The high-tech Brunton ADC Summit (used to tell time, altitude, barometric pressure, wind speed, etc.) had unknotted from the camera bag.
Lost, in the Juniper Dunes Wilderness, possibly to join the long-ago-lost car keys and the more recently lost ExpoDisk (for setting a camera's white balance).
With clinched jaw I bit off the purple words that pressed against my puckered lips. I peered down the sandy slope at the pickup. Just 10 minutes away, after we'd hoofed for nearly eight hours in the wilderness.
So close. Yet so far.
My body ached.
Nora the Schnauzer lay flat on the sand with her mouth open and her pink tongue's tip hanging over her front teeth.
What to do?
Leave the device behind and return later to search; chalk it up as lost, like the keys and the ExpoDisk; or backtrack immediately.
I looked at Nora.
She looked at me, possibly with a sigh.
That first 2011 trip into the JDW began on a bright, late April day with the temperature in the mid-30s.
We arrived at the Juniper Dunes Ranch parking area near empty corrals at 8:37 a.m.
With no people or animals around, Nora explored while I set a GPS waypoint (N 46 25.725/W 18 49.516).
Then I shouldered a daypack with 100 ounces of water and ice cubes, a JetBoil stove, hot chocolate, instant coffee, two oranges, four Vanilla Yogurt PowerBars, a nylon sweater, a rain parka, first-aid stuff, Nora's sweater, rain coat and jerky treats.
Along with the Brunton, I carried an etrex Legend GPS unit, a camera, a zoom lens and a close-up lens.
I lugged 25 pounds. At least.
The morning crispness flavored the stark desert beauty with the promise of a wilderness adventure.
We crossed the first dune, angled to the right and tramped southward as a coyote watched us from a grass slope and a spray plane groaned past.
Few flowers bloomed, except for abundant yellow wallflowers, scant yellow bells and a few blue threadleaf phacelias.
I checked the GPS at 2.16 miles (N 46 24.738/W 118 51.132). We had walked (meandered) for one hour, 55 minutes and stopped for one hour, 32 minutes.
I slipped into the rain parka against the chill wind, filled Nora's water cup and lit the stove for coffee/hot chocolate.
Nora and I shared an orange. Then we downed the other one, an energy bar and some jerky. I drank half of the 16 ounces of hot chocolate/coffee from a tight-lidded steel cup and saved half for later.
I stuffed the rain jacket, stove, cup and orange peels into the pack.
We headed southeast toward a tall dune a mile away.
We walked almost straight, except for skirting the steepest dunes.
I checked the GPS again at 3.22 miles (N 46 24.104/W 118 51.003), still half-a-mile from the tall dune. That waypoint measured 2.39 miles as the crow flies from the trailhead.
We rested again. I finished the hot chocolate/coffee, and we shared an energy bar and jerky.
We headed north at 2:48 p.m. at a more consistent pace.
Well, I did drop the pack again and stretch on my belly to focus the macro lens at two colorful yellow bells while Nora lay nearby. We rested for awhile.
I lay down once more to record a nearly blooming sand dock.
Fifteen minutes later, I missed the Brunton ADC Summit.
"Nora, I'm going back," I said. "But you can wait here."
I left the pack beside Nora. As the sun cast my shadow long behind me, I climbed the dune toward it.
Then Nora bounded past, up the slope.
I followed prints left by my newly heel-tapped boots into a grassy patch where I lost them and muddled around for sometime.
I gave up. I'd have to come back another day or chalk the Brunton up as lost.
A few dragging steps later, however, I saw a heel-tap print again, and beyond it lay the Brunton SDC Summit partly covered by sand.
"Yippie!" I exclaimed.
Nora wagged her stubby tail furiously.
Finally, recovering and less perplexed in the truck, I checked the GPS map. We'd been in the wilderness for eight hours, 15 minutes and 7.46 miles.
And we had a two-hour drive ahead of us.
"We're going to be home late again," I said to Nora and unwrapped another energy bar.