Bill Ewasko - A New Theory

by Adam Marsland
Posted June 14, 2014

NOTE: FOR UPDATES ON MY THOUGHTS ON THIS MOST PUZZLING CASE, CLICK HERE FOR OCTOBER 14, 2014 BLOG AND HERE FOR FINAL THOUGHTS AS OF FEBRUARY 2015.

Updated June 17, 2014

Update: I visited the Upper Covington Flat area on June 17, 2014 to test out the below theory. Some parts of it checked out; others seem shaky. When I have the chance to revise the page to incorporate the new information and revisit the theory, I will. I confess I'm puzzled in the sense that after my visit to the area I still feel like this scenario rings true but I'm at a loss as to where Bill might have gone or exactly why he was there in the first place. I have added new information that changes, supports or contradicts the theory in red.

The basic theory below still makes intuitive and gut sense to me. It is a topographically and logistically logical route (except for some of the updates I've listed in red) where Bill could definitely cover a large distance without pinging a tower and explains the mysterious ping. It seems to fit the circumstances and timeline better than the prevailing Smith Water Canyon theory, and Tom Mahood and others have been over that ground to a great extent and at great effort without finding any indications Bill had ever been there. But I cannot explain the flaws in my own theory, which I've tried to lay out below in the updates in red type: moreover, it still seems improbable (though certainly not impossible) that Bill would cross Covington Crest Trail without seeing it, and unless Bill followed high ridgelines trying for a western exit (an extremely gutsy move if so), I don't see where he could have possibly gone from the Ping Site. While we could have missed something, the ground in that area has been pretty thoroughly searched on this and previous visits to the vicinity, and with a road only a mile to the east and the severe dropoff in topography to the west, there's not much room for Bill to wander off in. So for the moment, this theory, or some variation of it, feels right. But I'm baffled as to where to take it next.

Bill Ewasko set out on a day hike from Juniper Flats Trailhead in Joshua Tree National Park in the morning or afternoon of Thursday, June 24, 2010 and was never seen again. A massive initial search and rescue effort, and a later extensive grass roots scouring of the area spearheaded by Tom Mahood, has failed to locate him. The only, most puzzling, clue is a brief 10 second ping from Mr. Ewasko's cell phone just after dawn on Sunday morning, which was later found to have transmitted from somewhere at or near a 10.6 mile radial line from Verizon's Serin Tower in Yucca Valley. The primary mystery is how Mr. Ewasko could have been alive and moving far enough out of the primary search area to have been the source of that ping, and still failed to reach a cell tower earlier. Note: In a message board posting in July 2015 Tom Mahood pointed out that my assertion the ping lasted "10 seconds" is inaccurate. Investigator Martinez characterized the ping in an email to Tom Mahood as "extremely short, though the quality was good." This was unintentional on my part and I am correcting it after the fact so as not to add to the confusion.

Inspired by Tom Mahood's efforts to find Bill Ewasko, I have made seven eight trips to Joshua Tree to aid in the search, which are detailed along with Mr. Mahood's and others' searches on his website at otherhand.org. I've absorbed all the available information (which is also assembled in great detail on Tom's website), made some tests of my own, and I now have arrived at a new theory that I think plausibly explains where Bill might have went, why he has not been found, and why his cell phone only pinged a tower briefly three days after he was lost. Below I go through the sequence of events step by step and explain what I think happened, and why I came to that conclusion.

Ewasko route

Map above showing Bill's probable route in dark red, Verizon coverage in the dark red overlay, and escape path from suspected ping site in yellow. Verizon overlay and Serin Tower radius information courtesy Tom Mahood.

