ST. GEORGE, Utah – Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service law enforcement rangers’ knowledge of the remote, rugged Arizona backcountry – coupled with a solid relationship with the Mohave County Arizona Sheriff’s Office – led to the successful rescue and reunification of a family of five who became stranded in mud and snow in the Arizona strip last week.
If the county deputy and BLM and NPS rangers did not have the positive relationship they have or worked together consistently to cover these remote areas, the incident could have had a much different outcome.
“This rescue, which occurred in one of the most remote areas in the continental United States, is a testament to the professionalism and teamwork of BLM and NPS law enforcement, and their close collaboration with local law enforcement authorities. Getting lost and stranded in the backcountry in cold weather like this could have proven disastrous, and we’re thankful that the family involved was rescued without any injuries or loss of life,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley.
On Jan. 6 at approximately 7 p.m., the dispatch center for Mohave County received a 911 call from a Colorado man who said that he and his family were stranded in a remote location south of St. George, Utah. The man and his family, attempting to see the Grand Canyon on their way home from a California vacation, became stuck after a smartphone mapping application erroneously routed them onto unpaved backcountry roads on the Arizona Strip. The family had traveled 30-40 miles into the backcountry before their SUV became stuck in deep mud, clay and snow at 7,500 feet.
Due to spotty cellular reception in such a remote area the man was unable to provide dispatch with accurate coordinates to their location. After several attempts to extract their SUV from the deeply rutted road, the father and teenage son decided to set out on foot to find help, leaving the wife and two younger children behind to take shelter in the vehicle. With rapidly dwindling power on their phone, father and son covered 20 miles that night searching for a cellular connection while attempting to find their way back to town.
When he next got cellular reception, the man was connected directly to Mohave County Deputy Jeff Davis, who quickly connected with BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Jason Bulkley. “We’re pretty good friends so he knew I was coming in. He rushed over to the office and we came up with a game plan,” said Bulkley, who was already preparing for a routine patrol of the nearby Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument with NPS Park Ranger Brice Provost. “We know the area and have the equipment to get out to locations like that. I knew that time was of the essence, with temperatures dropping below freezing.”
Davis, Bulkley and Provost were able to speak with the lost man and determine that he and his son were located near Lime Kiln Canyon on the Arizona Strip. The two rangers rushed down to Lime Kiln, while Davis contacted fellow Mohave County Deputy Paul Karsky, who was in Mesquite, Nevada closest to the lost man’s location. With Bulkley and Provost close behind, Karsky reached the two men and got them into the vehicle to warm them up.
“They were actually pretty lucky. They weren’t prepared for the conditions, and this time of year there are very few people out there,” said Bulkley. “The father and the son, what they did was pretty miraculous. I don’t know how they did it.”
Bulkley determined the man’s wife and children were probably on Black Rock Mountain between Cougar Spring and Maple Canyon. “Luckily Jason knew the area he thought they would be in from past experience,” said Provost.
As Karsky drove the father and son to Mesquite, offering to take them to receive medical treatment, Bulkley and Provost raced toward Black Rock Mountain, where they were able to pick up the footprints of the man and his son and track them back to the vehicle, where they found the rest of the family – tired and dehydrated – but in good health. “Thoughts of my family were on my mind, my kids, my wife, how scary it probably would be for them,” Bulkley said. “We were definitely concerned about their well-being when we pulled up. It was a rough, cold night, so it was a huge relief to know that they were alive and well.”
The rangers treated the family for dehydration, provided food and reassured them that the father and son were safe – of great relief to the mother. “I could see relief on her face that the rest of her family had made it okay,” said Provost. “It’s why we all do the job—to be able to help people.” For Bulkley the reward of a job well done is the same. “That I could be the one to put those fears aside and help them get out of there is an awesome feeling,” he said.
The incident is just one of many examples of interagency cooperation between county and federal officers that has resulted in numerous successful search and rescue missions, as well as the detection of criminal activity on the Arizona Strip, according to Lt. Taylor Nelson with the Mohave County Sheriff’s office.
“The Arizona Strip in Mohave County is a remote area—law enforcement officers working on the Strip find themselves working in rugged conditions, over extended distances,” said Nelson. “I’m grateful for the positive working relationship of the involved agencies and appreciate the dedication of all law enforcement officers on the Strip, county, state or federal.”
“The partnership we have with the BLM, that’s what makes a search like this so successful. Without each other this wouldn’t have happened like it did,” said Provost.