories all too often of bodies found in the desert.

At 8:30 a.m., dust was rising on the road into First Water Trailhead with one car after the other pulling in to head for hiking trails and Route 88 was already full of cars headed to the lakes as I headed the opposite direction toward Apache Junction.

At Starbucks, about twenty minutes later, I received a call from the Maricopa County sheriff’s office clerk who had a sheriff out at First Water looking for me. I gave the clerk good instructions as to how to find the “box” which she passed along. Within five minutes, she called back to let me know that the box had been located — and that was all I needed to know.

While I enjoy birding adventures, today’s find was a bit over the top. 

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