Visit to Walter Ray Memorial, October 18, 2014
by Joerg

Click to enlargeOn January 5, 1967 Walter Ray, a CIA pilot flying the super secret Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft out of Area 51, ran out of fuel during a routine flight due to faulty fuel gage readings. He attempted to return to Groom, coming from the east, but had to eject after his engines flamed out in the vicinity of Meadow Valley Wash, a few miles south of Elgin. Unfortunately he failed to separate from his seat after successful ejection due to a mechanical malfunction. He hit the ground still in the seat and was killed on impact. For more information on the accident (and quite an entertaining read!) please see Tom Mahood's excellent article The Hunt for 928.

In July 2014 a group of young men and women, known as the Strategic Beer Command (SBC), built and set up a replica A-12 as a memorial for Walter Ray at the site where he landed. For the full story and lots of photos please see Jeremy Krans' article Building a Blackbird on the Roadrunners web site.

Having met Jeremy and his group in Rachel, my friends Bob, Jim and I decided to visit the site in October of 2014. According to Jeremy the road was in decent shape, but after the heavy monsoon rainfalls earlier in the summer we did not know what to expect. Bob and I had been to the site before in 2002 and we were able to drive to within about 1/2 mile. We were hoping that our convoy of two Jeeps and my slightly lifted 4WD Tahoe would be able to make it to the same spot.

The first surprise was that what used to be a road leading up to the Cherokee Mine from Meadow Valley Wash had been consumed by a massive wash coming out of the mountains. The road was gone! We decided to drive up, mostly following the wash and some remains of the old road leading in and out of the wash.

The ride to the Cherokee mine was not bad. There are a few spots close to the mine that now require 4DW and high clearance, but they could be repaired fairly easily.

From the mine the road leads south and then east, following a wash. When we got to that point it was obvious that without major repairs we would not be able to continue driving. Not even in the Jeeps! So we decided to hike the last 2.1 miles to the memorial. The weather was perfect, mostly overcast and even a few sprinkles to cool us off during the hike. As we went along we were glad we left the vehicles behind. Jeremy said the road was washed out in the 2005 flood, but they were able to drive up to the site in the SBC "tank". Well, this year's flood certainly did not help...

I would rate the 2.1 mile hike from the Cherokee Mine to the memorial with 1,000ft. elevation change about 1/2 Tikaboo. But it is well worth it! Jeremy and his crew did a fantastic job with the memorial. It sits on a pole mounted to a small rock outcropping on the side of the hill where Walter Ray landed, overlooking the clearing cut by the recovery crew many years ago for the chopper. Complete with a plaque in Walter's memory, permanently mounted to the rocks. The location also has a beautiful view overlooking two different valleys. It is definitely well worth the hike!


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Bottom end of the road to Cherokee Mine
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Washed our road past the Cherokee Mine
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Rock formation with the Memorial
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Replica A-12 as memorial for pilot Walter Ray
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Memorial Plaque
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View to the SE with the clearing for the recovery helicopter
in the saddle
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View to the NE towards Meadow Valley Wash
 
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Clearing for recovery helicopter, cut in 1967

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