Danger lurks for visitors in Death Valley National Park

Drop $4 on an extra case of bottled water. Tell a family member where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

Such tasks seem almost trivial before you hit the road, but under the glare of the Mojave sun, these precautions might just save a life.

Death Valley National Park spokesman Terry Baldino said visitors find all kinds of ways to get themselves in trouble in the Western Hemisphere’s hottest spot, from overextending themselves on trails and roads to ignoring warning signs from the park service and their own bodies.

Often, though, the worst mistakes — the deadly kind — are the ones people make before they ever leave the house.

Baldino said the recent death of Carlos Sanchez serves as a stark reminder of that.

The 11-year-old boy died Wednesday, four days after he and his mother, Alicia Sanchez, became stranded in their vehicle in the park’s remote southwestern corner.

The two set out from Las Vegas with their dog on Aug. 1. Rescuers found the woman, dehydrated and distraught, on Thursday morning.

She remained at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center Saturday afternoon, listed in good condition.

Baldino said had she chosen a less remote place to go, told someone her intended timetable and destination, and packed emergency supplies, the tragedy might have been avoided.

Sanchez brought just enough water for the overnight camping trip they had planned, but not enough to last them more than about two days, Baldino said.

The woman also failed to tell anyone exactly where they planned to camp or for how long. Then she compounded that mistake by choosing to continue driving down a 30-mile stretch of deserted dirt road after using her only spare tire to replace a flat.

The boy was already dead by the time the two were finally reported missing on Wednesday evening by family members in Ohio, who could only offer vague descriptions of widely scattered locations where the pair might have been headed.

The information didn’t narrow things down much, Baldino said.

"We thought, ‘Well, there’s 3 million acres we have to cover.’ We really had not a clue where to start."

Perhaps the biggest mistake Sanchez made was "she tried to get out onto the backcountry roads on her own," Baldino said.

In the summer, some of those roads can go days or even weeks without a single vehicle on them, he said.

That’s why the National Park Service urges visitors to stick to the most heavily traveled roads, where they are likely to get help quickly in the event of trouble.

No one should venture out on a backcountry road without multiple spare tires and "tons of water," Baldino said.

"People don’t really realize how quickly they are dehydrating," he said.

The rangers who patrol the park’s backcountry equip their vehicles with a minimum of two spare tires, a satellite phone and enough water to last two or three days, Baldino said.

Death Valley’s high temperature for the year so far was 128 degrees on July 18. In the teeth of summer, it’s not unusual to have a string of 120-degree days lasting a week or more.

The park’s official weather readings are taken below sea level in one of the hottest parts of the valley, about 120 miles west of Las Vegas.

Sanchez and her son were stranded about 3,000 feet above sea level, where temperatures would have been 10 degrees cooler but far from safe, Baldino said. "It was still in the hundreds and still very dry."

Sanchez did at least one thing exactly right according to the advice given out by the Park Service; when her Jeep Grand Cherokee got stuck in a collapsed animal burrow, she and her son stayed put.

"If she had wandered off, we might have found the vehicle but not her," at least not in time to save her, Baldino said.

People have vanished into the furnace of the Mojave, never to be seen again.

One of the most puzzling cases came in July 1996, during a streak of 120-degree days in Death Valley that stretched on for more than a month.

Four German tourists — a man, a woman and two young boys — followed an abandoned dirt road into a remote valley in the southern part of the park and then vanished.

The only traces they left behind were their rented minivan, a receipt from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, and an entry in a visitor’s log book at an abandoned mining camp.

Thirteen years later, Egbert Rimkus, 34, his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer, 28, his son Georg Weber, 10, and Meyer’s son Max, 4, are still listed as missing.

The spot where their van was found with three of its four tires flat is about 20 miles northwest of where Sanchez and her son were stranded.

"People underestimate the heat," said Joel Southall. "People are too confident in their cars. They think they are safe in there."

Southall should know. He has spent the past two summers in Death Valley, where he works as director of environmental health and safety for the company that runs several hotels and convenience stores in the park.

A big part of his job is to oversee safety training for the company’s roughly 250 summertime employees, including landscapers, engineers and golf course workers whose jobs require them to spend their days outside.

The key is to take it slowly and carefully.

Southall said they try to gradually introduce new employees to the summer heat, rather than just turn them out for an eight-hour day under the punishing sun.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the signs of heat illness in yourself, so employees are trained to watch co-workers and park visitors for symptoms of distress.