Short Version - What I Think May Have Happened

Bill Ewasko, after failing a previous hiking attempt at another location and deciding that Quail Mountain was too much to attempt given his limited time, attempted to return to his car via Stubbe Springs trail loop. He either deliberately or accidentally became separated from the trail, and continued westward, leading downward into steeper and steeper terrain. At some point he became injured. While still partly mobile, he was no longer able to climb steep or rugged terrain, barring his way back to his car and confining him to Covington Wash, and an area with no cell phone reception. After first jogging southward, he gradually made his way northward via Covington Wash, reaching Lower Covington Flat at some point Saturday. At that point he struck out westward, via comparatively easy probably navigable terrain, to attempt to reach a visible mountain edge west of Upper Covington Flat, in order to reach a height of land in order to call help or for another reason as yet unknown. Failing to get a connection from the valley below, and not realizing there was a sliver of coverage from Serin Tower immediately behind him (pinging either as he passed through, or as he turned his phone off to conserve batteries), he may have struck out for help to the visible civilization below via a wash that provided the only topographically viable route downward from the area, dying at some point along the yellow line pictured above. See other updates in red below for flaws/support to this theory.

The logic behind the above theory is outlined below.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Supposition #1

Bill arrives at Juniper Flats Trailhead late in the morning, or early in the afternoon. It is not his first destination of the day. He leaves from Juniper Flats no earlier than 10:40 a.m., and no later than 2 p.m. He departs westbound on Juniper Flats Road.

Reasoning:

Hiker Greg Mendoza arrives at Juniper Flats at 10:20 and is the only hiker there. It is to be assumed that if Bill had pulled up to the parking area in the first 10 or 15 minutes of Greg's hike he would have been observed, and that it would take Bill at least five minutes to get underway. Bill previous intimated to his fiancée Mary that he had planned to visit Carey's Castle and there is a gap in time between when his phone call was made and how long it should have taken him to reach Juniper Flats, thus indicating that Ewasko had tried a different destination first (not necessarily Carey's, since rangers reported no one had been there) and that Juniper Flats was a Plan B. He planned to be out of the park by 5 p.m., which suggests that he planned to finish hiking by 4 p.m. or soon thereafter. 2 p.m. seems to be the latest likely time to start a hike in that area that would end at 4 p.m. Footprints are observed by Mendoza leading west down Juniper Flats Road on his return.

Supposition #2

Bill departs from an established trail at some point, and he either becomes lost, or attempts a cross-country loop of some point.

Reasoning

Bill was not found at or near a trail, moreover the cell ping places his many miles away from his starting point. Clearly, Bill either left an established trail by design, which would logically have been to make a loop back to his car of some sort, or he somehow became lost.

Supposition #3

Bill may have attempted to climb Quail Mountain, but he did not reach the summit. He also did not travel north towards Smith Water Canyon.

Reasoning

Assuming Bill left his vehicle at 10:45 a.m., and had planned to exit the park at 5 p.m., that gives Bill a maximum planned hiking time of 5 1/2 hours. Round trip to and from Quail Mountain is roughly 12 miles, with the last section steep and with no established trail. A trip all the way to Quail and back would consume all of the available time for hiking. For Bill to have become lost, he must have left the trail at some point. A cutoff loop back to his car from Quail would have required Bill to go east and south, not north, which would never put him at the 10.6 mile radial line three days later. Likewise, a jog north to Smith Water to get water seems unlikely because it would have kept Bill out past his desired time limit, and it also seems unlikely to me Bill would have set out on such a trek without knowing for sure there was water there (I've been there three times and never seen any, so it's not immediately obvious), though I can certainly imagine him going in order to check it off his wish list -- but given the late start it would have been an odd thing to do. It is also unlikely that Bill would have become disoriented from Quail summit because he would be at a height of land where it would be easy to view the terrain, and with the sun (well past noon) providing compass orientation. There would be no reason for Bill to move in any other direction from Quail summit than south, or west, back towards the trail and the car, and from that vantage point, hardly any way for Bill to become disoriented. Even if he had become injured at that point, moving away from his car would make no sense, as there is cell coverage on Quail Mountain. Finally, there would be no time for Bill to make a second trip on his way down from Quail that would take him far enough away from the Juniper Flats Road or the California Riding and Hiking Trail to become disoriented. And finally, Bill did not sign the register at the summit. A bandana that may have belonged to Bill was found on an approach to Quail, however, and Quail was found listed on Bill's itinerary. Therefore I think the likelihood is that Bill may have intended to climb Quail, and may have gone partway, but because of the lateness of the hour and the distance to Juniper Flats Trailhead, abandoned the trip.

