Miner’s death serves as warning in Joshua Tree National Park

Mysteries
Matt Riley Joshua Tree National Park

The gravesite of Matt Riley, a miner who died of thirst hiking across the desert. (Kurt Moses / National Park Service)

MYSTERY WIRE — Take a hike in Joshua Tree National Park and you might find a stark warning in the form of a gravesite not far from Cottonwood Spring.

A sign that reads, “MATT RILEY / DIED OF THIRST / JULY 4, 1905” is about as strong as reminders come. The National Park Service tells hikers in the area:

Matt Riley died over a century ago, but his mistake is repeated by desert visitors every year. For a safe visit, be sure to carry adequate water with you when you venture into the park. Drink your water supply rather than trying to conserve it. When it is half gone, it is time to turn back.

National Park Service

READ: Matt Riley’s Fatal Mistake

So what’s the story? Is it just a dramatic way to get hikers to be careful?

No, it’s for real.

A pair of miners set off on a 25-mile trek at 9 a.m. on a day that reached 114 degrees. Henry Kitto turned back after getting sick 12 miles in, but his friend Matt Riley died in the desert. His body was found under a bush next to the road, according to an NPS article.

Riley had planned to reach Cottonwood Spring to refill his cantina and continue on. Tracks found near the spring indicated Riley had passed within 200 yards of the water source, but it’s likely he began walking in circles due to extreme dehydration.

It was 31 years later that the area became Joshua Tree National Park.

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