Hiker missing at Mesa Verde

Texas man lost
since Sunday

A 51-year old Texas man has been missing since Sunday at Mesa Verde National Park.

Fifty searchers on foot and horseback and two dog teams are combing the canyons around Spruce Tree House where Mitchell Stehling told his wife and parents he was going to visit Sunday afternoon.

After he did not return, rangers were notified and the search began in the Chapin Mesa area. But as of Tuesday morning, he had not been found, reports Betty Lieurance, public information officer for the park.

"It was 102 Monday in the canyons, and it is believed he did not have any water," she said. "People tend to underestimate Spruce Tree House because you can see the ruin while walking down. The trail is just a quarter mile, but it is steep."

Stehling, of Goliad, Texas, near the Gulf Coast, was last seen wearing a brown shirt and hat, khaki shorts and hiking boots.

A helicopter is surveying the rugged terrain and crews on the ground have been joined by 20 members of the San Juan National Forest Hot Shots.

"Staff, archeologists, law enforcement - everyone is out pounding the trails looking for him," Lieurance said.

It was reported that Stehling does have a cell phone but it was not turned on. Cell service at Mesa Verde National Park is generally nonexistent, but there are some spotty areas near the road and higher points where a signal can be obtained.

Mesa Verde officials did not know whether the man had any backcountry experience or had medical issues. He was not carrying any overnight gear.

A backcountry gate near Spruce Tree House ruin offers access to Spruce Canyon, and connects to a network of off-limit trails only available for special tours. There are stashes of survival gear, including water and food, at certain points.

The searchers followed up on some clues yesterday, following footprints, and a finding a water bottle, but they turned out to be unrelated to the missing person, Lieurance said.

"It has not been confirmed that he ever went to Spruce Tree House, so other nearby areas, Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon, are a focus of the search," she said. "It has been hot and he is not accustomed to high altitudes."

Posters alerting visitors to the park about the missing man have been put up, and hikers are being advised to be on the lookout.

Sunday evening lows reached 45 degrees. Cooler conditions are forecast for the next few days in the park with highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s.