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Against All Odds: Rangers Find Injured Man Crawling Across the Desert at Canyonlands National Park


The area known as the Maze is not a place you'd want to be stranded. NPS photo.

A 64-year-old man from North Carolina was injured in a fall during a solo hike in a remote section of Canyonlands National Park last week. Unable to walk, he faced long odds, since no one was aware of his plans or location. What followed was a tale combining grim determination and alert work by rangers.

The saga began when Amos Richards attempted to hike in and out of Lower Blue John Canyon via the entry and exit route between West and Little Blue John Canyons. During the trip, he fell approximately 10 feet trying to gain the wash bottom, suffering extensive leg trauma in the process.

A serious injury anywhere in this vast expanse of Utah canyon and desert country is always a cause for concern, but Richards was faced with some extra challenges. The location of his mishap was near an area known as the Maze District, which is described as "the least accessible district of Canyonlands. Due to the district's remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires more time, as well as a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze, and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip."

Richard's injuries were serious enough that he couldn't bear weight on his right leg, but he was hiking alone, and no one else was aware of his plans or his location. As a result, it was unlikely that anyone would be aware of his plight and began a search. In a remarkable tale of determination, Richards began crawling back across the rough desert terrain in an attempt to reach his vehicle.

His grueling effort would last for the next three nights and four days. The hiker reportedly had no overnight gear, warm clothes or a map, and it rained on him several times during his crawl. The only good news may have saved his life: he had taken five liters of water and two power bars with him on his hike.

This was a situation that could easily have ended sadly, but Richard's prospects began to improve when rangers in the park's Island in the Sky District noticed that a campsite in the Willow Flat campground appeared to be unoccupied and abandoned.

That campground is many a lonely mile from Richard's location in the Maze, but investigation by the rangers led them to believe the visitor may have headed for that vicinity.

A search was begun and Richards was spotted from a helicopter in the area of Little Blue John Canyon, just outside the park’s boundary. The victim was flown to Moab Regional Hospital, where he was treated for leg fractures, internal injuries, trauma, and dehydration.

A park spokesperson says Richards is expected to make a full recovery.


How many hikers have to be injured, lost or dead before other hikers wake up and understand that everytime they hike alone they are in great danger.  Did this gentleman learn nothing from the other hiker who lost his arm to save his life? 

I am glad for his sake and his family's sake that his story has a happy ending! It could just as easily have gone the other way! Hiking with someone else may not prevent a severe accident or even death but it can make all the difference in rescue and recovery for the family that anxiously waits for news!

I have no problem with people hiking alone but for God's sake, leave a "float plan" with someone! 

I agree!

Hiking alone is ok..and rewarding, but at least write down the general area where you plan to explore, when you expect to be back, and leave your plan with someone who'll follow up if you don't happen to return on schedule.

Leave a note of your intended hike/duration/date on your dashboard and another note in your tent. HIking alone is a pleasure and a responsibility. Just be smart.

People always say "Don't hike alone!" "Don't hike alone!" I hike alone all the time. I have no choice. I've never found a significant other and my friends can't afford to travel. What am I supposed to do? Sit home and let life pass me by? I'm hiking alone, and so be it.  I'm not stupid though; I do bring supplies: The loudest production whistle available, bear spray and/or a sidearm where necessary, high energy food, a couple knives, a Leatherman, redundant GPS capability, water purification, and twice as much water as I expect to need. I'll take my chances.

I guess he never read the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, or saw 127 Hours, either.  This was the same canyon that Ralston was trapped in for five days.

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