Southall said a common mistake visitors make is drinking plenty of water when they get to the park but not enough before they arrive, "so they’re dehydrated before the get here."

And don’t count on your cell phone to save you either. "They don’t work in a lot of the park," Southall said.

Autopsy results are pending, but Carlos Sanchez is thought to be the third person to die from heat-related causes in Death Valley this year.

Despite its name, however, the park is statistically no deadlier than other national parks in the region or across the country.

Baldino said the park averages about one heat-related death and one other death each year.

By comparison, 24 people died last year at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is also managed by the National Park Service. Drowning accounted for nine of the deaths.

So far this year, 16 fatalities have been reported within the 1.5 million-acre recreation area east of Las Vegas, which draws a significantly higher number of visitors annually than Death Valley.

Lake Mead receives about 8 million visitors a year, ten times the number that typically pass through Death Valley.

More than 870,000 people toured Death Valley in 2008. August was the busiest month last year, with almost 115,000 visitors.

Baldino said many foreign tourists prefer to come during the summer because they want to experience the Western Hemisphere’s hottest and lowest point at its most extreme. But many of them are also "pass-through travelers," who stick to the park’s main roads and don’t stay more than a day or two, he said.

"We’re not saying don’t come to Death Valley in the summer," Baldino said. "But when you come in the summer come prepared, and you will do fine."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
UNLV professor cautions dangers of distracted walking
An alarming number of adults do not cross the street safely according to a study conducted by professor Tim Bungum of the School of Community Health Sciences at the UNLV. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas-Review Journal) @brokejournalist
Car left in remote desert 21 years is recovered for late owner's children
Showboat casino blackjack dealer Mark Blackburn died outside of White Hills, Ariz. 21 years ago. His 1980 Datsun B310 wagon remained in the remote desert until a network of volunteers recovered the car for his children. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resort on Mount Charleston Sold for $4.8 million
North Carolina couple and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman have purchased the Resort on Mount Charleston for $4.8 million. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic stop turns into officer-involved shooting
Las Vegas police are investigating after an officer fired a shot at a suspect fleeing a traffic stop early Friday morning. The officer tried to pull over a black Dodge Durango with license plates that belonged to a different vehicle. The driver took off northbound on Lamb Boulevard and at one point crossed into the southbound lanes. A man got out of the car and fled on foot. During the chase, the officer saw something in the man’s hand and fired a single shot, police said. The man wasn’t injured and was later taken into custody. Police could not confirm if the man had a weapon when he was arrested. This is the 9th officer involved shooting of 2018. Per police policy, the identity of the officer will be released after 48 hours. 01:05
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland Five people have been killed and two have been injured in a "targeted attack" at the newspaper, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun. Anne Arundel County deputy police chief Bill Krampf said the suspected gunman entered the building with a shotgun and walked through the lower level of the building, where the newspaper is housed. According to Krampf, the suspect "possibly" had a connection to the paper through social media. The suspect was identified as Jarrod Warren Ramos. Ramos filed a defamation claim in 2012 against the paper but the case was dismissed. He is currently in custody. President Trump was briefed on the events.
Clark County Fire inspects fireworks booths
Clark County Fire Prevention Inspector Amanda Wildermuth talks about inspecting fireworks booths to keep everyone safe on Fourth of July. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Robbery suspects apprehended
Four robbery suspects were taken into custody Thursday morning after a vehicle and foot chase that ended in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. The incident began when a person was robbed at gunpoint around 4:45 a.m. near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn. Officers arriving at the scene tried to stop two vehicles. One vehicle escaped but police chased the second into a neighborhood on Flamingo Road near Mountain Vista Street. Police surrounded the neighborhood and the suspects were apprehended. It looked like one police vehicle was involved in a collision with the suspects' car. One woman suffered an unknown injury and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. 01:04
Las Vegas Monsoon and Flood Season Are Approaching
The Clark County Flood Control District held a press conference to remind the public that monsoon season begins in July and runs through September. The exceptionally rainy season brings with it dangerous flooding events that can put the public in danger. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Garage catches fire in central valley
No one was injured after a detached garage caught fire early Wednesday morning on Lawry Avenue near Lake Mead Boulevard and MLK. Crews from the Las Vegas Fire Department responded to a fire call just after 2 a.m. When they arrived, firefighters had to cut holes in the roof to clear out smoke inside the garage so firefighters could enter safely, The cause of the fire is still under investigation. No injuries were reported.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like