"I was panicking and crying and sobbing -- I was a mess," said Amber VanHecke, 24, about the moment she first realized she was lost without GPS or cell reception.
VanHecke, a college student from Denton, Texas, was sightseeing by herself last week near the southern rim of the Grand Canyon when her GPS instructed her to make a wrong turn, leading her through increasingly tough terrain.
An experienced Girl Scout and outdoor adventurer, VanHecke had traveled by herself numerous times before and visited other national parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoias and Redwoods.
"I planned out my itinerary, had it posted on Facebook and stuff and off I went with some non-perishables and water," VanHecke said of the spring break trip she'd been planning since January. She left Denton and spent a day in Carlsbad, New Mexico, before driving the rest of the night to the Grand Canyon.
During her drive, she followed her GPS from a highway to a dirt road. But she eventually came across a more primitive road with grass and cacti.
"The problem was, the road wasn't there," she recalled. VanHecke said that eventually her GPS stopped working entirely and her car ran out of gas.
Early on after getting lost, VanHecke was able to briefly get through to a 911 dispatcher but the call dropped.
"And that was the first moment I felt true panic," she said.
The second day, VanHecke, who had packed a good supply of food and water in her car, made an SOS sign as well as a signal fire hoping that a helicopter or small plane would see her distress signal.
She initially thought a search party would be sent after her, but it soon became apparent that she might be on her own.
"I felt very disconnected from just everything and everyone. I was like, 'Is there even a search out?,' at that point that question crossed my mind," said VanHecke, who made video diaries documenting her ordeal. "But apparently there was a miscommunication somewhere and no one was looking for me at all."
Around VanHecke's fourth day in the desert, a truck passed by as she sat off to the side of road in her car.
"I chased them as far as I could," she recalled. "[But] they didn't hear me and they didn't see me."
VanHecke described herself as "feeling pretty hopeful" when she woke up on the fifth day of being stranded. She began to hike away from her car in hopes of finding cell service, calling 911 every few minutes during the hike.
Nearly 11 miles into that hike, she finally got through to a 911 operator.
"I immediately stopped where I was because I didn't want to lose it," she said.
When the call cut out and VanHecke could not get a signal again, she walked back to her car hoping her brief call had, this time, done enough.
After 119 excruciating hours alone in the desert, VanHecke was rescued on March 17. A helicopter rescue crew spotted VanHecke's car along with a giant help sign that she made out of rocks.
Before she left on her hike, VanHecke had left a note at her car explaining that she was walking east. Rescuers soon found VanHecke on the road just a few miles away from her car.
"She did a lot of things that helped her survive," said Jonah Nieves, a member of the Air Rescue team with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. "Those notes were clues and those clues led us to where she was."
VanHecke was treated for exposure and dehydration. One day after being rescued, VanHecke resumed her sightseeing.
"There's this word that really suits me -- it's called Fernweh," VanHecke said. "It means a longing for places you've never been and that's basically me. It's like wanderlust, but sounds fancier."
When asked how she kept it together, VanHecke said, "I had stuff to do."
"Besides, I couldn't do that to my sister or my mom or my dad," she said. "I just felt like I had a lot unfinished, but I just wasn't going to give up."