Solvay was a little apprehensive when I told her that we would be exploring the desert in the dark of night. She felt better when I explained that we would have night vision equipment and be inside a Hummer! This was the second adventure of our “It’s a Family Affair” media trip presented by the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. We met our other adventure companions and our guide, Chris Anderson of Desert Storm Hummer Tours, in north Scottsdale. All 10 of us easily piled into the Hummer, which had been specially designed with stadium seating, so you had a good vantage point wherever you sat. The youngest in the crowd opted for the very back (the highest point, but also the bumpiest and windiest!).
We headed east out the Beeline Highway, turned onto the Bush Highway and past Saguaro Lake. Soon Chris turned onto a dirt roadway where we reached a gate. He entered the code and explained that you could go in person to the Tonto National Forest office in Mesa and received six month’s worth of codes. This free service is meant to monitor the usage of some of the forest roads, in hopes of preserving them. He then went on to explain that we were driving on the very path that stagecoaches had traversed during the gold rush days. This trail at the base of the Goldfield Mountains was also a very popular route for mail and money, so a fair share of robberies would occur. To protect the cargo, the rider in the front seat would always be armed. Hence the term “shotgun” for anyone who wants to ride in the front passenger seat nowadays.
We drove with the spotlights lighting up the desert path and would occasionally wander over a boulder or two. It was truly amazing what that vehicle could do! Chris drove down into a wash and stopped. He went into the back and produced ITT GEN 3 Nite Vision Scopes (apparently the military uses the “4″ version, so you know these were good!) for all of us. After a brief tutorial, we were all gazing into the pitch black desert night in search of wildlife. Chris then turned all the lights off and with a hand-held spotlight he maneuvered us through the wash slowly so that we could scour the brush and cacti for any sign of movement. None of us had much luck spotting anything, so we decided to get out for a bit and walk around. Chris also produced more fun toys. A Raytheon XP200 Thermal Image Scope which picks up heat signatures from animals and plants. It was astounding to see how much a saguaro cactus lit up! He also had what turned out to be Solvay’s favorite gadget. The “Sky Scout” – your personal planetarium with 6000 GPS targets stored inside of it. You simple lined up the sight with a star and it would tell you the star’s name and what constellation it belonged in. If it was a planet, it would supply that information as well. After playing with the gadgets and exploring the immediate area, we all loaded back in for the ride home. It was close to 10:30pm by that time and the kids in the back were pretty worn out from all the excitement.
As we drove along the road heading back into civilization I couldn’t help but think of those brave souls that came across the desert so long ago, and what they went through to settle this harsh but beautiful landscape. I am thankful that they came so that we may now enjoy the trail in our own version of a covered wagon powered by a different kind of horsepower.