PLACER COUNTY, Calif. -- Sheriff's officials in Northern California are in the process of identifying human remains found in a state recreation area, CBS Sacramento reports. Investigators say hikers discovered the remains just after daylight Saturday beneath an outcrop of trees by a road.
They were not covered or buried but had badly decomposed into skeletal remains, leading investigators to believe they had been there for quite some time.
"It could be natural causes," Lt. Andrew Scott with the Placer County Sheriff's Office told the station. "It could be an accident, or it could be foul play, but it will take some time to determine that through the investigation and through the autopsy."
Scott said investigators were checking for remnants of clothing or distinguishing marks that will help them determine if the remains are male or female and make a positive identification.
The discovery was made inside the Auburn State Recreation Area, a popular spot for hikers and mountain bikers like Suzanne Debono, who was surprised to hear the news.
"It seems like a pretty safe area," she said. "It's very popular. There's always people on the trails. Yeah, that's very shocking."
Debono said the terrain in the area can be pretty rugged in spots.
"There are some very dangerous spots, yeah," she said. "You could sustain a trauma if you were here by yourself and you had a little head trauma and were unable to get help, absolutely."
There are also other potential hazards.
"There's a lot ofalthough they're kind of solitary, but nonetheless," she said.
Investigators are focused on the fact that the remains were discovered just 200 yards from a roadway. They're also checking missing-person cases in the area.
The remains were being sent to a coroner's office for identification.