Also mitigating against the Smith Water Canyon theory is the fact that, of course, Tom Mahood and others have extensively searched most of the area, including all the most likely ping spots. Also, while I still believe there is a possibility Bill will be found here (my best guess would be the highlands above Quail Spring), the fact that no trace of Bill's passage has ever been found in such a relatively small (though admittedly rugged) area has led me to the conclusion that he most likely was never in this part of the park.

Supposition #4

Bill attempted a side trip to Stubbe Spring in place of Quail Mountain. Stubbe Spring was a second choice and he entered the Stubbe Spring trail from the north, and not the south, side of the loop.

Reasoning

As Tom Mahood pointed out, Stubbe Springs trailhead leaves Juniper Flats Road not far south from Juniper Flats and would offer an attractive alternative to someone who had intended to go to Quail Mountain. It would offer a destination and a loop route back to the car. It is hard to imagine that Bill, having failed at whatever his Plan A was, also having failed to climb Quail, and facing a long walk back on the same road he had just come in on, would NOT take the Stubbe Springs loop back, or else he would have nothing to show for his visit to Joshua Tree.

It further seems likely that Stubbe Spring was not the original destination. Bill did not list it on his itinerary, moreover, if he had been thinking of making the loop in the first place the length of the trail might have given him more pause. Further, opting for Stubbe Spring to begin with would have ruled out his known desired objective, Quail, from the outset. Since he could always take the Stubbe loop back, it would make more sense for Bill to try to make good time to Juniper Flats first to get within striking distance of Quail, and then opt for Stubbe Springs as a Plan B. I have not been to the area to see for myself, but it is conceivable that Bill noted the south trailhead for the loop return on his departure and taking the northern loop was a spur of the moment decision without knowing anything about the trail (including the substantial distance involved) other than that it would eventually lead him back to his car.

A trip to Johnny Lang, which was also on Ewasko's itinerary, does not seem to fit in with the narrow time frame, the place his car was parked, or the cell record.

Stubbe Springs trail

Possible separation point from Stubbe Springs Trail. Left arrow is the proper trail; right arrow that appears to be a trail is actually a wash that leads into gradually more and more rough terrain, eventually culminating at Covington Wash (the large north-south wash leading to Lower Covington Flat). There are other possible separation points further down the trail that would lead to the same outcome, but they would theoretically lie within a cell coverage area and where it would be harder to be misled by the direction and terrain. Both trails are heading westward, into the sun at the time Bill would have been hiking (more so the later he hit this point).

Supposition #5

At probably mid-afternoon, Bill became separated from the trail somewhere near Stubbe Spring, either by accident or deliberately.

Reasoning

Bill obviously left the trail at some point, since he was not found at or near it, and his cell phone pinged many miles away a few days later. The theory that Bill might have remained too long in a wash while following Stubbe Spring trail was advanced by the original search party, but more significantly, we can assume that by no later than 7 p.m. Bill was in at least minor difficulty AND out of cell range. This is because he had planned to report in with Mary and it can be assumed that he would have sent a reassurance call if possible, if only to forestall an unnecessary search, and indeed Mary did become alarmed at about this time and began making calls to ascertain Bill's wherabouts. If Bill had made it to within the vicinity of his car there's no reason why he would have not made it all the way, or been found in the vicinity, therefore Bill's separation from the trail most likely took place between 2 and 4 p.m.; late enough that he could have gotten there and early enough that he was still several miles from his car at this point.

