NEAR SAGUARO LAKE TURNOFF -- Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies are investigating the discovery of what appeared to be explosives in the desert off the Beeline Highway and a map that led deputies to a box containing a handgun at a second location.
The initial call reporting what looked like grenades, C-4 and detonation cords in an ammo can came in late Monday night, according to MCSO spokesman Brandon Jones. Hikers stumbled upon the grenades a day after finding a canister full of ammunition.
Deputies responded to the area off milepost 208 on the Beeline Highway (State Route 87 to Payson), which is about five or six miles north of the Saguaro Lake Turnoff northeast of Fountain Hills.
Scouring the desert, which, according to Jones, is a popular shooting area, deputies discovered 7 ammunition cans in 7 different locations. Most of them had explosive devices in them including grenades. They also found others 2 hand guns.
"There was ammunition. There appeared to be grenades inside," said Sgt. Brandon Jones with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "When I say 'appeared to be' I don't know for sure that they were in fact grenades. They did appear very close to resemble and grenades. There was additional explosives that we don't know what they were."
"These ammo cans weren't laying out," said Capt. John Kleinheinz with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "The were stuck in between large rocks and crevasses."
The note turned out to be an inventory list, and deputies are now checking the contents of those seven boxes against the inventory list.
As for the map, after further investigation, deputies confirmed that although some of the marking led to ammunition box locations, it is believed that most of the markins on the map were target shooting locations. This was confirmed by the bullet marks on the boulders identified on the map.
Jones said the grenades were detonated Monday night as a precaution, a standard procedure he described as "rendering them safe."
That area of the Tonto National Forest was closed Tuesday while investigators conducted their search.
"But in that instance once we leave, if somebody does come back out here and hikes an finds something else they need to leave it alone and call us so we can come back out and deal with it," said Sgt. Jones.
Bruce Haffner was near the original scene in the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper at about 9:30 a.m., but was not permitted to fly directly over it. His video showed several deputies scouring the desert about two miles from the highway.
When asked if he thought somebody had deliberately placed the explosives for whatever reason, Jones responded by saying he did not believe the situation had any ties to terrorism.
"As of now it is not yet known who or why someone would place these devices, guns and ammunition," Jones wrote.
Jones said the FBI, ATF and officials with the Tonto National Forest are assisting with the investigation.
The search operation had the Great Western Trail closed. The Beeline Highway, however, remained open.
The Great Western Trail is a 3,000-mile shared-use back-country route that runs from Mexico up to Canada. About 800 miles of it is in Arizona. The terrain along the Arizona portion is rugged, which makes any search challenging.