Desert exploration- How to prepare, what to wear and what to have with you.
Anytime of year is a great time to visit the deserts of the American Southwest. In fact, if you want to avoid crowds and ensure yourself some solitude, summer is your best option for exploring these majestic places. However, regardless of the season, there are some considerations, you need to take, should you decide to visit, regardless of the time of year. If you plan ahead and pay attention to these few suggestions, you can ensure that you will not only have an enjoyable visit; but a safe one as well.
Yes, deserts can be hot and arid, but they can also be quite cold as well, depending on their location and time of year. Today, there are numerous types of deserts in the world, that have evolved through various phenomenon. Presently, deserts comprise about 20% of the earths surface. A desert can be generally summed up as any place that usually receives less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rainfall per year. Deserts are a classification of regions, also called "drylands." These areas frequently lose more moisture annually, through evaporation, than they receive from precipitation. Temperatures can easily soar to 120 degrees or more during summer days before plunging as low as 60 at night.
Therefore, clothing selection is very important. You need to be prepared for both hot and cold weather during your visit and often in the same day. You may be surprised but, hypothermia is a real possibility when visiting the desert. While the temptation to wear shorts and a t-shirt may seem like appropriate attire in the desert. It would be an erroneous decision. Not only will you risk a horrible sunburn but the limited clothing offers you no protection from the vegetation and other environmental hazards. Furthermore, wearing next to nothing puts you at risk of hyperthermia when the sun does drop. Wearing light colored long pants and sleeves will offer you the greatest protection from the elements as well as the environment. Good trail shoes or hiking boots are recommended, as the trail is no place for sandals, open toed shoes or flip-flops. Your feet will thank you. The comfort level you associate with shorts, t-shirts and sandals is far more psychological than actual. Consider this; Have you ever seen the Bedouins of sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East wearing shorts and t-shirts? There is a reason. Don’t forget to check the weather reports before you depart and periodically throughout your trip if possible.
Deciding to head off and explore the desert ( or any other location ) should never be a last minute consideration. Where are you going, how long do you plan on being gone, how are you getting there and what happens if something goes wrong are all things to consider? In places like Joshua Tree National Park, help is not “just a phone call away” and never assume that everything will go as planned. Cars break down, you can get lost, the hike will be longer than you thought and injuries may occur. Did you leave a plan with someone you trust with you itinerary? Is your vehicle up to snuff, spare tire? Desert temperatures and roads can quickly beat your vehicle into submission and a flat tire may leave you stranded miles from help. Do you have a first aid kit, map, compass, GPS? Do you know how to use them? Careful planning and preparation will ensure that you have a safe enjoyable trip. Carefully addressing all the things that could go wrong will increase your ability to deal with situations should they arise. No one ever plans for bad things to happen but, they do. How your prepare and what you have available, will make the difference between an unfortunate event and a tragic one. Find more on wilderness essentials here.
Water, Water, Water! It cannot be overstated enough, the importance of water in the desert! No matter how much you have, it will likely not be enough and we don’t just mean what you carry on your hike. You should have water everywhere. In your car, on the trail and at your campsite, you can never have to much. If possible, have a stash on ice as well. You will appreciate it at the end of a long hike in the heat plus, cold water is an efficient method of bringing down core body temperature safely and quickly. You should also have at least five gallons of extra water in the vehicle when heading out into the desert and the recommendation is to carry at least a gallon of drinking water, per person while hiking. More is alway better and warm water is better than no water. Soda, juice, energy drinks and alcoholic beverages may be fine when relaxing in camp or once sufficiently hydrated. However, none are suitable replacements when out on the trail. The golden rule to follow when it comes to water is: when your water is half gone, it is time to tun back. You will drink just as much, if not more on your return leg. Many unfortunate incidents could have been avoided by following this rule. The other thing to consider is that by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. You are losing far more fluids than you realize, especially in the dry hot desert air. Push fluids constantly and remember that drinking only when thirsty is a recipe for tragedy. Keep an eye on the young and elderly, they are far more susceptible to heat injuries and the effects will impact them far faster than others. Don't ration, share if needed and drink plenty before, during and after your hike.
Always carry food with you. You never know when you may have to spend a considerable amount of time on the trail. Hikes take longer, accidents happen, you may get lost. Having a resupply of food is critical in helping your body maintain its energy level, critical functions and in keeping your body flush with the sodium and electrolytes needed. If you are drinking the water you should be, you are also flushing salts out of your body. Replacing these nutrients is critical in preventing a condition called hyponatremia. This condition, can be just as debilitating and potentially dangerous as other heat related injuries. However, it is easily prevented by adequate intake of food throughout your day. Beef jerky, nutrition bars, dried fruits and nuts are all great options to carry in addition to meals that you plan on carrying. The rule to follow is to carry at least one more major meal than you plan for. For example: If you know you are going to eat lunch on the trail, make sure to carry a dinner meal, along with lots of snacks. That way you’ll ensure that you have enough to cover most unexpected delays. Putting the fuel you burn, back in your body will help you stay focused and give you the energy needed to complete your trip safely. Don’t skimp on food!
