Helen Melnyk, 56, and her longtime friend, Anatoly "Tony" Nosow, 59, were airlifted to safety late Tuesday night from the east side of the park, just south of the Old Dale Mining District.
The two went for a day trip in Nosow's truck on Saturday within the park. They had told relatives and friends they would return in a few hours. Melnyk said their GPS got them lost and their car ended up having three flat tires.
"I told him, I said, 'Not coming home is not an option,'" she said.
They had no cell service, but they stayed with the truck for nearly two days before deciding to hike for help. Melnyk said after three days of being stuck, she was starting to lose hope.
"I actually thought about writing a note, because I knew that we were at a point that if it didn't happen tonight or tomorrow, that was it," she said. "We were both so physically and mentally exhausted, and we didn't see any kind of rescue helicopter or anything."
Rangers did search the roads the two were on but didn't go high enough, thinking there was no way Melnyk and Nosow went that far.
Melnyk said since Nosow lives in Joshua Tree, he was familiar with the trails, but they ended up taking an unchartered one. Thinking of her daughter, Melnyk said she went into desperation mode. With the battery on her cellphone dying, she tried one last time while resting on a high plateau of rocks around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"I turned it on and still no signal, and something just told me, dial 911 ... this time, somebody answered," she said.
Several hours later, they were airlifted to safety by a Riverside County sheriff's helicopter. Both Melnyk and Nosow had just minor cuts. Melnyk said they had trail mix to eat but barely any water during their ordeal. So they stuck to just drinking capfuls of their bottled water each day.
Melnyk said she was thankful that the weather wasn't too harsh since all she was wearing were jeans and a thin sweater. Temperatures only dipped into the low 50s each night.