Amelia Linkert was back home in Rosemount, visiting relatives two months ago with a twinkle in her eye. The longtime Minneapolis special education teacher and missionary had purchased a camper as a retirement gift and was ready to explore. She was to celebrate her 70th birthday last Thursday.

Linkert, who moved to Idaho seven years ago, was planning a second trip to the lava-strewn landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument in her adopted home state.

“She was very happy and excited about going on this trip,” her younger sister, Margaret Poirier of Cottage Grove, said Saturday after authorities notified her that a body found Wednesday was Linkert’s. She had died of exposure.

At first, Butte County deputies and U.S. park rangers in Idaho believed they found the body of Linkert’s friend, 63-year-old doctor Jodean Elliot-Blakeslee. But dental records confirmed it was Linkert.

“Obviously, they left the trail for some reason and a tragedy occurred,” her sister said. “My heart goes out to Jo’s family, who had reached a bit of closure. Our family is concerned and distressed they can’t find her.”

As searchers continued to comb the rocky terrain with a helicopter, dogs and 70 volunteers, spokeswoman Lori Iverson said Saturday that Linkert had been dead for a few days when her body was found. The women left the trailhead Thursday, Sept. 19, and searchers began looking for them Tuesday.

“She had been out in the elements and that made it difficult to make a positive identification,” Iverson said, adding that Linkert had been suffering from dehydration and hypothermia in her final hours. Nighttime temperatures had dropped below freezing.

“Maybe Jo was injured and they found a place for her to hunker down while Amy went for help and grew disoriented in the dark,” Iverson said. “It’s like an ocean of black lava rock and there are no landmarks.”

Caving experts joined the search Saturday, expanding the search to the hundreds of caves in the area.

The second of seven siblings, Linkert grew up in Rosemount and attended high school there before going to Wartburg College in Iowa. She worked as missionary in New Guinea and Cameroon and taught in North Dakota before returning home to teach special education for Minneapolis public schools until 1999. She continued in that field after moving to Boise.

Linkert, who was divorced, was known as Amy Witte to students during her teaching tenure in Minnesota.

She had become an accomplished oil painter and wood figurine carver, too, and liked collecting wood to use in her art work.

“Amy was a very caring, loving and spiritual person,” her sister said. “It’s OK to make mistakes. We’re all human and this is not a TV show. It’s real life.”

Linkert would return to Minnesota every summer to catch up with her family. She stopped by to see her aunt Barbara Linkert, 79, in Rosemount, in July.

“She was just a wonderful person,” Barbara said. “And we’re all absolutely shocked.”

Her sister said the terrain in the national monument, composed of sharp, pointy lava, is so treacherous that “once you leave the trail, you cannot find your direction in the thick brush unless you can climb up to see a peak.”

“Everybody did their very best and are still risking their lives as volunteers,” Poirier said. “Amy was so spiritual, we are comfortable with the idea that she is OK.”