Family and friends of a missing Guelph man are retracing his steps at Joshua Tree National Park almost a year after he was last seen.
Dawne Robinson is in California this week in an attempt to find her brother Paul Miller, who went missing last summer while on vacation with his wife.
Paul was last seen on July 13, 2018, before going on an early morning solo hike at Joshua Tree National Park before he and his wife Stephanie were to fly home to Guelph later in the day.
“When he hit the trail it was early morning. His thinking was to hit the trail before the heat of the day hit,” said Robinson by phone from the park on Tuesday.
“Just after Paul went missing, temperatures spiked and were in the high 30s. Because of that, they could only search in the early morning and they tried to not have people out for more than two hours at a time.”
Dawne and her husband Dave also made a trip to the park last November to search for Paul, but were unsuccessful.
“When we arrived at the park this morning, it was a bit surreal because in November we didn’t really expect to be coming back again — we thought that we would have found him back then,” said Dawne. “It’s kind of a weird feeling being back, but we are hoping maybe this time there will be a clue.”
The hardest part of the whole ordeal is not knowing what happened to her brother, said Dawne.
“When we walk the trail, it’s a pretty well-marked trail. The mystery is how could things have gone so badly? Something obviously happened,” she said.
Almost one year of not knowing what happened plays tricks on the mind, said Dawne.
“He’s either in the park and something happened where he wasn’t able to call out for help or he was on his way back to the car and something happened. All sorts of things go through your mind, it plays some games with your imagination. At this point we don’t have any control over what may have happened, we do have control over looking through the park, so we are concentrating on that.”
The last time Dawne saw Paul was during a dinner out immediately before he left for California and she was headed fro a canoe trip to Nunavut.
"We were each going off on our own adventures — Dave and I were going to the arctic and Paul was heading to the desert, so we kind of chuckled about that,” she said. “He was so looking forward to it — you could tell he was excited to get down here and see the place.”
Dawne said she is driven to find her brother, in part, to give closure to Stephanie and the couple’s two children.
“We know he’s gone at this stage, but what drives us is to find some answers for Stephanie and the kids. It’s been a really tough time for them,” said Dawne. “It’s different if you lose someone to a car accident or an illness, because you know what happened. In this case, we don’t know what happened and we don’t know where he is.”
The searchers will expand on the area that was concentrated on in November. Dawne said she credits the people who live near the park for never giving up on finding Paul.
“Some local people have been coming out to walk the trails and the area around that through the winter and keeping their eyes open. We really appreciate that. It means a lot to know that people who are total strangers have been coming out to help us,” said Dawne.
"The one good thing that has come out of all of this is that the people down here really care — they never met Paul and they don’t know us, but they are really going out of their way to help find him as well,” she said.
Park staff have arranged for search and rescue volunteers to assist with the search.
“It’s a beautiful place. My husband and I both studied biology at the University of Guelph, so the ecology of the place is fascinating to us,” said Dawne. “You’re kind of torn between appreciating the raw beauty of the area, but on the other hand you know Paul is missing out here — so it’s a love/hate relationship.”
Dawne said a lot of people back home have been affected by Paul's disappearance.
“Paul was a pretty special person. He had a lot of friends in Guelph and the area around it. He was just one of those guys who was really involved in sports and his church and his community."