There are three areas where Verizon does not have cell coverage that do not lie on the Juniper Flats/California Riding Trail axis where Bill could have been at 7 p.m.: east and north of the trail between Quail and the car; west towards Stubbe Springs; and between Quail Mountain and Smith Water Canyon. We can rule out the area immediately northwest of the trailhead and east/north of the trail, because had Bill gone that way he could never have reached the 10.6 mile line without either finding a road or his car. The two remaining areas are north of Quail Mountain, and the entire area north of Stubbe Spring extending from Juniper Flats road many miles westward. I do not believe he was north of Quail for reasons already stated. That leaves the much larger area north of Stubbe Spring.

Supposition #6

Bill leaves the trail, takes some time to discover his mistake (or perhaps travels farther than he intended) and runs into problems retracing his steps. Bill either sustains an injury at this point, blocking his exit back through rougher terrain, or later as dusk falls.

Reasoning

This is a little complicated, but I think the above is almost a certainty.

Bill clearly was ambulatory enough to travel far afield from his car, however, the distances to safety in the area are simply too small for Bill to not have been able to walk out if he was able-bodied. Even assuming that he became totally disoriented, barring wandering into unforgiving terrain to deliberately lose oneself it's only about 10 miles in any direction to safety (or at least to a good dirt road or trail), which he should have been able to cover, even assuming rough terrain, in a matter of hours. For Bill to have been out wandering for three days and not have walked out safely, he must have been injured enough to impede him but not completely immobilize him. Even had Bill been wandering with heatstroke as per the case of a different hiker that same year, he should have been able to wander much FURTHER afield than the 10.6 mile line in three days...and pinged a cell tower somewhere along the way (moreover, if Ewasko had been so incapacitated one would assume he would not have had the presence of mind to turn off his cell phone to conserve batteries, which would leave them dead by Sunday morning).

The injury, however, could not have been the first precipitating event for Bill's problems. If Bill had merely become injured on Stubbe Springs trail, he simply would have limped back to his car, which he was clearly capable of doing if he was miles away days later. Bill must have become separated from the trail first. In the area west and south of Stubbe Springs Trail, the terrain becomes much rougher (there is seemingly a side trail -- or more properly a wash crossing that looks very like a trail and could easily be confused for one, particularly if the sun was on the wane in the west) that leads into a wash that culminates in an extremely steep cascade area) and once night began to fall, with visibility dropping and Bill likely hurrying to extricate himself from his situation, chances of an injury would increase greatly.

Likewise, Bill could not have been injured any later than the first night (or the following morning) because again, if he had been able bodied the entire second day he should have easily been able to walk out.

However, it's hard to understand why Bill didn't just retrace his steps, given that he still had several hours daylight at his disposal. The only seemingly logical explanation is that he got into a topographically challenging situation that compelled him to move forward and not backward. It may be at this point the injury occurred and he could only go down; or he may have been forced down and was injured while trying to make his way back and night fell.

Supposition #7

Bill ran down most of his cell batteries the first night.

Reasoning

Bill was not planning on a night hike; in June, the sun would go down around 9 p.m., so there would be no reason for him to bring a flashlight. We know that Bill spent Thursday night (and subsequent nights) out unexpectedly. The only light available to him likely would have been the face plate on his cell phone. If he was trying to find his way back to his car and forestall worry on Mary's part and an unnecessary search by park rangers, he likely would have made liberal use of his cell phone's limited lighting capacity (not to mention attempting to call out) that first night.

wash

The trail-wash in the previous picture, followed west, culminates in this precipitous drop into Covington Wash, a possible injury point/point of no return for Bill if he followed that route. Note the steep cliffs surrounding the wash, which worsen further south (left in this photo). Bill may have tried to go south to circle back to his car but realized that the terrain made this impossible, forcing him north up the main wash (to the right in this photo).

