Death Valley bones may be missing German tourists
(AP) – November 16, 2009
Here are some excerpts from the newspaper story and what I think may have happened:
They had arrived in the United States earlier in the month and were touring in a Plymouth Voyager minivan rented in Los Angeles.
The minivan would have limited ground clearance for off-road travel. Certainly not the best choice for back country adventures.
An entry in German and dated July 23, 1996, was left in a guest book kept in a box on a metal pole in an abandoned mining camp. It indicated the visitors were going through "the pass" — possibly a reference to Mengel Pass, a dirt trail that crosses the barren Panamint Range, a barren mountain range on the park's southwestern border.
Driving the minivan, they took Warm Springs Road into Butte Valley. As I recall, there is a guest book on a metal pole at the abandoned Talc Mine located at Warm Springs.
On Oct. 23, the locked van was found mired in sand in a ravine off roadless Anvil Spring Canyon, amid rolling hills at an elevation of 3,000 feet and far from usual tourists routes. Three tires were shredded and one had come loose from the rim.
I think they tried to leave Butte Valley via Mengel Pass and realized they couldn’t do it in the minivan. The minivan would not have had adequate ground clearance.
On our first visit to the Geologist’s Cabin, back in the 1970s, we were in the same situation. We were driving a Datsun 2WD truck and simply couldn’t get over Mengel Pass with our limited ground clearance. We had to go all the way back down Warm Springs Road and then through Death Valley to get back home.
Once the German tourists discovered they couldn’t get over “the pass,” the only way out would be the Warm Springs Road route they came in on. They may have gotten confused and started down Anvil Spring Canyon, thinking it was the road back to Warm Springs, or they may have thought they found another way back to Death Valley.
When the minivan became disabled, they must have decided to try getting out on foot over Mengel Pass and down Goler Wash to Panamint Valley.
It’s too bad they just didn’t head back to one of the shelters in Butte Valley. The Geologist’s Cabin, Anderson Camp and Russell Camp were all within walking distance. Each has a year-around water supply provided by natural springs. Additionally, all are stocked with provisions. Visitors usually leave behind some extra canned goods and other items to eat – just in case of such an emergency. At least they could have rested up, maybe had something to eat, and considered what to do. However, given the extreme temperatures in the middle of July, they probably weren’t thinking very clearly.
Had even one of them been able to make it to the Briggs Mine, help would have been available. The mine was active in 1996 and there were a number of employees working there around the clock.
The remains were found southeast of Goler Wash, a rugged area accessible only by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The area is several miles south of the spot where an abandoned minivan the tourists had rented was found months after they were reported missing.
I am curious about the exact location of the remains. “Southeast of Goler Wash” is somewhat vague. I just estimated, for now, where they might have ended up.
When the investigation is concluded and the results are finally published, we may learn more about what happened to these unfortunate visitors who underestimated the unforgiving desert and paid with their lives.
In the meantime, like they used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there!”