"Two people have been found dead after their car apparently became stranded in the Southern California desert, where temperatures have topped 100 degrees," begins a story reported in the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday.
The story link is here: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi…
(Hat tip to fellow TripAdvisor contributor Frisco_Roadrunner, a profligate and helpful member often found in the Death Valley National Park forums.)
Now some personal words from me about this story: as a native of the Mojave Desert, born and raised, stories like this are regrettable. These two deaths were preventable.
Actions that can lead to death/automotive: not having the automobile filled with sufficient fuel. Not having the coolant/antifreeze changed according to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. Not checking over and replacing on a regular basis all the rubber drive belts on the engine. Not attending to other necessary maintenance of the vehicle, such as tires (with tread, in good condition, and filled with enough air), regular tune ups (spark plugs wear out and need replacement) and replacing the fuel filter. You get the drift. Regular maintenance of your car ensures a safe driving experience, especially when venturing out from civilization and entering a desert National Park. If in doubt as to your car's condition, don't drive it. Get a rental car for your travels, which is new or at least newer and generally in excellent mechanical condition. The life you save may be your own.
Actions that can lead to death/humanly speaking: not carrying enough water on your journey. I personally carry a flat of water (24 six ounce bottles) from the supermarket in my trunk as I drive my car. Water is your primary lifesaver. You can do without food for a day or two, but water is more critical. ALWAYS have enough water on hand.
What to do:
Stay together when in a situation where your car breaks down in the desert. Stay on a main road or roads. STAY IN YOUR CAR even if you are in the offroad area. Public safety officers use helicopters to search when needed, and it's easier to view a car from the air than a person. The car is larger. The easier it is for park rangers, public safety folks or other travelers to see you, the sooner help may come. It is reasonable to think that the woman in this story became delirious and wandered away, thinking her walking away would produce help and assistance for them. The opposite is true.
Carry some long wood two inches wide by four inches long (two by fours in the hardware store vernacular). These are for placing under the tires should you ever get stuck in sand. A shovel would also be a good tool to carry with you as well for moving sand away from the drive wheels, etc.. Believe me, I know one person who would have likely died with his friends in the Mojave Desert if they had not had these items. They were on a filming shoot on location, and knew the perils, but didn't know it was going to happen to *them* until it did. Learn from them. . .
Measures to take before visiting a place such as Joshua Tree National Park: you can rely on GPS devices, but in my experience paper maps are the way to go. I have found the Thomas Guide maps to be excellent and accurate. GPS info can be programmed with errors. Garbage in, garbage out. You know the saying. . . .
Don't rely on cell phones to bail you out should you get stuck. Just because you have a cell phone doesn't mean it - and you - will be within range of a cellular tower. It may also malfunction on you. Technology is only as good as what people can make it to be. I have yet to see perfect technology, just as I have yet to see a perfect human. I know I'm not perfect by any means! Sooooo. . . . have a plan for your travels in the park, and *let someone know* of your specific travels and times, especially expected time of return. That way, should they not receive a call from you, they know to send help to look for you. You will be grateful should that need arise.
I'll leave you with this true story from circa 1994: a man and his wife were driving west of what is now called Primm, Nevada one summer day. They could see Whiskey Pete's hotel/casino a few miles away at the point they ran out of gas. Coasting downhill was not the answer. . . the hill was not uniformly down, but also level and even up.
So the man left his wife in the car. Having no water in the car or on his person, he walked towards Whiskey Pete's in the hot sun whose heat that day soared over 100 degrees.
He never made it. He died in the desert before he even came close to Whiskey Pete's. The wife died in her car, waiting for her husband.