It’s dark, below freezing. The heavy crunch of boots mingles with the distant howls of coyotes. As the sun rises over the Mojave Desert, the Red Rock Search and Rescue team crests the hill...
Backs aching under the weight of their packs, headlamps sweeping the ground in stilted rhythm with their steps. Their faces are drawn, serious—they’ve been at this for days—but there’s a camaraderie, a quiet kinship that’s hard to deny.
Withstanding murderous heat and treacherous cold, the Red Rock Search and Rescue team of Las Vegas Nevada is on the move, often staying out for a week or more at a time. On foot, by ATV, in Jeeps through the lunar landscape of sand, rocks, and parched, yawning desert, they search.
They’re looking for missing hikers, for people with medical conditions, even for trafficked youth. If these people are lucky they’ll be rescued. Sometimes it’s too late. “We have couple of cadaver dogs,” says Anthony Peterson of Red Rock Search and Rescue. “Sometimes people are taken, buried out there in the desert. The police here don’t have cadaver dogs. We bring back their bodies when they can't”.
In conditions this harsh, team members watch each other for heatstroke, and on every mission each carries a 24-hour survival pack, in case they get separated from the squad.
What drives them? These are not weekend warriors. These are highly trained, surgically specialized search and rescue operatives. Just the core team alone has training in tracking that offers insights into every scuff mark and broken branch, reveals the significance of a heavy tread, or signs a subject stumbled or fell along their way. They learn advanced land navigation techniques, gain amateur radio certification, train in wilderness first aid, CPR and deployment of Automated External Defibrillators in the field.
Then there are the specialist teams. The wilderness and urban bike teams are deployed for speed, sweeping neighborhoods, conducting reconnaissance and delivering vital information, supplies and evidence. The 4X4 team utilizes defensive driving skills to access restricted areas such as canyons, conquering rugged terrain in often-violent weather. There are ATV teams, equestrian teams, and the K9’s.
“For us, it has to be quality gear. It needs to be something any member of the team can easily use, and it has to work every time. Literally, lives depend on it”
When KONG offered to sponsor missions with made in the USA military grade coolers, Red Rock SAR members jumped at the opportunity.
In a way, KONG and Red Rock SAR share an origin story. KONG engineers cut their teeth building coolers for icy Alaskan crabbing ships. Red Rock SAR thrives in the high desert, with below freezing winters and summers topping 120 degrees. Both feel they’ve paid their dues in some of the harshest environments on earth.
“In the high desert, it’s all extremes,” says Anthony. “We’re out there, 50, maybe 70 miles away from the nearest town. The area’s rugged. Just desert, rock, cactus, you name it. So we can’t be gentle with our gear. It has to stand up, period. For us, it has to be quality gear. It needs to be something any member of the team can easily use, and it has to work every time. Literally, lives depend on it". Made for Americans by Americans, KONG was born to help you survive inhospitable places.
Red Rock SAR was born five years ago, when Las Vegas Metro Search & Rescue exhausted its resources searching for missing hiker, Ron Kirk, in Red Rock Canyon. When Metro called off the search the community rallied and, after months of searching, Ron’s body was found. Now boasting 200-plus members and covering an area spanning Southern Nevada, Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, and Southern California, Red Rock Search and Rescue is here to stay. “I wish I could say we don’t do this or that” Anthony says, “but we’re actually willing to go wherever the need is”.
That need extends beyond field work and into community training. Red Rock SAR is one of the only organizations in America certified to deliver Search and Rescue Technician training at the highest level. The team also runs online training in psychological first aid, putting the student in the role of rescuer during post-disaster scenarios, and offers support services for family members of the lost and missing, and for Red Rock SAR rescuers themselves.
“It’s a tough job,” Anthony explains. “Our team members risk being injured or lost in harsh environments, they recover bodies, see things no one should have to see. Sometimes they suffer post-traumatic stress.” Yes, it’s tough, but they are committed, collectively spending 35,000 hours annually on search and rescue, funding their own transportation, training and even buying their own equipment.
“It’s often a simple search and rescue. Occasionally it’s technical—there’s a cave in, or someone’s gone over a cliff side. We do medical rehab after every search, take everyone’s body temperature, make sure they’re not suffering from heat stroke. Since KONG came on board we’ve been able to keep a lot of ice, gel packs to make rehab a lot faster. We can carry more water, keep it cool. We’ve got more resources on hand. Being out in the desert, being 120 degrees, there’s only so much water you can carry in your pack,” Anthony says.
From urgent rescues to highly technical forensic work and even cold cases, the Red Rock Search and Rescue team appears to have seen everything. So, are there still surprises? Anthony says there are. “Sometimes on a mission, we’ll be looking for someone—a hiker, say—and we might come across someone else, stranded or injured. In winter it’s about food storage, in summer it’s water and ice we need. When we find someone, even if it’s not them we came for, we need supplies on hand to help them.” Sometimes it’s the rescue subject that’s surprised. “Heatstroke kills people every summer, and folks don’t even realize they’re having it until it’s too late,” Anthony says.
Red Rock SAR calls itself a good Samaritan organization, and people talk about the compassion of the Red Rock team, about their willingness to make people feel safe. The striking thing about the team members is their humility. Despite carrying the circumstances, risking their lives to find the lost and bring back the remains of others’ loved ones, it’s their gratitude that shines through. “Red Rock is 100% volunteers,” he says. “The vast majority of gear we carry, we buy ourselves. When people like KONG step forward to donate gear we rely on, that’s what keeps us going. It helps us to be as successful as we are.”
The landscape is unforgiving but the heroes of Red Rock Search and Rescue lead with their hearts.