Search and rescue crews on Thursday found human remains at Mesa Verde National Park, which authorities believe belong to a Texas man who went missing in 2013.
Mesa Verde National Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer said an anonymous tip Wednesday indicated the remains of Mitchell Dale Stehling were in a remote section in the park, west of Durango.
Based on information included in the tip, Spencer said the tip appeared to be credible.
“That’s why we’re checking it out,” Spencer said earlier Thursday. “He ID’d aspects of the case that lead us to believe it’s credible.”
Spencer said Thursday that search crews found human remains in the afternoon. The tip did not provide an exact location, but descriptions in the tip gave search crews a good idea where it was.
As of 5 p.m., authorities had not determined whether the remains were Stehling’s. Spencer did not know whether personal belongings were found on the scene.
“We’re still processing the scene,” he said.
A final determination likely will be made by Montezuma County Coroner George Deavers. He did not return calls Thursday for comment.
Spencer said the body was found “quite a distance away” from where Stehling was last seen. The area, which took search crews about two hours to reach, was searched in 2013 when Stehling went missing.
Spencer was unsure late Thursday whether crews would return Friday to continue processing the scene.
Stehling went missing on June 9, 2013, while visiting the park.
According to past reports, Stehling and his family, from Goliad, Texas, were on an extended road trip visiting national parks throughout the West.
About 4:30 p.m., Stehling decided to hike alone to the Spruce Tree House, one of Mesa Verde’s most popular ancient cliff dwellings, about a quarter-mile hike.
When Stehling did not return after about two hours, his wife alerted the park, kicking off what would be a massive search mission.
It was determined Stehling had taken the Petroglyph Point Trail, a longer path that connects to the Spruce Tree House trail and has some more difficult hiking terrain.
Stehling was reportedly seen by a group at the petroglyph panel. He then left and was never seen again.
A search began that night and grew in the following days to include up to 70 personnel, search dogs and helicopters. Searches continued over the years – most recently in November – but no trace of Stehling has turned up.
Confounding searchers and compounding the mystery of Stehling’s disappearance, the 52,500-acre Mesa Verde National Park is not large compared with other national parks.
For example, Yellowstone National Park is more than 2.2 million acres, and Rocky Mountain National Park is 265,769 acres.
Stehling was presumed to have died in the wilderness, though the case remained open. Spencer said Stehling’s family has been notified. Attempts to reach Stehling’s family on Thursday were not successful.