I will never tease my mom for over-packing supplies again.
In a story that is nothing short of miraculous, a 72-year old woman along with her 2-year old rescue dog survived for nine days while stranded in the Arizona desert. Ann Rogers set out on the scenic route from Tuscon to Phoenix on March 31. She hoped to surprise her daughter and grandson on his birthday (which also happened to be her birthday). But the trip did not go as planned.
Along the way, Rogers’ car began to run out of gas. She stopped to ask for directions to the nearest gas station, but following those directions, ended up more than 20 miles away off a desolate road with no gas and no cell service. Rogers had packed plenty of food and water for herself, her dog Queenie (a Queensland terrier) and her cat Nike, so she was content to wait it out in the car, spending the night huddled up with her pets and some blankets.
But nobody came, and supplies began to run thin. By the third day, she hiked to a hill and used her binoculars to spot a canyon and a creek in the distance. “I knew very well that you’re never supposed to abandon your vehicle,” Rodgers told The Washington Post, “But the choice was either leave it or go without water. And how long can you do that in the desert?”
From that point on, Rogers’ survival skills set in. She packed a red satchel full of materials she originally brought along as art supplies — paper, pens, a knife, matches and a lighter, which helped her start fires as she camped along the interior of the canyon. She used an empty Nutella jar to store water for her and Queenie.
Meanwhile, the last friend she communicated with before losing cellphone reception had put out a missing-person report for her. Bruce Trees, a retired Marine, grew worried when Rogers stopped sending him texts after telling him her car had broken down. When Trees finally got a dispatcher on the phone to tell them about Rogers, he said, “Hear me, and hear me well. Either you put out a missing-person report immediately, or I’m going to come over and rip your hair out. Immediately.”
As a search party formed, Rogers and Queenie traversed the landscape, eating plants along the way — a skill Rogers attributes to childhood trips in which she learned to discern edible plants from poisonous ones. On one occasion, Rogers was able to capture a turtle and cook it in its shell for the only protein of her entire excursion.
The search-and-rescue team found her abandoned car, along with a hungry but otherwise healthy Nike the cat, who Rogers let out to forage and survive off its instincts. They knew they were on the right path.
Queenie would forage ahead of Rogers to find paths to cross the creek. By the eighth day of searching, park rangers and detectives feared the worst and had begun bringing along cadaver-sniffing K9 units. But a helicopter overhead spotted a peculiar formation near the canyon — the word “HELP” spelled out in bleached elk bones. At the site of the bones, they also found a handwritten note from Rogers that said “Am lost, trying to find people or ranch — hiking on downstream. No food for 3 days! Ann.” It was dated a week prior, April 2nd.
The search party knew it was close, but also knew the chances of survival a week later were incredibly slim. When Detective Johnny Holmes saw Queenie running about, he admitted to skeptically assuming Rogers had perished — but 15 minutes later they saw Rogers following Queenie’s path.
Remarkably, Rogers suffered from exposure, dehydration and little else. She was five pounds lighter but in generally good health. When she was airlifted to the hospital, her son and daughter were there waiting for her.
It’s an incredible story, and a great reminder that for all of our technology, mother nature is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Some dubious internet commentators think Rogers had to be suffering from dementia to end up in the situation in the first place, but anybody who can survive 9 days in the desert off of plants and a turtle is far more capable than most internet trolls.
And Rogers is, amazingly, in great spirits about the whole thing. A spirited artist, she tells the Post, “I could definitely paint for the next 20 years all the incredibly beautiful canyons, trees, rivers and rocks that I saw. It’s like being in Sedona, Ariz., only multilayered, over and over again. Those incredibly wonderful geological scenes all around me.”
Talk about Nutella jar half full.