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Special Message From the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad

While "Exploring The Wild" we would like to remind you to make sure you are prepared for your adventure.  Being prepared will help you stay alive and make for a more enjoyable time as you visit Gila County.  In an effort to help keep you safe, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue has created a simple information flyer highlighting some of the things you should know before you lace up your hiking boots or start that ATV.    Click the button below to download.

Special thanks to Alicia Keller from TRSAR for compiling this critical information.

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Sometimes we forget how easy we have it. Amid our crazy life schedules, we tend to take for granted that purified bottle of water when thirsty, or the push of a button to light a fire. But it’s important to remember that in the blink of an eye, it can all be gone. The unexpected happens, you get in an accident or lose your way; now, it’s just you and the wilderness with no ties to civilization.


Our marketing message of “Explore the Wild” is not just a fancy play on words that we hope will lead to convincing more people to come to Gila County.  Ok...well maybe that is part of it.  But the other part is it is truly WILD out there.  Gila County is surrounded by 7 Wilderness areas and many of the trails, lakes, streams and attractions that you may encounter have good reasons for respecting the WILD.  This page has been created to help you prepare for the wilderness and elements that you may encounter during your adventure and make sure you have a safe and enjoyable time, and that you return home ALIVE!




Communication Is Key

Make sure you tell someone where you are going before you set off for a trip. No matter where you go, even if you end up stranded unexpectedly, you started from somewhere in civilization. Tell close friends and family where you are going and if you have a specific route or amount of time you will be gone.


Prepare Before You Leave

First of all, if you’re going for a hike (even a short one, in a relatively remote area) it is good to have a small backpack or fanny pack with the following things:  Always dress for the occasion and use proper planning. Have layers, water or a Steri-pen, some trail bars, a compass, lighter, sunscreen, a compact phone charger, and a multi-tool. If you aren’t familiar with the area, get a map—preferably a paper one, since electronics tend to run out of batteries or break. You can usually find them free at Rangers’ stations or trailheads. Get to know the type of terrain you’ll expect to be in, and check the weather. Also, learn how to recognize the North Star.

Since even the best-laid plans tend to fall apart, here’s what to do if and when you find yourself lost in the wilderness.


Keep Your Head On

Now is the time to be calm and think positive. It doesn’t sound like much, but optimism goes a long way, and in a survival situation, it starts with you, your attitude and your will no matter how scared and alone you may feel. First, keep a realistic outlook and diligently plan to keep yourself in the best possible physical and mental state. If something isn’t working out, like building a fire or shelter, don’t rush, because that can lead to panic. Stop, breathe and think about what you need, observe your surroundings and organize a new plan.


Take Inventory

Keep everything you’ve got, because the second plans go south, these items will become your most prized possessions and could save your life. Don’t underestimate the worthiness of even the smallest knick knack-inn Gary Paulson’s classic, The Hatchet, Brian Robeson used his shoe lace to make a nifty bow and arrow for survival!


Build A Shelter

It’s time to get creative. Familiarize yourself with how to build a lean-to; there are various types of shelters you can build and each has different pros and cons. Obviously, you want overhead covering for warmth at night and protection from the elements. If you are in rocky, mountainous terrain, look for overhangs. Otherwise, use limbs and leaves or anything that can provide insulation. Pine needles usually blanket the ground in thick batches, excellent for bedding.


Agua Por Favor

Your body will not last more than three days without water. If you are lucky enough to be near a body of freshwater — good for you, just make sure to boil before quenching your thirst. No water in sight? Continue your search and construct a rain catcher or water still.  Due to the hot temperatures in Arizona, you must bring water with you.  For example, a Forest Service Ranger spotted a group of kids hiking down into Fossil Creek, a popular swimming hole in the summer.  None of them had any water with them.  This hike is 5 miles down and 5 miles out and is very strenuous.  Without water, a hike like this in the dead of summer can be deadly.  


Keep That Belly Happy

Things can get frustrating when it comes to finding adequate sources of food when you are in survival mode, especially since malnutrition will work you mentally and physically, making you feel weak, cranky and delirious. It’s a good idea to get familiar with edible wild berries and plants for future reference when out in the wild. Also, it’s time to grow up and banish the word  “picky” from your vocabulary. When it comes to survival, embrace anything and everything (carefully) including bugs, eggs, fruit, leaves. Learn to build some simple traps to catch small animals and don’t rely on just one single food source. Protein is important for strength; know what various nutrients your body needs for prime sustainability.


Light That Fire

Those glowing red flames provide light, cooked food, warmth and protection from predators and pesky bugs. Here are a few tried and true techniques for conjuring that mighty blaze:

  • Fire Plow

  • Bow and Drill

  • Lens Method

  • Fire from Ice

  • Soda Can and Chocolate

  • Battery method

Pro tip:
Once you get it going, keep your fire small, so as to save energy, fuel, and to maintain control. It’s a lot easier to survive in the forest than in a forest fire.

Pro TIP:  Remember many of the places in Gila County are surrounded by national forest.  So you want to make sure you build a fire ring around where you will build your fire.  Like Smokey the Bear says, "Only you can prevent forest fires" - he means it!  Before you leave your camp make sure your fire is DEAD OUT.  This means you can put your finger in the middle of it and there is no heat.


Signal Your Location

Make noise by whistling, yelling, smashing things, whatever it takes. Adding pine needles, especially damp ones, to your fire will make a steady stream of thick white smoke. You can also pile rocks or sticks in a clearing in the shape of an “X” or in three large, equal piles—these are symbols of distress.


One Word:  TOOL

Keep a pocket knife, or multi-tool with you at all times, because you never know when you will need it- and when you do need it, you will rejoice that you have something to cut, protect and prepare food- even if all you have is a crappy, little knife. Now just learn how to sharpen it like MacGuyver.



Survival is your first priority, but don’t forget- you need to get rescued as well. Come up with an action plan in case a plane flies overhead or there are search parties nearby. You’ve seen it in the movies — prepare a giant, easily visible fire pit out in the open or layout stones in the pattern of HELP or S.O.S. You can also use any shiny, metallic object for reflection purposes.



It’s a good idea to have a compass with you at all times, but if not then what? Get old school and use the stars- it’s a lot easier than you think. Also, keep note of rivers, paths or mountains- following these can lead to roads and civilization.



Keeping a good attitude is important not only for your mental well being, but it also helps to boost the immune system, so do whatever you can to stay alert and positive. Try singing, or just make yourself laugh out loud—fake laughter will almost always lead to the real thing. If you encounter a curious, or worse, aggressive, predator such as a bear, cougar, or wolves, keep your distance, and don’t run. Play dead if a bear attacks. For canines or felines, make noise, throw rocks, use a club—displays of size and aggression will generally warn them away, but also don’t stare them down. If things go south, curl up into a ball, protect your face, and pray.


Good luck out there.


Pack it in - Pack It Out!

We hope that you don’t encounter any trouble along the way and you have an enjoyable experience in Gila County.  Remember if you packed it in please pack it out.  These areas are fragile and provide important ecosystems for many animals and plants.  Trash deteriorates these ecosystems and it just looks…well, TRASHY!  So just pick it up and take it with you so the next person that comes along can have an enjoyable experience for years to come.

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