Car stuck in Death Valley salt flat for three weeks after driver follows GPS off-road

Landscape at Death Valley National Park, USA
(Image credit: Getty)

Two men are due to appear in court after driving off-road at Death Valley National Park and getting their car stuck in a mud flat, where it remained for three weeks.

In a press release, the National Park Service (NPS) explained that the incident happened on 4 July, when the pair got lost while trying to navigate using GPS. After taking a wrong turn, they spent three hours driving up and down a gravel road before giving up and deciding to try driving straight across the salt flat to avoid running out of fuel.

Death Valley is an awe-inspiring place that demands our utmost respect and preparedness

Superintendent Mike Reynolds

Driving off-road at Death Valley is illegal and causes serious environmental harm. Although the mud flats might look lifeless from a distance, they are delicate ecosystems that are home to all kinds of plant and animal life. Driving off-road leaves lasting scars on the landscape, compacts the soil, can lead to water pollution, and can destroy federally-designated wilderness.

Off-roading can also leave drivers stranded far from help. The men's car became stuck in the salt flat after about a mile, leaving them to walk the rest of the way to the road. They then walked another 12 miles before splitting up to find help. By this point it was 3am.

One of the pair walked north until 8am, when he was picked up by a visiting family, who took him to Furnace Creek so he could call for help. The family then headed out and picked up the second man, who was found suffering heat illness and taken to hospital for treatment.

The car stayed stuck in the mud for three weeks until officials could safely remove it with a skid-steer loader to avoid further damaging the landscape. The pair have been issued a mandatory court appearance, and are likely to face charges and fines.

"Death Valley is an awe-inspiring place that demands our utmost respect and preparedness,” said park superintendent Mike Reynolds. "We urge visitors to exercise caution and adhere to park rules. Don’t drive off established roads; this damages the environment and can turn deadly."

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.