The next few months were spent getting the new truck in shape and thinking about "things". I was pretty pissed about this damn plane eluding me, so I tried to think of other ways to attack the problem. I came up with some pretty outlandish schemes, even going so far as checking seismic records at the University of Nevada at Reno, but to no avail. In those days, the seismic network was too crude and far apart to detect such a thing as a plane impact.
Once, Jeri and I even checked out a lat/long location I found in some wacko UFO book, that was about 12 miles east of Hwy 93 southerly of Kane Springs Road. This location, (high on some damn mountain ridge) was supposedly the site of some sort of UFO crash an undisclosed amount of time ago. While not in the prime search area, it was close enough to consider that it could be some very distorted echo from the A-12 crash. So of course we made the ugly climb, only to find a nice view. No UFO debris, no A-12 debris, nothin'. What a surprise.
Other ideas of mine turned out better. Shortly before the truck disaster, I had started looking into the availability of aerial photos from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS photographs most of the US every few years as part of their production of government topo maps. Did they have any decent photographs of the Meadow Valley area taken shortly after the crash occurred? If so, then maybe they would show a scar. Even if the photos were taken a few years after the crash, the desert heals slowly, and evidence might still be visible. They might also help reduce the search area, which at this point had only been expanding. The "brute force" search method I had been using, while taking me to very scenic spots in the desert, had not been very productive. Until I could get smarter about it all, I had a self-imposed moratorium on the search.
The process of acquiring the photos was involved and required considerable time, first to order index photos of the general area, then ordering the actual photos. In a number of cases the wrong photos were sent and I'd have to order them again. By the end of July, 1995, the first batches of photos showed up and changed the way I did things.
The photos were quite clear, with individual cresote bushes easily visible. An excellent sequence of photos was taken only a year after the crash, when scars on the ground should still be fresh. From these photos I quickly saw the areas we had already spent so much time on were an obvious waste of time. There was nothing there. With one glance, I could survey dozens of square miles! Now this was the way to hunt!.
Pretty quickly I spotted a couple of items that piqued my interest. One was the road that I had spotted previously on a map that went east into the Mormons from the railroad, then ended. I could see from the photo that the road had been there in 1968 and just suddenly stopped. I couldn't see any mining scars.
The second possibility I spotted almost screamed "plane crash". It was a small scar, about 4 miles east of Carp, in the open desert towards the north end of the Mormons. Close inspection showed a road that had been plowed through a wash to it, about a mile from a nearby 4wd route. The wound healing was over...it was time to start the search again!
Trouble was, it was August, and it's hot out there. But Jeri and I headed out anyway, being extra careful. Our first stop was the obvious scar east of Carp. I set the GPS coords for it and hiked in as it got hotter. We found it pretty easily, although grown over somewhat, and it was a crash site. But it wasn't the A-12. In fact, there was no titanium at all. It was a pretty old crash, I'd guess from the early to mid 1960's and was very burned and shredded. Nothing but very small pieces. I still don't know what it was, but if it ain't titanium, it ain't shit. For any of you interested in that site, it's about 4 1/2 miles ESE of Carp. Because of the heat, we didn't hang around long and moved on to the next possible site.
I was doubtful if we could actually drive to the end of the road shown on the map, so I had a different scheme. As I had mentioned, when I had explored the nasty 4wd road that accessed the northern end of the Mormons, it ended only a couple of miles from the end of this other road we were now interested in. There was a 1,500 foot ridge in between. Our plan was to go to the end of the road I had explored on the previous trip, then early in the morning while it was still cool, head up to the top of the ridge and peer right down onto the spot we were interested in. This way we could get a look at it without actually making a questionable drive. One of my typical hare-brained plans.
By early evening we had made the obnoxious drive back into north ends of the Mormons. The next morning we started hiking up very early while it was still cool. Again aided by GPS, we neared the saddle from which we would have our vantage point. As we got closer to the top, I noticed a lot of glints ahead, obvious signs of aircraft wreckage! But as I went bounding from piece to piece, it began clear again that this wasn't the A-12. It was a Phantom F-4 that crashed sometime in the mid-1970s. Ho-hum...Chevys of the sky. The entire plane seemed to be there, spread across the face of a large, natural bowl. Even a melted drogue chute was sitting on a rock. Its remoteness had left it unmolested. Real die-hard adventurers can find it 7 miles SSE of Carp. But remember, there's a good reason why no one's been there. Really nasty access! You've been warned.
After reaching the crest (still surrounded by F-4 pieces) we looked down on our target and our hopes fell. It was obviously an access to a mining prospect and nothing more. Well, one more place we knew the A-12 wasn't.
The next few months were spent pondering and collecting more photos, covering literally hundreds of square miles. A spot I had noted on the edge of one of the first photos intrigued me. It was some sort of scar in the natural vegetation on the desert. It might have been caused by fire, but it didn't spread out like fire would, it was more linear (it was about 150' wide and 1,200' long). It was too wide to be any sort of firebreak, and it ran at right angles to the natural ravines in the vicinity. And it was about 69 miles from Groom, close to the magic 70 mile figure. But what was it? I was slowly getting smarter, and rather than run out and look at it, I ordered more photos to clarify it. Unfortunately, the new photos just deepened the mystery of what we called the "mystery scar". The only way to find out was to visit it.
