Nightmare in Death Valley

in travel •  2 years ago

A parent’s worst nightmare, if you could even guess that what I’m about to tell you happened. I wrote this right after the incident two years ago.

Let me begin by saying I wasn't too wasn’t too keen on the trip to begin with. But after divorce, the powers that be spell out visitation, so there you have it. Now back to April, 2014:

Last week, my ex husband took two of my children to Death Valley for a spring break camping trip. On the day before they were to return home, I got a call from a ranger saying that there had been an accident; their father suffered severe heatstroke out in the Panamint Dunes and had to be emergency air lifted to a hospital in Las Vegas. This had been an all day hike, beginning around 7 a.m. Panamint Valley is an extremely isolated place. I've been there. It's far off the beaten path. Reception? Forget it. The dirt road to the dunes is even more remote, about 30 minutes off the main highway. It was here that their dad collapsed about 500 feet short of the truck, unconscious. My son and daughter, who were two of my 14-year-old triplets, could not revive him. They had to make a brave decision to drive those 30 minutes out to the main road though they had never driven before. It took 40 minutes just to figure out how to get the truck in reverse. My son had to drive through the sand at 60 to 80 mph (according to my daughter) just to begin to try and find someone who might stop. Luckily, they managed to flag down a Danish couple traveling in an RV, and the husband drove back off road with my son to retrieve their dad. After all this time had passed, they were almost sure he was dead. For over a half hour this was what he was thinking while with a complete stranger, frantically trying to beat the clock with a shred of hope that he would still be alive. Eventually they found him (it took a while), still unconscious and fully exposed to the blazing elements. The two of them managed to drag him back to the car and finally return to the highway. Another car had earlier alerted the ranger when the RV initially stopped. My daughter was with the wife and her baby for two hours while her husband and my son struggled to retrieve and revive their dying father. The ambulance came and somehow managed to stabilize him. He could not remember his name or why he was in the desert. So the decision was made to get him to a hospital in Las Vegas as soon as possible, and that would require a medevac helicopter.

The road to nowhere See those dunes in the distance? That's where they were going.

The rangers looked after my children and did everything in their power to keep them occupied and distracted until I could be reached. They got a behind the scenes tour of forest service living quarters, fed them, and played volleyball until I could get there. I took off at 8 p.m. that Wednesday night and arrived at 1 a.m. I had come down with an excruciating migraine earlier that afternoon, and felt sick as all get out. My husband had offered to go, but no way. I had been to Death Valley, land of the forsaken, and they needed me. The three-hour drive to Baker was tolerable in a strange way. My mind was occupied with traffic hightailing it on route 15 to Vegas as well as the many ways I was planning on ripping my ex a new one. It was the two-hour ghost drive on a lone rode into the park that had me on edge. Mine was the only car - no lights except for my headlights, which reflected off every flying insect, bird or bat, that was out at this ungodly hour. I prayed I wouldn't hit any coyotes or other creatures of the night as I forged through the barren landscape. I could have been on the moon. When I finally pulled into the campsite after descending the last winding stretch into the valley itself, the kids were asleep in their tent with the two rangers standing guard on their truck next to them. Only then was I filled in on the gravity of the situation.

I had no idea my son had driven until this time. My children could have easily perished along with their father. But they knew the right thing to do and got help. It was a miracle to say the least. It got much worse. Apparently, the kids had had no food that morning, as it would waste time to prepare and eat breakfast if they were to start the hike before the worst heat of the day. Their father fueled up on coffee and Adderall (his combination to achieve enlightenment). Any fool could tell you those two together could be a lethal cocktail in 100 + degree heat. I knew he took meds for depression, but the paramedics found the bottle of pills on him. For what? Recreation? He jeopardized my children's lives with his reckless decisions. And this – he had the audacity to drink the kids’ water during the first part of the hike leaving them with none. Coffee + Adderall – food + heat = excessive dehydration and poor judgment.

A mere “accident?” If someone risks the lives of my children with stupidity, you can bet I will lose my shit. You can’t forgive that kind of carelessness.

As it was, he was in the hospital for nine days with severe kidney failure resulting from the heatstroke. If your pee is brown, you know it’s bad. His cell phone was lost in the dunes so we had no way of checking on him – we didn’t know what hospital he had been taken to. Honestly, at that point, I couldn’t care less. The paramedic called me the next day to ask questions about his medication and give an update on his whereabouts. He believed 100% that the excessive Adderall in his system under those conditions contributed to his collapse.

The irony here is that my ex husband had wanted to take the kids out there in the first place to show them where he wanted his ashes scattered. To this day he is convinced it could have happened to anyone and denies all responsibility for putting my children’s lives at risk.

My kids are fine. They pulled through relatively unscathed. Me? That’s a different story.

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Wow. Sorry you went through this. I am glad your kids are okay.


Thanks. I think it took 20 years off my life