Tragically lost in Joshua Tree’s wild interior

In June 2010, Bill Ewasko traveled alone from his home in suburban Atlanta to Joshua Tree National Park, where he planned to hike for several days. Ewasko, 66, was an avid jogger, a Vietnam vet and a longtime fan of the desert West. A family photo of Ewasko standing at the summit of Mount San Jacinto, another popular hiking destination in Southern California, shows a cheerful man with a salt-and-pepper mustache, looking fit, prepared and perfectly comfortable in the outdoors.

Ewasko left a rough itinerary behind with his girlfriend, Mary Winston, featuring multiple destinations, both inside and outside the park. His first hike, on Thursday, June 24, was meant to be a loop out and back from a remote historic site known as Carey’s Castle, an old miner’s hut built into the rocks. Carey’s Castle is so archaeologically fragile that, to discourage visitors, the National Park Service does not include it on official maps.

Winston, a retired mortgage broker, was worried about that particular hike. From what she had read, the site sounded too remote, too isolated. She so thoroughly pestered Ewasko about his safety that, when he arrived in California, he bought a can of pepper spray as a kind of reassuring joke. Don’t worry, Ewasko told her. He would be all right.

The plan was that after he finished the hike, probably no later than 5 p.m., he would call Winston to check in, then grab dinner in nearby Pioneertown. But 5 p.m. rolled around, and Ewasko hadn’t called. Winston tried his cellphone several times, and it went directly to voice mail.

She knew he might still be in a region of the park with limited cellular access, but the thought was hardly reassuring. As night fell on the West Coast with no word from Ewasko, Winston tried to call someone at the park, but by then Joshua Tree headquarters had closed for the day. Her only option was to wait.

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