Tourists get lost following GPS in Death Valley – then try to drive through salt flat

The two men got lost in Death Valley National Park on July 4, the National Park Service said in an Aug 1 news release. — Photo by Christoph Krichenbauer on Unsplash

Tourists following a GPS made a wrong turn in a California park and tried to drive through salt flats while lost, park officials said.

The two men got lost in Death Valley National Park on July 4, the National Park Service said in an Aug 1 news release.

They drove back and forth on a gravel road for three hours after making a wrong turn onto West Side Road, park officials said.

Then at midnight, they decided to illegally drive across a salt flat to Badwater Road because they were worried about running out of gas, officials said.

The car got stuck less than a mile away, so the men walked a mile to Badwater Road, then 12 miles along another road, officials said.

At 3am, the two men went separate ways until one was picked up by park visitors at about 8am.

The park visitors then found the second man – who was showing signs of a heat-related illness – and took him to a hospital in Pahrump, Nevada, officials said. Temperatures reached a low of 90 degrees on July 5, according to AccuWeather.

A towing company used a skid steer machine to remove the car from the desert three weeks later, park officials said. The tow operators drove in the same tracks to avoid more damage to the sand flats.

Illegal to drive off-road in Death Valley park

There are 200 square miles of salt flats in the Badwater Basin part of the park. Salt flats are fragile and include “delicate crystals” that can be easily crushed to a muddy layer, according to the National Park Service.

Because of this, driving off-road in the park is illegal. It can damage plants, hurt animals and scar the desert for many years, officials said.

And “it could have cost their lives,” officials said.

Both men were issued a “mandatory court appearance for illegal off-road driving and the resulting damage to the park,” officials said. They could face charges and fines.

“Death Valley is an awe-inspiring place that demands our utmost respect and preparedness,” park superintendent Mike Reynolds said in the release. “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.”

Park visitors should travel with a physical map because there isn’t cell service in most parts of the park and GPS can be unreliable, officials said.

They also advised visitors to stay on paved roads. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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