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Mesa Verde scales back on search for man

Posters asking Mesa Verde visitors and other individuals whether they have seen Mitchell Dale Stehling have been circulated around the region. Stehling has been missing since he told his family he was hiking to Spruce Tree House on June 9. Enlargephoto

COURTESY PHOTO/MVNP

Posters asking Mesa Verde visitors and other individuals whether they have seen Mitchell Dale Stehling have been circulated around the region. Stehling has been missing since he told his family he was hiking to Spruce Tree House on June 9.

The search for Mitchell Dale Stehling, 51, who mysteriously disappeared June 9 after telling his wife and parents he was going for a hike in Mesa Verde National Park, has been scaled back.

The search was expanded throughout last week with no luck, and now investigators are considering other possibilities, including whether Stehling left the park.

"They are checking into everything," said Betty Lieurance, public information officer for the park. "Nothing is off the table."

The search will continue, but in a more limited mode in which a small team of rangers will continue to focus on the areas where Stehling was last seen.

Searchers have been scouring the Chapin Mesa area where he was last seen at the Spruce Tree House trailhead, and Petroglyph Trail. Nearby Spruce Canyon has also been searched extensively, but no clues have emerged.

"A technical rescue team is out today rappeling into inaccessible areas with observers in tactical positions," Lieurance said. "There are 5-10 searchers today, and dog teams continued their work over the weekend."

Rangers have used the park's helicopter to search the canyons and nearby mesas. At one point, 60 searchers on foot, horseback and all-terrain vehicles were on the ground looking for him. A dog team from K9 Search and Rescue also participated.

Stehling, of Goliad, Texas, reportedly had no water or overnight gear when he started out on the trail Sunday afternoon. Temperatures early last week reached 102 degrees in the canyons.

"Lost person behavior says he did not go a long distance," said Chuck Melvin, K9 Search and Rescue commander. "It is a difficult search in rugged terrain, and he was dressed in brown making detection a challenge. Things were well organized and everyone had a task."

Visitors who hiked the Petroglyph Trail on Sunday, June 9 and/or Monday, June 10 are asked to call park law enforcement at (970) 529-4422.

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