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Official's Advice as National Park Shuts Down Nearly Kills Vacationing Arkansas Couple


An Arkansas couple was forced from their vacation spot in Big Bend National Park due to the partial government shutdown -- and ended up lost for four days in the West Texas wilderness.

Luckily, Cathy Frye, 43, and her husband, Ricky Lee McFarland, 58, were able to survive their arduous trip after they found a spring in the rough country, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said.

When the couple was ousted from their vacation spot Oct. 1, a park official told them they could relocate to the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park if they wanted to continue their visit.

The official provided them with a map.

Cathy Frye and Rick McFarland ended up lost for four days in the Texas wilderness during the government shutdown. (Image source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

"It's a bigger park and it's a more rugged park," parks department spokesman Mike Cox said. "The map they received was small-scale. They needed one with more detail."

The couple is familiar with the national park -- but the state park is a little trickier, registering more accidents and fatalities per year, Cox said.

The couple on Oct. 2 made their way to the state park, set up camp, then biked to the Puerte Chilicote Trail to go for a hike. That's when things took a turn for the worse.

While they had a map of the area, it wasn't very detailed and they weren't familiar with the terrain, as Cox noted.

They soon ran out of water and became tired, forcing them to spend the first night lost at a scenic overlook near Mexicano Falls, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The next day put them into Arroyo Mexicano territory -- an area for which they were woefully under-equipped.

The couple’s lack of water soon became a dangerous issue for them. They had gone on their hike with only a few bottles between them, as opposed to the recommended gallon.

They eventually found a spring that allowed them to refill their water supplies and wash off some of the dessert. But without the tools to build a fire, they were unable to dry their wet clothes before temperatures dropped and hypothermia set in.

On Oct. 4, Cathy Frye found herself too exhausted to continue. Ricky Lee McFarland continued on, looking for help.

Image source: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

He eventually made his way back to his truck and took off for the park headquarters to find help. The Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, and the volunteer Texas Search and Rescue Team all joined together to find Catherine Frye.

Texas game wardens and state park police joined in the search, which involved roughly 37 officials.

"The team spent all day Saturday searching for Frye," Cox said.

Catherine Frye was finally located on Oct. 6. She had moved from where her husband had last seen her. When they finally found her, she was suffering from extreme exhaustion and dehydration.

Officials quickly cleared a space for a helicopter to come in and take her to an airstrip on the park to be flown eventually to University Hospital in El Paso.

Her husband was luckier, having only to deal with the exhaustion of the hikes.

Frye is a reporter with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and McFarland is a photographer, according to the Associated Press.

All national parks and national park services have been ordered to cease operations due to the partial government shutdown. Parks are not expected to start operating again until Congress can come to an agreement on a budget deal.


Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

Featured image via Texas State Park & Wildlife


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