Supposition #8

Bill's injury rendered him unable to climb or hike in rough terrain and he began to make his way north (probably after first going south to look for a way back to his car) up Covington Wash.

Reasoning

Looking carefully at google earth, it is not hard to find a route whereby Bill leaves Stubbe Springs trail and gets in the series of washes that leads into the increasingly rough terrain draining into the larger north-south wash that I will call Covington Wash. As I said before there appears to be a trail or trail-like wash that leaves Stubbe Springs Trail and heads straight into a wash and thence down through ever steeper canyons (culminating in one that looks extremely rough) into Covington*. Significantly, this route goes west, which is the rough general direction of the first part of Stubbe Springs Trail, so it is possible that Bill did not realize he was heading away from Stubbe Springs by taking/turning on such a path. Moreover, once in Covington Wash, going south and down (the logical move for a lost hiker) at first leads one into more rugged terrain which would discourage trying to execute a loop route back to his car. So it would make sense that, once this possibility was explored, a hiker would move up the wash, following the topographic path of least resistance and looking for an easiest path back.

What is more difficult to understand is why Bill would not simply leave Covington Wash further north, where the terrain is still rough but more level, and bushwhack back easterly to his car. The sun would provide orientation. The answer can only have been that Bill either could not climb out of the wash, or navigate the visible terrain that lay between his vantage point and where he knew his car was. A knee injury, for example, could conceivably have allowed Bill to continue walking in easy terrain but prevent him from pulling himself up in a climbing situation.

(*Bill might have also gotten separated from the Stubbe Springs Trail further south, closer to Stubbe Spring; this would still bring him into rougher terrain and eventually gravitate downward toward Covington Wash. The calculus is basically the same except it would bring him closer to theoretical cell reception, the shift into harder terrain is less gradual and easier to avoid getting sucked into, and it would be harder to make a mistake in direction, which is why I'm leaning toward Bill separating from the main trail on the way to Stubbe Spring).

Supposition #9

Weakened from his injury and from exposure to the sun, and making frequent rest stops, Bill slowly makes his way north in Covington Wash.

Reasoning

I believe it is likely that Bill went south first, then north, not only because it would make sense to try the downhill run and look for an easy cross-country route to his car first, but because it is the only way to explain why Bill would continue up the wash going north, and uphill, instead of simply walking south down the wash downhill to eventual safety. It only makes sense for Bill to continue north if he'd already explored southward, and then had gone north to search for a more topographically forgiving route back to his car, and not finding that chose not to backtrack through territory he'd already been through that he knew had no cell reception, water or a path out, whereas the way forward offered a better chance in the present, plus visibly better terrain ahead.

The most significant thing about the Covington Wash route is that it is the only through route in the area where there is no Verizon coverage whatsoever. Anybody remaining in the wash, and in nearly all of the surrounding territory for that matter, would be in the dark for the entire time. Using this route, Bill would not have been able to get a call out at any point. This is likewise true of the entire area to the north of Stubbe Springs leading to the wash from Juniper Flats Road.

Supposition #10

At some point Saturday, Bill reaches the bottom of Lower Covington Flat, and strikes out on a relatively easy path through low hills towards the lower part of Upper Covington Flat.

Reasoning

This is the part of the journey that is at first hard to understand. Having fought his way through the wash to the relatively benign Covington Flat area, why did Bill not simply continue northward? I believe the answer is that Bill, desperately needing help, had been looking for a route to a height of land where he could get a cell call out that he could navigate in his injured condition. He knew he had just traveled for two days without a hint of cell reception and could be fairly certain (correctly, in fact) that continuing up into Lower Covington Flat would offer more of the same. From that vantage point, there were two mountain ranges where one could conceivably get cell reception (and in fact, can, though not as much as Verizon's map indicates). The closer height of land, on the east edge of Lower Covington, would be too steep to navigate, but there is a relatively easy route into Upper Covington Flat from that point that passes through some rolling hills that would be the easiest route to a visible high point that he had so far found. Ironically, this route would also take him just past the furthest reaches of Verizon's coverage zone from the south. But if one was looking to make a cell call and had trouble navigating rough terrain, this would be the most logical course to take.

