No clues for Mesa Verde hiker missing since 2013

Saturday, March 4, 2017 12:15 AM
Mitchell Dale Stehling went missing in June 2013 at Mesa Verde National Park. Sporadic searches continue, including with specialized dog teams, but no clues have been reported.
Denean and husband Dale Stehling pose for this photo before he disappeared during a at Mesa Verde on June 9, 2013.

A hiker who went missing in Mesa Verde National Park more than 3½ years ago has still not been found, but the search continues.

On June 9, 2013, Mitchell Dale Stehling, 51, disappeared after telling his wife and mother he was going for hike to the Spruce Tree House ruin.

When he had not returned 2 hours later, an intensive 2-week intensive search began that at its peak included 60 searchers, two dog teams, helicopter surveillance, and rope teams that rappelled off cliffs in the Chapin Mesa area.

But not one physical clue has been found regarding Stehling’s disappearance, who left with no water on a sweltering day that reached over 100 degrees.

Witnesses reported seeing him on the Petroglyph Point Trail, a 2.5-mile loop with cliff exposure that takes off from the Spruce Tree Trail.

Jesse Farias, chief ranger for Mesa Verde National Park, said Monday the area has been heavily searched, and efforts continue there but with no results.

“In November, we had a dog team come in and search that area again for human remains, but they did not pick up any hits,” he said Monday. “When we have search and rescue exercises, we go there and continue to look but have not found him.”

The Petroglyph Point Trail follows a cliff base before ascending to the mesa via a series of steep, switchbacking sections with steps cut into the rock. Witnesses reported seeing him at the panel, and scent dogs initially showed interest in the area in the first days of the search.

Farias said Stehling’s wife, Denean, was present for the most recent dog search in November.

“We all want closure on this case. It’s difficult for the family and for park staff. We let all employees know about the case, the missing poster is in our office, and we and continue to search different areas,” he said.

No foul play is suspected in the case.

“My gut feeling is that he is out there somewhere and never left the park. There is no reason to think otherwise – there have been no sightings,” Farias said. “The case is still open.”

Stehling had a cell phone with him, but no signals were obtained from it after his disappearance.

The park has shared case files with the family, Farias said, and keeps them informed of search activity which may continue this spring.