By Carlos Morales
A visitor to Big Bend National Park died July 2 while hiking, as temperatures in the rugged Far West Texas park reached well above 100 degrees that afternoon.
Richard Merrill, 54, of Friendswood, Texas was hiking on the 13-mile Marufo Vega trail on July 2. A press release from Big Bend National Park staff says park rangers found a vehicle at the Marufo Vega trailhead with a note outlining Merrill’s plan to hike from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The note also requested staff at the park be notified if Merrill hadn’t returned by that afternoon.
That morning as Merrill began his hike, temperatures in the park were already at 90 degrees. By late afternoon, it was 106.
“Under these conditions, a hiker will lose more moisture to sweat and evaporation than can be replenished by drinking and can quickly become dehydrated and experience heat illness,” said park staff in a press release.
As the evening approached and temperatures fell, park staff began search and rescue operations. Merrill’s body was found roughly a quarter-mile off the trail. By Wednesday morning, with the help of a Customs and Border Protection helicopter and crew, they were able to recover Merrill.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss and would like to extend our sincere condolences to the friends and family of Mr. Merrill,” said Superintendent Bob Krumenaker in a press release. “The environment of Big Bend in the summer is, sadly, unforgiving. We urge all hikers to be sure they are prepared for the summer desert conditions so they are able to return home and safely visit Big Bend again.”
Park officials are advising visitors to the park to be cautious if they plan to visit during the summer as extreme heat conditions are likely. Staff say hiking in the very early mornings is preferable.
This is at least the second death this year at Big Bend National Park. In mid-May a Fort Bliss soldier slipped and fell into the Rio Grande.