Two men driving in Death Valley National Park on July 4 got lost and illegally drove off-road, the US National Park Service alleges, sending one man to the hospital with heat-related illness.
Charges and fines are pending, NPS said in a news release Tuesday.
“Death Valley is an awe-inspiring place that demands our utmost respect and preparedness,” Superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement. “We urge visitors to exercise caution and adhere to park rules. Don’t drive off established roads; this damages the environment and can turn deadly.”
The pair were navigating by GPS and took a wrong turn in the park, NPS said in the release. After several hours of driving back and forth along a gravel road and becoming worried about running out of gas, they decided around midnight to try to drive directly across the salt flat.
The men’s car got stuck in the mud nearly a mile off the road. The pair walked about another mile to paved Badwater Road, where they walked an additional 12 miles (19 kilometers) north, the Park Service said.
Around 3 a.m., the two split up. One man was picked up around 8 a.m. by other visitors and driven to Furnace Creek to call for help.
The lowest temperature that night was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), NPS said.
The family who picked him up drove back and found the second man and took him to Shoshone, California, NPS said. He was transported by ambulance to Desert View Hospital in Pahrump, Nevada, with symptoms of heat-related illness.
Deadly heat in Death Valley
Two possible heat-related deaths have been reported at the park this summer.
A 65-year-old man was found dead inside his vehicle on July 3, and a 71-year-old man died on July 18 after collapsing outside a restroom as temperatures topped 120 F (50 C).
NPS said a mandatory court appearance was issued to the men involved in the July 4 incident for illegal off-road driving and resulting damage to the park, with charges and fines pending.
“Vehicles that drive offroad can harm plants and animals – such as the desert tortoise – and often leave tracks that can scar the desert for decades,” the NPS news release said.
The men’s vehicle was removed on July 27 using a skid steer in the tracks created by their car to minimize additional damage.
Death Valley must: Road map
The Park Service reminds visitors that there is no cell service in most of the park, and GPS navigation can be unreliable in remote locations such as Death Valley. Visitors should travel with an up-to-date road map.
The park, the largest US National Park outside Alaska, has nearly 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads. The Park Service said it’s safest to stay on paved roads during the summer heat.
The park’s website carries a current warning for extreme summer heat: “Expect high temperatures of 110°F to 120°F+ (43°C to 49°C+). Drink plenty of water and carry extra. Avoid hiking, do not hike after 10 a.m. Travel prepared to survive. In the case of a heat-related illness, get to a cool place and seek help immediately.”