I didn’t see it at first. It wasn’t until I had struggled up the treacherously steep rock of the now-dry waterfall and reached the lower saddle did I look far above to see the blackened rock. It stuck out now like a bruised thumb atop a popular trail in the Superstition Mountains called Siphon Draw.
It was a beautiful Arizona Saturday afternoon in March and warm if you could find a sunny spot in the deep canyon. Dozens of hikers flowed up and down the Siphon Draw Trail almost like water where in wet times the waterfall comes pounding down from a thousand feet. The thundering noise of a helicopter suddenly caught everyone’s attention.
Initially I thought it was a rescue team searching for a missing party. The noisy chopper had come around that spectacular cliff called the Flatiron, then up the canyon from the west venturing close to the rock walls. When it finally stopped near the mountain top and hovered there for a few minutes, I began to realize the people in the chopper were looking at something I couldn’t see at the time. They were looking at the crash site.
On the evening of November 23, the day before last Thanksgiving, a father, Shawn Perry, picked up his three children at a Mesa airport to take them to his home in Safford, Arizona, a small city more than 100 miles to the southeast. He was flying with two other Safford men. About 6:30, in the autumn darkness, the plane collided with the mountain in a fiery explosion. Flames lit up the land around Apache Junction. All six died, their bodies so mutilated and burned that caskets were more symbolic than serving any real purpose. Cause of the crash remains under investigation.
All of this was running through my mind as I reached the narrow, rocky saddle. That and the fact the mother of the dead children, Karen Perry, had traversed with a group of friends this very difficult trail just eight days earlier to reach the crash site, according to a story in the Arizona Republic. It was her second visit, the article said.
Her hike was to commemorate what would’ve been the 10th birthday of Ms. Perry’s oldest child, Morgan.
“To me,” Ms. Perry was quoted as saying, “that is their burial ground. That is where they died. I’ll go up there many more times. It’s a special place for me now.”
To go beyond the saddle where I stood, you have to be emotionally driven by something. The going is over rock and boulders. You have to crawl and climb, I’ve read. The trail, if you can call it that, connects with the high Ridgeline Trail that crosses the mountains from a trailhead on the southeast, all of it in the Superstition Wilderness.
There is a sign along the Siphon Draw Trail telling hikers to stay away from the crash site. It is a plea that often goes unheeded. Ms. Perry, the article said, found at the site “tactful memorials left by people she doesn’t know, including small toys, a snowman and some plastic flowers.” Also six wooden crosses for each victim. Perry herself left “a small temporary plaque” despite being told by the U.S. Forest Service that it violates its policy.
The battle for a permanent memorial is not over. Ms. Perry will have public sentiment behind her, particularly in this era when government is viewed with so much disdain.
Anyway, the saddle is as close as I got that March day. It was late afternoon. I had hiked 2 1/2 miles to get that far. Another mile of difficult trail lay ahead. As did darkness. Maybe I’ll try to get up there another day.
For now, the only permanent memorial is charred rock above Siphon Draw.