DELTA -- Authorities found human remains Wednesday while searching Utah's rugged desert, reviving hopes for a major break in the case of a mother who disappeared nearly two years ago.
It wasn't immediately known if the remains belonged to Susan Powell. A medical examiner was on the way to the scene.
The case has cast a harsh spotlight on Powell's husband, who remains the only person of interest but has never been arrested or charged.
"It's a game of patience at this point," West Valley City Sgt. Mike Powell said. "We need to slow down a little bit and identify what it is we found."
He said authorities secured the scene Wednesday evening and would resume work in the morning.
Powell was 28 when she was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job. She had been seen by friends at church and at dinner the previous day.
Her husband, Josh Powell, told police he left his wife at home about 12:30 a.m. that day to go winter camping in freezing temperatures with their young sons -- then 4 and 2 -- on the Pony Express Trail, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The 4-year-old confirmed the trip to police.
Josh Powell's family believes his wife ran off with another man.
Kiirsi Hellewell, a close friend of the missing woman, said the discovery of remains brought a sense of hope that the case might finally move forward but also sadness that she might really be dead.
"It's always a mixture of emotions because we've been down this road before with the discovery of bodies and remains," Hellewell said. "It's like a seesaw because we also don't want to find out that she's dead."
In May, speculation swirled that remains found in the desert about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City might have been those of Powell, but authorities later said it was a young adult male.
Authorities have been searching since Monday in the area near Topaz Mountain in Juab County. The site is about 135 miles southwest of the location where Susan Powell was last seen in West Valley City.
Last month, investigators searched mine shaft-dotted mountains near Ely, Nev., and later served a search warrant at the Puyallup, Wash., home Josh Powell shares with his father, seizing computers and journals thought to have belonged to Susan Powell.
This latest search is in an area popular for gem and rock hunters. Police have said Powell's husband liked to rock hunt in the area.
"From the very beginning he clearly indicated he had been in and around the area," said Sgt. Powell, who is not related to the family of the missing woman.
Josh Powell didn't immediately return a telephone call on Wednesday.
Susan Powell's father, Chuck Cox, expressed doubt that the remains belonged to his daughter. He said that would mean whoever took her would have had to dump her body in the middle of a high desert in the wintertime. He said the ground would have been covered in snow and frozen solid.
"We're just waiting," he said Wednesday evening.
Last month, the case turned salacious as family members on both sides sparred over truth and fiction, and accusations of sex and lies.
Josh Powell's family claims Susan Powell was sexually promiscuous, emotionally unstable and suicidal. They were offering as proof several diary pages from the missing woman's teenage years.
Her family says the entries were written by a young girl still growing up and have no bearing on her disappearance. They got a temporary order in a Washington court prohibiting the Powells from distributing the journal pages.
Josh Powell has mostly remained quiet throughout the investigation. Police have said he hasn't cooperated.
But in a string of national television interviews in August, Josh Powell denied killing his wife and having anything to do with her disappearance.
In another strange twist, Steve Powell, Josh's father, said he and Susan Powell were falling in love and even implied a sexual relationship had occurred.
"Susan was very sexual with me," Steve Powell said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"We interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that," he said.
Susan's father, Chuck Cox, said the allegations are false. He claims it was Steve Powell who initiated unwanted sexual advances, and that his daughter had no interest in her father-in-law.
The feuding between the two sides got so heated that a court commissioner in Washington state ordered Chuck Cox and Josh Powell to keep 500 feet apart.
Chuck Cox has said his family remains hopeful but were preparing for the worst.