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Big Bend Survival Story

Couple celebrating anniversary in Big Bend survives 5 days lost in wilderness

Big Bend Ranch State Park
An Arkansas couple got lost in Big Bend Ranch State Park while celebrating their anniversary. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife

Well, we can add this to the list of unpredictable consequences of the federal government shutdown.

An Arkansas woman is recovering in an El Paso hospital after getting lost in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Cathy Frye, an award-winning reporter for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and her husband, Rick McFarland, a photographer for the same newspaper, were making their annual anniversary trip to Big Bend National Park (they were married there) when the feds announced that all national parks would be closed as part of the greater government shutdown.

Forced to improvise, the couple ended up at the still-open Big Bend Ranch State Park with only with a simple map of the unfamiliar terrain. Their journey began on Tuesday; by late Wednesday, it was clear they were lost. Armed with only a few water bottles and fanny-pack of food, the couple walked around for hours before finding a live spring to replenish their water supplies.

According to The San Antonio Express-News, Frye and McFarland would spend another two days wandering aimlessly in search of help before Frye became too weak to walk. In an interview with ABC News, Frye said, "I didn’t want to die by myself. I knew we had to do something.”

And so on Friday, the couple decided to separate. Left alone as her husband searched for the car, Frye spent two days with little water sitting under a small tree for shade. Her husband found their vehicle on Saturday, but it would take 37 rescue volunteers another day to finally spot her.

By the time rescuers found her on Sunday, she was near death, suffering from dehydration and sunburn, with cactus needles embedded in her body.

Frye is recovering and listed in fair condition. McFarland was treated and released.

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