For nearly 2 months, Joshua Jacobsen has been missing. On July 12, he arrived at Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, with the intention of going on a vision quest, something he had been planning for many years. However, when no one had heard from him by July 16, a longtime friend contacted the park services and reported him as a missing person. His truck was found the following day at a campground inside the park, but there was no sign of the 39-year-old man.
Shortly before his journey, Josh had moved from Lincoln to Laurel, NE, where he took a head chef’s position at a new restaurant. Cooking had always been something he was passionate about, having just completed a culinary arts program, and he looked as this position as an opportunity to learn. Additionally, he was interested in Native American culture, which likely led to his need to go on this spiritual journey, possibly searching for his purpose in life.
Darla Darnell, who has know Josh for a decade, didn’t know many of the details of the quest her friend was setting out on, because she didn’t think he was allowed to tell her, as it is such a personal experience. However, she did know he was modeling the quest after the Lakota hembleciya, which means “crying for a dream.” It is described as a rite of passage, where the seeker deprives himself of food, water, and sleep for several days, while communing with the forces and energies of creation and self-identity.
Darnell had unsuccessfully tried to contact her friend a few times while he was away, thinking that he would get in touch with her on his way back. When she didn’t hear from him, she contacted his work, to discover that he hadn’t shown up. Finding this concerning, she contacted the National Park Service and reported him missing.
It is not uncommon for people to need rescued in the Badlands. A person can easily become lost there, with all the buttes and peaks, not to mention the heavy vegetation and animals a person could encounter. On July 18, a 50 person search party, including a military helicopter, went out looking for Josh, finding no trace of him, not even a camp having been set up. They searched on foot, on horseback, with four-wheelers and dogs, and still came up empty handed. After weeks of searching, their efforts were suspended on August 4. Chief Park Ranger Casey Osback says the park has not closed the investigation and will continue the hope that another hiker may find something to help them locate Josh.
His family remains hopeful that he could still be alive, though it seems unlikely that anything good could come out of this. Could a man really survive nearly 2 months in the Badlands?