A holiday week can mean bigger than normal crowds at national parks, and Joshua Tree, which has been growing in popularity over the past several years, is no exception. The park's nine campgrounds have been at capacity since December 23 (four of them have over 100 sites), vehicles were backed up for a mile outside the park's west entrance the day before Christmas, and search and rescue operations noticeably ticked up this week.
It makes sense that with increased visitor numbers come increased injuries and missing hikers, but it doesn't have to be that way. "People are not neccesarily being as safe as they could be," Lorna Shuman, a park spokesperson, told me. She explained that some visitors are not thinking through the dangers the outdoors has in store for them. They're not realizing that when climbing rocks that you can slip and fall, they're not carrying the proper gear for the recreational activity they're doing, and they're not thinking,"Oh, it's getting close to sunset, maybe I should bring a flashlight, or not do this."
On Wednesday evening, Shuman explained that park rangers got a call from a family who had a member that went for a hike on the Westside Loop Trail and didn't come back before dark. Luckily he had cell service and had also called for help. Rangers were dispatched to find him and all was well. But it's stories like these that serve as a reminder to pay attention to time of sunset and to remember to always carry a flashlight, even if you don't intend hike past dark.
Earlier that afternoon, according to Shuman, rangers spent five hours on a rescue in the Hemmingway Buttress area where a 20-year-old who was climbing -- hooked into a harness and all -- had slipped, fallen six feet, and became wedged in a crevice 100 feet above the ground. All while not wearing a helmet. The climber was airlifted to a local hospital where she was released this morning with no serious injuries, save for head and hip complaints.
Those were the worst two of the week, but rangers were still kept busy on Monday and Tuesday attending to people who had fallen while rock scrambling.
Getting lost or injured can happen to the best of us, but most of the time, it's avoidable. Learn from the mistakes of others so it doesn't happen to you.