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GPS Unit Leads Couple Into Trouble Near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area


GPS units aren't always aware of backcountry road conditions.

Sometimes that GPS unit doesn't know that you can't get from here to there. A Pennsylvania couple in their 60s learned that the hard way when they tried to take a backroad in southern Utah.

The couple apparently left Big Water, an eye-blink-sized town just west of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with hopes of negotiating the Smoky Mountain Road all the way to Escalante. The GPS unit in their two-wheel-drive rental sedan told them it was doable. However, 45 miles down the road, which is decidedly rough and rugged and suited for four-wheel-drive rigs with decent ground clearance, the couple ripped the oil pan off their rental and seized the engine.

This happened in late May. After four days out in daytime temperatures that reached the high 80s with only a few bottles of water and soda with them the couple was spotted by a dirt-biker rider, who summoned help with his cellphone.

NRA rangers called on Classic Lifeguard for assistance, and the company launched two helicopters from Page to fly the couple out. They were extremely dehydrated and were kept at the hospital overnight for observation.

According to rangers, the couple never stopped at any of the various visitor centers to ask for information, nor did they did turn back when they came upon signs on this backcountry road that said the road was impassable. Rangers say that if they hadn’t encountered the person on the dirt bike, it’s likely that they would have perished.

According to acting District Ranger Eric Scott, rangers are increasingly dealing with visitors who rely on navigation systems that may provide misleading information, often with tragic results. While navigation systems such as GPS units can be fine tools, nothing can replace up-to-date information from informed personnel as well as using common sense when out in remote areas. (emphasis added.)


Oh my goodness. While I am glad that this story had a happy ending, it really brings to light the need to not become totally dependent on technology.

Years ago our GPS unit (one of the first on the market because I married a technology geek) told us that we could take Mosquito Pass, near Leadville, Colorado, as a real travel route for the average driver. Having climbed Mosquito Pass, which is a difficult 4 wheel drive road at best, in a fully equipped Jeep, we laughed and laughed at the GPS unit and thought that surely no one could mistake Mosquito Pass for a regular road and attempt it in anything but an off road equipped vechile with an experienced driver. Well... if someone would try the Smokey Mountain Road... I hate to think how many rental cars have died on Mosquito Pass.

Don't blindly trust technology, it is only as knowledgable as it's programmer.

I'm also glad that this story has a happy ending. But it is beyond my wildest imagination that people will venture FAR off the beaten path with NO preparation. Hopefully their near-disaster will be a valuable lesson to others!

I have one of the earliest Motorola handhelds with the mounting unit for the roof of the Jeep Wrangler ($1,200 if that tells you how old it is) and even with topo maps find that GPS is good for getting into trouble or documenting where to send the coroner for people with no common sense. Have rescued two such individuals and one had shot his own foot off while hunting. Nothing to signal with and no first aid. His buddy just happened to find him and I carry LOTS of first aid gear and bolt cutters for wilderness gates. Mans life was saved because you don't go into dangerous areas depending on rental cars and gadgets. I did take the coordinates with my GPS since I was there! Engraved it on my Campmor S/S cup for another trail memory.

Beyond civilization you have to think for your own. No navigation tools can do that for you. But with a GPS unit at least you know exactly where you are dying.

Unfortunately, we will likely read more similar stories in the future. People are increasingly using GPS navigation technology. The technology is quite reliable, so it is easy for users to let their guard down. But an inevitable map error, combined with a driver who is not using her or his better judgement at the moment, may result in a traffic fine, traffic collision, and sometimes even much worse.

The problem is not going to go away.

Police urge motorists to use maps instead of GPS

I'm glad this story has a happy ending.

Its also worth advising people to not just ask once about backcountry roads, but to get "second opinions" from multiple sources, and even then, still travel fully prepared and constantly observe your surroundings and exercise sound judgement as you observe the conditions around you.

More than once, I've had a Ranger from one of the Federal land management agencies tell me that I would have "no problem" with a backcountry road, only to still find the experience quite tricky and difficult.

Road conditions change often, and there is just no substitute for your own common sense.

There's nothing quite like a happy ending. But this is exactly the type of incident that is going to propagate as technology savvy rookies venture into the real world guided by electronics instead of preparing with advance research. The more techy gadgets we give people, the less they tend to actually think for themselves, somehow figuring that the gadget knows more about conditions that the local sinage, info / tourist centers, and local patrons. Lucky only begins to describe this couple. Those washboard roads are difficult enough at 20 MPH when dry and the path is somewhat visible, let alone after they wash out in a storm, or when the temps climb into the 100's and your engine overheats. Makes you wonder why they had water and nothing else.........

I wonder the same thing Lone Hiker. You wouldn't believe the number of people I've met on the trail, miles from the trailhead, who are wearing sneakers and carrying a cellphone in one hand and bottle of water in the other and nothing else. No pack, no compass, no chart, nothing. Amazing.

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