Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - The Lagoon, AZ

Our schedule now matches the original Battalion’s march. We are in the same area as they were on this date. However, it was one of those days with a route that prevented us from hiking “straight through” from our start to our end. There are private sections interspersed with public lands and we weren’t able to make connections for permission.

Taking the humorously named “Spot Road” northward, Denny drives us in to where she stopped yesterday and we poke around the Sears Point petroglyph area. The journalists do not mention these remarkable native carvings, so we suspect they passed south of the point. Hancock’s notes seem to take them along a looping path that way, but I want to see the location and wonder why they didn’t go this way.

As Peter and I walk around Sears Point, we notice the site is intriguing from a Native American perspective. After the Trek is over, I’ll discuss this site with experts and see if some of our observations are correct. But let me say this; of all the sites we’ve visited, this one speaks without the benefit of written words to explain it. It is not hard to imagine a young warrior or an old shaman perched up on the bluff trying to communicate with the Great Spirit and Creator. It is a religious location – a temple for the old ones.

As we start westward along the old trail, it becomes apparent that Denny can’t safely follow us with the Suburban, so we backtrack out to I-8 and drive westward to the Aztec exit. There, Peter and I unload the ATV and following a different two-track road, drive back out to where we stopped hiking from the east. We will try to connect the two ends but won’t have time to hike it consecutively. We’ll have to be content with locating the connections if we can. Denny decides to stay at the exit and catch up on her journal.

Driving along the two-track dirt road, my first priority location to document is “The Lagoon”, a usual stopping place along the Emigrant Trail and one that seems to correspond to the Battalion campsite for December 31. Some of the journals talk about a “salt pond” which the mules drank from. Some animals died, some were sickened. The men had to hike between a half to a mile and a half to draw fresh water from the river.

The Lagoon is an old oxbow lake – now dry – that formed from a meander of the Gila River. Later journals by emigrants also discuss the Lagoon as being saline – salty water. Subsequent flooding in the river bottoms has eroded trail sections in the area. There are various opinions about where the Battalion camped; the east, the south or west of the loop. From the journals I’ve read I’m not sure we can say with certainty which is correct, but given the shape of the Lagoon meander, I favor the southwest side as probably being closer to forage.

We mount up again and drive eastward to where the two track road goes downhill over the basalt cliff. I take some photos while Peter walks further ahead. After a few minutes, Peter radios and excited, “I found the trail.” And, sure enough, it’s a beauty – a straight up/down hill scar. The modern two-track is right beside the old trail which is still lined with thrown rocks at the top. The clearly visible older route continues uninterrupted for over a half-mile and can be followed back east to where we turned around earlier today. We’ve successfully connected the dots on this section.

After driving back to Denny’s location at Aztec, we grab some lunch and review the maps to determine if we can hike any other sections. Since it’s unclear, we ride the ATV out north towards the river, hoping to intercept the trail as it crosses the county road. Sadly, the county road ends and the private road is blocked. Dang!

It was an excellent day with some wonderful insights, great opportunities to document and verify things even if we didn’t get to hike too much.

Before it closes at 5 PM, we hustle down to the only store at Dateland, snag some sour cream, chips, milk and other “New Year’s” treats. Our celebration – out here, alone in the desert, far away from family and friends, is pretty subdued. We boot the computer and watch a movie on CD. Our thoughts however, are in other places. Happy New Year to one and all.

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