Thursday, January 27, 2022

Matt Riley's Fatal Mistake

 A stones throw east of Pinto Basin Road, and less than 1/2 mile north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park, lays the gravesite of Matt Riley. It's a sad and fascinating piece of desert history, as well as a cautionary tale.


There's no sign on the road to tell park visitors about the gravesite. There's no convenient parking (I ended up carefully pulling off the road onto the sandy shoulder, hoping the sand wasn't too soft and that I could get far enough off the road). Probably safer to park in a designated parking area and hike in, but I was exhausted, having just finished up a long hike, and it was getting dark.


Although worn and hard to read, the grave marker says:

Matt Riley
Died of Thirst
July 4, 1905

According to the National Park Service:

It was 114 degrees (46° C) in the shade and the distance to the nearest spring was 25 miles (40 km) when Matt Riley and Henry Kitto set off on foot from the OK Mine at 9 am. They had one canteen of water between them. Their plan was to refill the canteen at Cottonwood Spring, then continue on to Mecca to celebrate the 4th of July. Neither man knew much about the route. Kitto became ill 12 miles (19 km) out. He gave the canteen to Riley and turned back. Kitto survived the walk back to the mine.

Riley pressed on, trying to get to Cottonwood before he ran out of water. He never made it. His body was found under a bush next to the road to Mecca.

The tracks Riley left behind indicated he had passed within 200 yards (180 meters) of Cottonwood Spring before turning back and circling aimlessly—a sign of disorientation, which is a common side effect of extreme dehydration.

Matt Riley’s fatal mistake was to walk across the desert without enough water. To hike all day in the midsummer desert sun, a person needs to drink at least two gallons (7.6 liters) of water.

Riley and Kitto had set off with only one small canteen. There was no way they could have survived a 25-mile (40-km) trek in plus 100 degree heat with that small amount of water. Kitto’s decision to turn back saved his life. When Riley decided to continue on, he doomed himself.

https://www.nps.gov/articles/matt-rileys-fatal-mistake.htm

Deep in thought about poor Matt Riley, and making my way back to the car, I couldn't resist taking one more photo (last of the day).
 
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Stay safe and stay healthy!

35 comments:

  1. ...this landscape is no place for mistakes. Stay safe my friend.

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  2. A sad way to go dying of thirst with in yards of a spring and not knowing it. I Think people are more prepared for doing this today like you on your hikes to the park.

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  3. What a sad thing to happen! The photo is beautiful!

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  4. Dearest Peter,
    How tragic that was... Guess back then in 1905, there was not enough warming information out there.
    Poor miner, just for wanting to celebrate the 4th of July with the locals...
    There seems no information about his age at the time.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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  5. Poor dude, but his life serves the purpose of warning people about going off into desert without enough water.

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  6. sad cautionary tale - love that last photos it's so beautiful

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  7. Glad I could stop by today, although a sad tale, it is something to pay attention to. For the past few days we have a son wandering in the desert of AZ, spending time to think. He is enjoying the cooler weather there. Thanks for the history and life lesson today.
    Sherry & jack in a cool Florida today.

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  8. Oh my how tragic! Thanks for sharing the story.

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  9. What A Trip - Couldn't Even Imagine - Pretty Cool Grave Site As Well - Enjoy Your Weekend Brother Parts

    Cheers

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  10. Very sad story. Dehydration is dangerous. I can't imagine how they got around in the desert back in the day.

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  11. Sad to read, Thanks for sharing.
    Happy Weekend.

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  12. Sad story. A warning to others.

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  13. It is much "easier" to become dehydrated than people think. I especially believe this is true of people who are used to humid environments - they assume that when they are not sweating, they are not losing liquid. But the truth is the sweat is evaporating as it happens!

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  14. "Never, never go without H2O" is an Australian saying. We always had 2 15l cans with water in the car, plus soft drinks, and some local beer ;-) Oh, and veg-juice, also good when empty to use the tin for repairs.
    Poor man, how desperate he must´ve been. Or maybe happy? Do you hallucinate before you die of thirst?
    Respectful handled last place for him and wonderful last pic.

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  15. Or... only visit the desert when it's raining. I imagine many have perished this way. I'm glad there is something there to mark the spot.

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  16. I presume you are now so good prepared that this experience is not happening to you.

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  17. What a tragic story :( I'm impressed he was buried there.

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  18. Glad you got a creative and peaceful photo before going home ~ Most definitely a sad story and results seem needless ~ Why not bring enough water??? ~ Xo

    Wishing you lots of laughter in your day,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

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  19. What a story, and what a cautionary tale. The desert is unforgiving.

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  20. Love your last capture. So sad about Riley - 7 liters is a lot, so I can imagine he thought he had enough water. Have a great hike this weekend!

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  21. What a sad story with a tragic ending. I can only imagine what the poor guy went through. (PS: I had to move my blog - find me at www.melltells.com)

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  22. oh no, sad story but so important to be prepared. We regularly hear stories of people who go hiking and bush walking without the proper equipment.

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  23. A very sad story, maybe the would have better tried to make it at night.

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  24. Such a sad story, they should have been better prepared.

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  25. So sad. Desert is unforgiven place.

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  26. Tragical story in a not inviting landscape... but the last photo is aweseome in colors.
    Have a great sunday

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  27. So sad and so tragic that his life has to end that way. Water is so, so important.

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  28. A sad story. Love the last scene and photo.
    I hope you stay safe and take care.

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  29. Wow--so sad--and unfortunately it still happens these days. We have relative sin Arizona who tell us about hikers dying or heat exhaustion or dehydration there all the time. It is a surprise to see that Riley's body is still buried there in the dessert but I gues sin thsoe days they did not have any other choice.

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  30. Stunningly Beautiful Photographs -
    Nice - quiet place to rest.
    Story that captures my heart.
    wow
    Thank You!

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