Winter Travel Calls For Good Judgment

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The holidays can bring out the best in people, but sometimes they make people forget their common sense, too.

Winter and spring bring much moisture to the high country — depending on where you live — it can be rain as in Payson or Tonto Basin, or it can be snow if you live higher on the Rim. Now, if it would only bring good sense to people, that would really be a blessing.

Every year people try to travel across roads that are flooded by rising and swift floodwaters, or they take their vehicle or snowmobile into places where they should not.

In the past week, a man drove around barricades posted at a crossing in Tonto Basin. Guess what? Surprise! He got stuck and had to be rescued, endangering not only his life but those who were trying to rescue him.

In Coconino County a Christmas Day rescue mission that started as an attempt to find one disabled car and two passengers on an impassable forest service road, ended up being a rescue of 13 people and five dogs.

All because drivers thought they could go where they should not be going. Just because one has a four-wheel drive and big tires, it does not mean you can go across flooded creeks and down snow-covered forest service roads, tearing them up in the process and getting stuck.

All three forests in the area have travel restrictions in place, which attempt to keep people from tearing up fragile forest roads. During the past week, it was obvious from driving on Highway 87 and 260 that many people don’t care if they tear up forest roads, costing the rest of us taxpayers thousands of dollars to repair these roads come spring.

Nor apparently do they care that they have a good chance of becoming stuck, which will then require that rescuers place themselves in jeopardy trying to reach them.

In Coconino County, an adult man and friend from Phoenix decided to go four-wheeling on snow-covered roads. They got stuck and called for help. Rescuers report there were high winds, blowing snow and heavy snowfall in the Lake Mary area and on Forest Service Road 203 where the men were stuck.

To make matters worse some other people doing the same thing stopped, tried to help and then got stuck themselves. The end result was the rescue operation was much more complicated, with four stranded vehicles containing 13 people and five dogs.

It took rescuers hours to reach the stranded vehicles and several more hours to get everyone off the road and into Flagstaff. The Red Cross then had to help find a place for them to stay on Christmas Day and food to eat.

There is no doubt the Rim Country is beautiful after a snow, but precautions are needed to enjoy the area. Officials keep telling people who are planning a trip to enjoy the winter conditions to be prepared. Know the area you are traveling to, have appropriate maps, winter apparel and emergency equipment. Prepare for the unexpected. Check the weather forecast and, in the event of a storm warning, please cancel your trip. Don’t go on snow-covered forest roads — the odds of getting stuck are good.

Even if a forest road is not officially closed, if it is snow-packed or icy it is very likely impassable. Don’t drive on it, forest officials say.

We are most fortunate to have The Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit available. These people are dedicated and are a well-trained body of volunteers who are willing to place themselves in harm’s way to save people. But why people put themselves into such bad places to begin with is beyond good common sense.

The kicker to the story about the rescue near Lake Mary is that two of the people came back to the road the next day and got stuck again and had to be rescued again. These two people hiked the road in what was described as heavy snow, and one man became missing at about 4:30 p.m.

This time rescuers needed the help of an air rescue unit along with county sheriff’s deputies and members of the search and rescue squad. They found the man in deep snow at around 8 p.m. He was cold and disoriented and had to be airlifted to the Flagstaff Medical Center for treatment. Too bad there is no treatment for bad judgment.

Being rescued once for not using good sense is one thing, but twice in two days... It is not the first time such an incident has taken place, but let’s all learn something from it and try to use good judgment.

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