Jeri and I planned yet another stinkin' trip out to have a look. This time we arranged to meet Pete Merlin and a wreck-chasing friend of his, Romano Urbat, out there and we'd all have a look. On the way out there, Jeri and I drove all the way to Pioche (the Lincoln County seat) to check out issues of the Lincoln County newspaper for early January, 1967, for any clues. The only stories we could find had to do with the F-4D crash SW of Caliente, and I was beginning to wonder if that were some sort of cover story for the A-12 crash. We also stopped by the sheriff's office to see if they had any old dispatch records from 1967. They just looked at us like we were nuts (some truth to that) and claimed they had no records from that far back.
We hooked up with Pete and Romano and headed to the mystery scar. Thanks to the wonders of GPS, we again found it without any trouble, but it turned out to be nothing, just some sort of strange vegetation pattern. It sure looked like it should have been a crash site, but there was absolutely no trace of human presence.
That evening was one of the stranger ones we spent out there. Romano had a VCR in his camper and brought it out and set it on a rock, along with the TV. Then, he popped in a video he got from some place like the Discovery Channel, and we proceeded to spend about an hour and a half watching videos of military plane crashes. It was quite a scene in this piece of nowhere desert....In the background were the Mormon Mountains, in the foreground, a TV showing all sorts of bizarre test aircraft crashes, behind us a campfire crackling away. And somewhere off in the darkness, was the ghost of an A-12 quietly laughing at us.
Returning home, I found quite a surprise in the mailbox. I had been trying to think of more creative ways of attacking the problem. As part of this effort, I sent a request to the state of Nevada for Ray's death certificate. I didn't hold out much hope for this tactic, But to my immense surprise I now had in my hands Walt Ray's death certificate, chocked full of info! But best of all, it gave the location where Ray died. His point of impact was listed as being 300 yards east of a particular mining claim (Which will remain unnamed here) in the Viola mining district. It also listed his cause of death as "complete cerebral avulsion". (Ouch! Look it up) It also listed the County of death as being Clark County. This would put it in the far southern reaches of the Mormon Mountains. I obviously needed to find out where the Viola mining district was!
A little research immediately turned up a contradiction: The Viola mining district was located around the Cherokee Mine, a few miles east and southeast of Leith. This was in Lincoln County, far north of the Clark County line. What was going on here? The only way to know for sure was to pull records for the mining district and find the named claim, which meant a return trip to Pioche.
On November 27, I blasted up on a solo trip to Pioche, back to the same Recorder's Office we had been to just over a week before. This was getting old. After a bit of searching, I found the records for the specific claim I was after, but found there was no map. It was a "metes and bound description" (i.e., starting from the claim marker, 400 feet north, then 300 feet east, etc.) and consisted of a number of individual claims, all cross-referenced. It was clear I was going to have to draft these up before I could make any sense of them. Civil engineering's good for something after all! To make matters a little more complicated and vague, rather than having a "township/range" location, the claim records only referenced an approximate distance and direction from the Cherokee Mine.
I also had a chance to ask the Recorder about the medical examiner. It turns out that Lincoln County didn't have one at that time, and the duty was carried out by the Clark County examiner That could explain the mistake on the certificate's county location, but I still was suspicious something may have been going on. I don't know whether it was a coincidence or not, but the "Registrar's No." on the death certificate was listed as "51".
Leaving Pioche late in the day, I headed south to the Meadow Valley area and made camp. I stayed up late drawing out the jumble of claim info I had, assembling it into an overall map of all the claims. Finishing that, I set about locating the whole mess on the USGS maps I had of the area. This was more difficult, but with a few educated guesses, found a possible fit, and set off to explore the site the next morning.
The road was in reasonably bad shape, with a lot of side spurs that lead off in the wrong directions. Reaching my apparent destination, I had a look around. So far, so good. I took my claim sketches and started hunting for claim markers. I found a few rock piles, but any written notices on posts had long since weathered away. I was forced to go simply by their general layout and orientation, but it was hard to be certain of a match. After a lot of cross country travel, I finally came to the spot I suspected the certificate had referenced.
Looking around, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary at first, but I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for. Then, on the other side of a rock outcropping, I found the remains of an old campfire. In the campfire was some odd, folded sheets of aluminum foil and old juice cans, some with olive drab paint. G.I. apple juice! Scattered around the campfire area were old, rusted military smoke canisters. This must be the spot! I spent quite some time wandering to the east in a futile effort to find anything there. Perhaps there wasn't anything left, after all, it was just Ray and his ejection seat. I returned back to the campfire area to consider it all. As I was doing so, my eye caught something only 75 feet away. It was the remains of an old cleared area, just big enough for a chopper. The junipers and cedars had been cut off low, and dragged just outside the perimeter of the clearing. Some of the vegetation had grown back, making it a little indistinct, the reason I hadn't seen it earlier.
So this was it! This was real, it wasn't a fantasy. This was the first solid evidence I had for a location. This put a nail hard in the map, and the plane couldn't be far away.
Next thrilling installment!