A Dutch music promoter and his German girlfriend were identified Wednesday as the pair found dead in Joshua Tree National Park earlier this week, and authorities said they likely died after just a few hours of exposure to desert heat.
Augustinus Van Hove, 44, and Helena Nuellett, 38, entered the park in a sedan shortly before noon on Monday and took a remote, dirt road to head to Arizona, Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. Raymond Gregory said in a statement.
Nearly seven hours later, a couple visiting the park found Van Hove's body on the edge of Black Eagle Mine Road. Sheriff's deputies later found Nuellett's body about a mile from Van Hove, who was the director of 013, a popular concert hall in the Netherlands.
The black Dodge Charger they were renting was found stranded about five miles away on the same road. Temperatures during the day topped 106 degrees.
The road had signs warning drivers that it should only be for four-wheel drive vehicles because they may run into soft sand, park spokesman Joe Zarki said. He said it was possible the couple was trying to walk for help.
While an autopsy hasn't been completed to determine the cause of their deaths, Gregory said evidence indicate the couple "both succumbed due to exposure to the elements."
"It doesn't take long to go from being in trouble to being in a life-threatening situation. Heat exhaustion or heat stroke could happen very quickly, your brain and body malfunctions seriously," Zarki said.
Joshua Tree National Park sprawls over more than 1,200 square miles (3,100 square kilometers) of the rugged Colorado and Mojave deserts. It attracts about 1.4 million visitors a year.
Zarki said many Europeans come to the park during the summer months, usually as part of their tour of U.S. national parks.
"You can anticipate that many of these folks don't have experience traveling in desert environments, it's possible they weren't fully prepared for the kind of conditions that you can get out here," he said.
Zarki said Joshua Tree has brochures in multiple languages providing safety tips on traveling in the desert, and that heat-related emergencies rarely occur in the park.