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.

Solo hikers: Wear dog tags which will identify the body.

Nonsense, I've hiked, canoed, kayaked, and overnight backpacked on extended trips alone, and in 40 years of doing so never had a situation that I would consider even a close call. Being prepared, and leaving plenty of safety margin in every decision, is key. I'll bet if I could see where he fell, I would tell you I would have walked away from that descent if alone.
But saying don't hike alone is nonsense. Don't hike alone foolishly is better.

Hiking alone is not the problem. It is people who fail to plan for problems that might occur. SPOT now has the ability to send a gps signal when you have an emergency. Carrying one of these he would have had help quickly. Absent that the tried and true method of telling someone where you are going and when you will be back so they can alert authorities if you don't show up on time works too.

Hiking alone is a pleasure and we should never discourage it.

in todays day and age the technology is out there and its cheap enough that if you want to travel alone at least carry a gps or a alert beacon or something. I am happy he is alive , but he [should have been] properly prepared for a hike.

I have no problem with the man hiking alone. The problem I see, as Jim's article reports is "no one else was aware of his plans or his location, no overnight gear, warm clothes or a map". I am glad the story has a happy ending.

[This comment was edited to remove a gratuitous remark. Ed.]

During my last visit to the Bluejohn area in April 2011 I discovered they had added a cell phone tower that allowed cellular access at both the Horeshoe Canyon trailhead and the Maze Ranger Station at Hans Flat. I wonder why he was unable to contact anyone with his cell phone, or if he even took one?

Otherwise, that area is NOT a place for a single hiker! It is so easy to sit at the trailhead and ask other hikers if you can "tag along" if necessary. Horseshoe also has guided rangers in the canyon on the weekends. PLEASE be careful out there!

I made several 50 Mile solo hiking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, traveling light I often times carried the bare minimum needed to survive. But I grew up in the mountains and learned what is edible and what will result in my becoming condor food. Always made sure I had a water filter, warm clothing and a mylar space blanket, my K-Bar knife, fish line, hooks .22 caliber pistol and a ham radio so I could call for help. Most important I told people what I was doing and where and how long I would be hiking.

"In a remarkable tale of determination"... The only thing remarkable is his lack of good judgment. On second thought, because people do this sort of thing so often, I guess it isn't really all that remarkable. (Ed. note: this comment has been edited slightly to remove a gratuitous remark.)

Good thing the search costs didn't amount to too much. I can see how too many people this could bankrupt the state park system. Of course tea partiers would just say "leave them out there to die, problem solved", but the rest of us would like to think that two and a half world wars has taught mankind something...
P.S. Nothing here is "gratuitous" so no need to edit ;-).

It's good to hear about people going for it. Self sufficiency is aa blessed feeling as is crawling your way to help. Its a shame they had to pull out the helicopter when he was obviously on his way out anyway. Getting 'picked off' is never a good ending to a trip story but at least he tried. Congrats!

To some people it is worth the risk. Not everyone cares to live in a pampbered bubble of surburban coddling. Clearly this man could handle himself, unlike 90% of people who have no survival instinct whatsoever.

I was reading about this in a UK news site and they posted Jim's photo as the victims. Looks like they took it right off this webpage.

There's a different wrinkle, but not sure it's the way I'd prefer to get some international exposure :-)

Glad you made it out Jim. Those who can't understand a solo hike and its merits of self-reliance can die inside their cocoon. I'm tackling Courthouse Wash in Arches solo in a week just because I can, and I can't wait! Cheers!

How many self-righteous, narrow-minded people, blathering about irresponsiblity, do we have to listen to, every time a solo hiker gets hurt? Some people venture outside of the box on occation. And that is perfectly OK. When you go solo hiking, you take personal responsibility for your safety. You assess the situation and your capabilities, and ponder worst-case possibilities before heading out. Mr. Richards apparently thought he was up to the task. And, apparently he was! Solo hiking is no more stupid, and a whole lot safer, than getting into a car, and driving the LA freeways.

I thought that I would never get lost or injured. That always happened to someone else. I found out different. The worse part about this whole thing is the worry and pain I caused my family and friends. It was very inconsiderate and selfish of me to think that my actions wouldn't have an impact on others. I think that it is my responsibility to pay for all the cost of the search and rescue.

The Utah Highway Patrol pilots that found me, the local lawenforcement personal, and the park service personal that perticipated in the search were some of the nicest, most careing people tha I have ever met. The park service guy that was in charge of the search was increditable. He was very young but had exceptional skills and ability to do his job. He is a very likable person that has true compassion and concern for people. When I first talked to my family and friends after my rescue, the first thing they said was that they were glad I was ok. The second thing out of their mouths was what a great guy the park service person was that was in charge of the search and how good he was at doing his job. He had talked to each one of them in his investigation. Once I was found, he personally called each one of them to let them know that I was ok.

I can't thank all the people that were involved in my rescue enough.

I have learned several lessons. "It can happen to me" and that it is my responsibility to see that it doesn't happen again.

(I had a GPS with me with plenty of spare batteries and I was following the exact path out that I hiked in)

Amos I'm very glad that this is a story of determination by the Park Service and yourself. And it's a reminder.....a lesson to leave a travel plan and exit time with a contact. Something I am guilty of failing to do. I will take your "It can happen to me" to heart. Thanks to the Park Service for the outstanding job they do.

I am glad you are recovering. I, too, hike alone and even if it is just a day hike I always carry my first aid/emergency kit. I am guilty of saying I will be at one spot but then go to another. Not on purpose but in the spur of the moment and too many people at the planned spot. I will from now on leave a note in the truck to let someone know where I am.
As a woman I try to be aware of my suroundings and not take chances. This is a lesson for me to be even more careful.

Does anyone know of a website or forum where would-be solo hikers can state what they want to do and see if they can find potential fellow hikers. Often people have travelled a long way and have a set amount of time available, so they need to find someone willing to go with them well in advance, rather than stand around hoping at a trailhead

There's a different wrinkle, but not sure it's the way I'd prefer to get some international exposure. :-)

LIttle Blue John has 2 big raps that I would not do alone. We survived our trip with planning, climbing gear, and Kelseys guide book that would have helped Mr. Amos make better decisions. Little blue, The main, lower Blue, Big drop were all awesome. Too bad he missed the best parts of the trip.

Had he walked down the west fork he would have been better off.

The solution is simple, albeit imperfect. Carry a personal locator beacon (PLB). I don't go anywhere remote on my mountain bike or on foot without carrying my ACR Electronics Aqualink if I'm by myself. Last month, I hiked up the caldera rim on the island of Fogo, in Cape Verde. The trail proved to be much fainter than the map advertised and, soon enough, even with my Garmin GPS (using a GPS also is mandatory in these circumstances), I lost track of the trail. Before long I found myself scaling a sheer face by reaching for handholds and had inflicted a number of cuts on myself on sharp pumice. I kept falling and sliding backward. And I was alone. This was a foolhardy expedition that, by the time I turned back, had long since become too dangerous—all the more so because Cape Verde has no organized rescue capability that I'm aware of. With my PLB, however, if I had incapacitated myself I could (if still conscious) have activated it and I think that one of the PLB-monitoring countries would have tried to rescue me, even if it meant diverting a Portuguese or English warship somewhere off the coast of West Africa.