Update 6-17-14: The reasons stated above for leaving Covington Wash for Upper Covington Flat do not seem to make sense. It is possible that Bill simply chose a navigable route to a height of land for a cell call, but it's hard to understand why if he was capable of that that he didn't go the other direction and thence back to his car. The only thing I can think of is that he thought he might find water up the wash that leads to Upper Covington Flat from Covington Wash (judging from Google Earth it has the kind of appearance that might suggest a spring further up). It is possible that, besides an injury, searching for water is what led Ewasko further from his starting point and further up in elevation (something obviously did), since he would have known, having already passed through the general area on his way in, that it was a very long trek back to the car and that there was little to no chance of finding water along the way, whereas the highlands immediately above might offer a spring and a further chance for survival. It does make sense that finding water, besides acquiring cell reception, would have been Ewasko's primary concern late Friday and Saturday.

Also, the route I picked on the map for Bill to go from Covington Wash to Upper Covington Flat doesn't make topograpic sense. While passable for an able-bodied hiker, an injured man would not have taken this route as it goes over some low rock formations. He also should have been able to see the road out from this point. If he did make this traverse he would most likely have gone further south (or further north on the California Riding and Hiking Trail, which he presumably never found his way to), which theoretically would have brought him in a cell coverage zone. Verizon's coverage is definitely overstated in this area however, and it's possible that Bill might have had his phone off to conserve batteries while passing through this vicinity, but it's hard to understand why having reached a height of land he wouldn't try for a cell call.

Furthermore, the road into Upper Covington Trailhead is visible from the low hills around this area to the east from a fair distance; however it is totally invisible, even at very close range, from the flats themselves (and incidentally from the suspected ping area to the west as well). This is another reason that, if Bill came this way, he almost certainly came into the Upper Covington Flat area at a point further south than I have indicated.

Supposition #11

Bill passes through the area just south of Upper Covington Flat Backcountry trailhead at dusk Saturday.

Reasoning

So far, Bill could have followed this entire route without encountering one trail nor ping any cell towers. However, extending southward from Upper Covington Flats trailhead is the Covington Crest trail, which I found recently in the dark during a bushwhack without too much trouble - albeit with a flashlight and knowing it was there. Once can assume that once Bill finds a trail, he follows it to safety, so Bill must have somehow missed this trail if he went through this area, and there's no real way he could have failed to cross it. While this seems unlikely, I believe in Bill's weakened condition and being fixated on the goal of reaching the visible highlands to get a cell phone call out, he could conceivably have traversed the trail without seeing it -- particularly if it happened to be at one of the multiple points it crossed a wash -- in a low light condition. Additionally at dusk Saturday the sun would have been in Bill's eyes traveling westward. This is the biggest hole in the theory, but I do believe it's plausible that he could have missed the trail, which is narrow and unmarked, under these conditions.

Another objection to this theory is that just past this point, Bill theoretically should have (finally) passed into an area of Verizon coverage. However, my tests in this area show that the coverage is much spottier than Verizon's map implies. Morever, I think it very likely that at this point, Bill would have left his cell phone off until he had gotten to a vantage point where he believed he would have the best chance of getting a call out, since his batteries would have very likely been nearly empty at that point, especially given that he probably used them extensively his first night out for lighting.

Update 6-17-14: As stated elsewhere, there is no cell coverage approaching the crest west of Covington Flats. However, it is still hard to understand how Bill could have missed Covington Crest Trail upon crossing it. It is small and unmarked, and easy to miss on approach, but one should notice it upon traversing it. The one wash crossing I inspected had two logs on either side marking the trail. It is certainly possible that a man who is suffering from heatstroke and possibly partial blindness could cross this trail without seeing it, particularly in a low light sun-in-the-eyes situation which is likely, but I still acknowledge that this is a serious flaw in my theory.

