Early in my now on hiatus career as a Forest Service volunteer I had an unusual call. Some visitors that had sought hiking advice earlier in the day were now calling me from the flanks of Silver Peak. They had wandered off trail and they wanted to know if I knew where they were. Consternation was held at bay as I listened to the man describe a cross and some green rocks. I had to tell him I had no idea where he was. He was surprised. The pair followed my advice and backtracked. Later that day the man came in and described to me in detail where they had stepped off the trail. There’s a u-shaped metal fence stake and a pile of rocks. My curiosity was piqued.
A few weeks ago when I hiked up Silver Peak with the Portal Rodeo hiking club I found the side trail. Just as the man described there was a metal fence stake and a pile of rocks. This spot commonly fouled up hikers unfamiliar with the area and the US Forest Service had installed a sign with an arrow pointing the way. The sign was gone. On that day a few weeks ago I wandered a bit down the path of my lost hikers. I was hoping to find the cross. I got a few hundred feet away and realized I was a long way from the top of our 3,000′ climb and that I might get passed by my companions. They would not know where I was. I decided to abandon the search and return to the main route. I thought I would try and get Burt to help me on a later date.
Yesterday, in the snow, we headed out on the Silver Peak trail. I had forgotten the cross and the curious tale. It was just a wonderful winter day and the snow covered trails called. The dogs were especially thrilling to watch as they ran and ran and ran. Snow, just a little, can be invigorating. Burt followed as I broke trail. This is our usual pattern. I set the pace I can maintain and Burt hangs back. If you ever want to spend time with quiet Burt. Go hiking. He is very quiet in the woods. We had no goal. Dinner with friends was hours away. At the second gate I remembered the lost hikers and their report of a cross in the woods. I remembered where they got lost. I decided it was time to try and find the cross.
Initially I presumed that the site might be a marker where a migrant lost their life crossing these mountains but conversations with people familiar with migratory routes say Silver Peak is not frequently traveled. That makes sense. There is little evidence of litter or debris frequently found when migrants near civilization and the north side of silver peak is not on the way to anywhere. So what was this cross? I walked and slipped about a 1/4 mile past the main trail and arrived at a very steep gully. I saw nothing on my way out. Any green rocks there might have been were covered by the deeper snow. The cross was not obvious. Perhaps it was on the ground and covered, too? At the gully I had to face the reality of a slick non-trail with an exposed 100′ hillside. If the cross was on the other side I was not going to find it on this day. I turned around and met with Burt making his way out to me. I stood there with soaking feet and wet pants and said: “I really want to find this cross. I wish I knew where it was.” Burt looked at me. He was bewildered. Burt had forgotten the tale of the lost hikers calling me for advice. I spun around in frustration and gazed up. Right over my head was the cross. Talk about ask and you shall receive. A small rusty cross was planted in the hillside in a spot far from the normal route. Burt and I clawed our way up the steep slope and wiped away the snow. Three hearts were welded in place and the following was inscribed:
Gerald Gene Wester 5/29/1931 – 12/26/2007
Joy Pearl Wester 8/20/1931 – 4/6/2009
I felt like the winner of a treasure hunt and it was nice to see we’d made the pilgrimage they day after Gerald’s death anniversary. I have no idea who these people were. They must have liked the area. From the spot of their memorial you can see Cochise’s head in the Chircahua National Monument and off into the mountains of New Mexico. But the spot is not a typical vista point. It’s steep and off trail. Maybe the person that placed the marker wanted to be unobtrusive. My internet searches haven’t revealed an obvious connection to the area. The pair died while living in Tucson. Their on line obituaries have no details other than next of kin. Maybe someday a relative will read this post and contact me. I’d love to know the rest of the story.