Safe Desert Travel

There are numerous opportunities for recreation in the deserts of North America. Desert travel can be an exciting and rewarding experience. No one plans on getting lost or experiencing other mishaps. Being prepared will keep you safe and make for a memorable trip. Knowledge of basic desert safety may save your life.

The best months are October through May. The months of June through September are too hot for hiking or biking except in the higher mountains. With summer temperatures that can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun, staying safe, comfortable and happy becomes much harder than in cooler weather. Observing the following tips can be the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a miserable time or even worse.

  • Avoid the summer. In most cases, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit. If you go out during the summer, time your adventure for the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not as intense. Or plan to hit the trail early and then take a long siesta in a shady place until the temperatures drop.
  • Know what the water conditions are and where you might be able to find water. But you shouldn’t count on finding water, as a spring that is listed as running and has good quality water may have dried up. As a rule of thumb, carry one gallon of water per person per day.
  • Keep an eye skyward. Thunderstorms in the distance usually mean flash flooding in washes and gullies. And it may just be the one which you had planned on travelling. If there are thunderclouds visible anywhere near you, play it safe and stay out of washes and gullies!
  • Biting flies can be a bother. Carry a good insect repellent of 30% DEET.
  • The sun is usually intense. Wear a hat with a visor and light, loose, long sleeve shirts and long pants. Sunscreen all exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen periodically, especially to bare legs after crossing streams.
  • Carry a multi-function tool at all times. If you suffer direct contact with a cactus and have to pull some needles, you’ll be grateful for the gripping and pulling power.
  • Hydration systems that rely on one large bladder of water stored inside a pack or other carrying container are all the rage and they are convenient. But the bladder can rupture. Be prepared and carry at least one water bottle as a backup.

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