Tips for Traveling in the
Desert Travel Tips
Traveling in the desert, is a whole
different ballgame than traveling the rest of the American West. To
make sure that your desert adventure is a success, check out this list of
When To Go – In most cases,
spring and fall are the best times to visit the desert. It just
goes, without saying, that it’s too hot in the summer. In the Mojave
desert temperatures can be very cold in the winter and consistently in
excess of 100 °F in the summer and early fall. In the late winter
and early spring strong winds are common in excess of 25 mph, with gusts
of 75 mph or more are not uncommon. In Death Valley, temperatures of
130°F are frequent.
Off Road Adventures
– Make sure you know where you’re going as it’s easy to get lost in
the desert. Before striking out on back country roads or hiking
along trails, it’s a good idea to consult with park rangers. Road and trail conditions change quickly and often - they can tell
what the current conditions are. Plus, someone will have a
general idea of where you are. In hot weather, it is advised to
stay on the main paved roads since they are patrolled periodically.
Water – Carry
at least one gallon per day/person of drinking water. Plastic
containers work better than metal containers or water bags. While drinking water can be obtained at several places in desert
parks, you cannot rely on this, as some water sources must be purified
before it is suitable to drink. If you are relying on a spring
that is listed on a map, when you arrive there, it might be dried up. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to follow the minimum guidelines
for one gallon/person/day, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little
extra. Don’t ignore this guideline if you’re just traveling
across the desert by car. Any number of things could happen and
you need to have a stocked up water supply.
and Heat Exposure
– In the desert, you just need to avoid exposure to the sun at all
costs. Sunburns can be very serious, and
and heat stroke or heat exhaustion can prove fatal. It
is advisable to wear a hat, sunscreen and dark sunglasses. Even
though it’s hot, plan on wearing light, loose long sleeve shirts and
long pants. Remember to reapply sunscreen periodically to any
exposed areas. Time your walking in the early morning and late
afternoon when the sun is not as intense.
Stay out of Mines
– Dotted throughout
the desert, you may stumble upon or see an old mine that is awfully
tempting to explore. Don’t!! Areas near mines often
conceal deep shafts where the timbers in its tunnels are rotten. One bad step and you could wind up at the bottom of one of these deep
shafts. Mines and tunnels may also be filled with flammable and
poisonous gases. Though authorities are doing the best that they
can to fill in these abandoned mines, dozens of people are injured and
killed each year by stumbling into these old mines.
Thunderstorms – Quick and
violent thunderstorms are not uncommon in the desert. Keep your
eye on the sky – even when you can only see the storm in the distance. Flash flooding in canyons, washes and gullies are frequent. If
you see lightening or a developing storm anywhere near you, stay out
of these areas.
Insects and Biting
Flies – Though generally not dangerous, these
pesky critters can be bothersome and when the flies get to biting, it
stings! Carry and use a good insect repellent.
– You cannot take too many precautions for your automobile before
traveling through the desert. Here is a list of things to think about:
- Car Inspection
-- Before your trip, have your car thoroughly inspected by a competent
mechanic. Carry spare hoses and belts in your trunk.
- Keep tires at
normal pressure. Soft tires can generate heat
and cause blowouts.
If you think the tires are riding hard, stop
along the road for a few minutes; you will find that tires cool quickly.
- Frequently check the gasoline,
oil and water temperatures gauges. Service stations can be miles apart in the desert.
Carry additional oil and water for your car in your trunk.
- Watch the temperature gauge.
If your vehicle is air conditioned and the gauge indicates that the
engine is close to overheating, turn off the air conditioner. If the
engine overheats, pull to the side of the road but do not stop the
engine. Turn on the heater and , while the car is at fast idle, slowly
pour water over the radiator core to cool it. Refill the radiator to its
proper level only after the engine has cooled; the motor should be kept
- Road grades can be deceptive.
On warm days, shift to a lower gear that will allow the car to
accelerate on grades and drive slowly to avoid overheating the engine.
- Vapor lock may temporarily
disable your vehicle.
In that event, wrap a wet cloth around the fuel pump and line to cool
them (for carbureted engines only).
- Stay with your car.
If your car breaks down, stay in the shade it provides and wait for help
to arrive. Do not attempt to walk for assistance.
of the Hantavirus – While there is no evidence to suggest that travel
should be restricted in the desert, there have been several reports of the
disease in the deserts of the American West. Listed below is a list
of useful precautions:
coming into contact with rodents and rodent burrows or disturbing dens
(such as pack rat nests).
- Air out, then disinfect cabins or shelters before using them. These
places often shelter rodents.
- Do not pitch tents or place sleeping bags in areas in proximity to
rodent droppings or burrows or near areas that may shelter rodents or
provide food for them (e.g., garbage dumps or woodpiles).
- If possible, do not sleep on the bare ground. In shelters, use a cot
with the sleeping surface at least 12 inches above the ground. Use tents
with floors or a ground cloth if sleeping in the open air.
- Keep food in rodent-proof containers!
- Promptly bury (or--preferably--burn followed by burying, when in
accordance with local requirements) all garbage and trash, or discard in
covered trash containers.
- Use only bottled water or water that has been disinfected by filtration,
boiling, chlorination, or iodination for drinking, cooking, washing
dishes, and brushing teeth.
- And last but not least, do not play with or handle any rodents that show
up at the camping or hiking site, even if they appear friendly.
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