Supposition #12

At dawn Sunday, Bill reaches the height of the range west of Upper Covington Flat, with a clear line of sight to Coachella Valley and attempts to make a call for help. Despite having altitude and a seeming best case area for a cell reception, he fails. Not realizing there are slivers of coverage in the low areas behind the cliffs and out of sight of Coachella Valley (most likely from Serin Tower), he either pings the tower briefly while passing through one of these areas, or as he switches off his phone to leave the area and conserve batteries.

Reasoning

The western rim of the dramatically declining highlands west of Upper Covington Flat would seem to be an ideal place to get cell reception. But even though Verizon shows this entire area as within its service area, and some places show bars, I have found you cannot get a call out (and in fact in the most likely places, no bars whatsoever) at any point on the cliff side of the height of land.

However, ironically, you can get a call out on the other side, in the lowlands behind the height of land, including two places exactly on the 10.6 mile line, one of which is an entrance to a wash that appears to be the only topographically forgiving exit from the area. However, having failed to get a call out from the most obvious place, it would likely not occur to Bill, particularly with so little battery life left, to try for a call in such an unlikely place -- leaving an opportunity for a transitory ping either passing through one of these spots, or as he switches his phone off to leave the area. See the map below, from JT 64 on Tom Mahood's page:

Update: 6-17-14. Further checking out the cell reception patterns in this area, the cell phone information at the ping location cited still fits the criteria for Bill's ping to a "T". Contrary to the what's indicated on the map above, there is no Verizon coverage at all from Upper Covington Flat to the possible ping site, but upon reaching that point, the phone lit up with texts and e-mails. However, as strong as it was, the reception was also fleeting and disappeared after moving a few yards and after about a minute. Bill could definitely have gotten all the way from his car, 15+ miles away, to this point without pinging a tower, pinged a tower for 10 seconds, and then moved on. Based on the position of the hot spot and the nature of the reception I am convinced the signal is from Serin Tower.

Supposition #13

At approximately 6:45 a.m. Sunday morning, Bill attempts to walk out to Coachella Valley, leaving Upper Covington Flat likely exiting the area through a wash with an entrance located at 34° 0'36.48"N, 116°19'27.83"W. This is exactly on the 10.6 mile line and there is a sliver of cell coverage at this spot. Bill passes away somewhere along the canyons into which this wash leads, eventually emerging into the valley in roughly 10 miles.

Reasoning

With Coachella Valley and civilization in the distance, and an inability to get cell coverage from a height of land, Bill may have decided at this point that his only chance was to walk towards visible help (and through a path in the shade of deep canyons thus less exposed to direct sunlight), no doubt hoping to grab a better vantage point for reception along the way. Heading into the rugged lands to the west would also give Bill a better shot at finding water. Upper Covington Flat Road, though nearby, would not have been visible at any point on his path, and though one assumes if he knew it was there he would have taken this route, it would have in fact been a longer and more exposed (though no doubt much safer) walk back to civilization by Upper Covington Road than by taking the wash down to Coachella Valley. The route down the wash has never been searched and the entire area, from visible inspection, is remote, rugged and almost never visited.

Update 6-17-14: The exit through the wash route outlined in yellow on the map picture at the top of the page seems impossible for an injured man. It is navigable, with difficulty, for an able-bodied person. There is a possibility, however, someone could have gone from the wash to the ridgelines to the west taking the easiest terrain available to traverse this rugged area and indeed, we saw evidence that at least one person had done this. It would have been an extremely bold move that would probably end in disaster once a descent was attempted, but conceivable, even for someone with an injury. And we did see definite indications that this had been attempted, at least up to a point, by someone.