Now we’re not suggesting that you pack everything possible for a short day hike. However, there are a few critical items that should always be with you, regardless of the hike you are planning to undertake or the environment you are in. These are all things that will be useful and may just save your life if necessary.
First Aid Kit: One that will address the most anticipated injuries. Knife: Any good reliable pocket knife will be with its weight in gold. Map: Of the area you will be hiking in. Compass: Never underestimate being able to determine your direction of travel and how to return. GPS: Will tell you exactly where you are; know how to use it. Whistle: Valuable signaling device that carries a great distance. Warming layer: Temperatures and weather can change quickly Required medications: Don’t leave home without them! Food, Water: Carry more than you think you will need. And lastly, a communication device that will work in the area you plan on visiting: A cell phone is great but service is not available in all areas. These, at a minimum, should always be in your day pack. In general, it is always wise to pack as if you may have to spend the night. That way, you can be prepared for most delays should things not go as planned.
Lastly, a note on some hazards that are unique to the desert.
The Heat: Heat related injuries can be a serious life threatening problem. Heat exhaustion, Heat Cramps, Heat Stroke and Hyponutremia can quickly turn a fun summer hike into a tragedy. In addition to hydrating continuously, make sure you eat well, take regular breaks and don't ignore the warning signs. All of the above conditions are easily prevented and reversible. However, if left untreated all of them pose serious risks.
Wildlife: Everything in the desert; bites, pricks, pokes or stings. Proper clothing and paying attention will save you from painful encounters with both the wildlife and plant life. Avoid sticking your hands, face or feet into any location you have not visually inspected first.
Most of the larger predators that call the desert home will go out of their way to avoid you but, be aware of your surroundings, travel in groups and store your food and waste properly to avoid any close encounters with these beautiful creatures. Snakes, scorpions and spiders also call the desert home. Most of them are harmless however, there are some that can be quite dangerous and at the least, quite painful. Watch your step, keep your tents zipped up and never leave your boots or other articles of clothing out in the open, as they make for an inviting shelter to many of these creatures. Shake out bedding before climbing into it and inspect your pack before throwing it on your back. Performing these small rituals will help you avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Flash Floods: The desert can be a dangerous place in a thunderstorm. Dry washes quickly fill with raging waters and more than once, an unsuspecting hiker has been washed away. Keep your eye on the sky and weather reports. In the desert, it does not need to be raining where you are, for there to be a flash flood. Avoid camping in washes and hiking narrow canyons if there is rain in the forecast. Never attempt to cross flooded washes or roads. Just wait on the high ground. Flood waters in the desert rarely last long and the risk just isn’t worth it.
The desert is a beautiful and alluring place to explore and enjoy. It is also dangerous and inhospitable for those who enter unprepared. By planning ahead, packing properly, having a plan and heeding these simple suggestions, you can have a memorable and enjoyable desert journey. So get out there and explore but be smart, be safe and avoid unnecessary risks.
The tools every hiker and backpacker needs to have!
If you’re looking for another gear list, you probably shouldn’t be heading out for a wilderness adventure anytime soon. By now, you should have reviewed the 100’s of websites and blogs that all have some version of a recommended or preferred equipment list for any hiking, camping or backpacking adventure. Or have at least, obtained your own collection of the latest and greatest outdoor and survival equipment by now. No, this list of essentials is the most overlooked and forgotten list out there. In fact more injuries, accidents and tales of misfortune are a direct result of NOT having the items on this list before heading out on your next adventure. The irony is, this list does not require you to buy or pack anything. Yet, they are the most forgotten items in the backcountry. It is the intellectual toolbox that you need to carry with you at all times regardless of the equipment you may carry. All the equipment in the world wont matter if you fail to pack the following before your trip.
Having a plan is an essential part of any adventure. Whether it’s a day hike or a multi-day trek, leaving without a plan can be a recipe for disaster. You need to outline where you are going, why you are going, who is going with you, when you are going, when you plan to return, what you plan to do and how you plan on doing it; at every step of the way. It doesn’t always need to be in great detail but, you should have a basic plan that outlines your entire trip; beginning to end. This gives you and the other members of your party a solid concept to follow and the ability to anticipate potential obstacles and problems ahead of time. In addition to the who, what, when, where, why and how, you need to have contingencies in place for when things don't go as planned.
Essentially, a list of what if scenarios and measures to address them when they occur. We all know that rarely does any well thought out plan, go off without a hitch. Therefore it's important to address anticipated problems and solutions ahead of time. Doing so will ensure that you are prepared for most eventualities. Having a plan gives you the ability to adapt and improvise as needed, make changes based on your situation and address problems before they become problems. It has been said time and time again “Plan the climb and climb the plan”. This is the mantra of almost every professional adventurer out there. Why? Because it matters! Heres a sample plan for you to use
Technical and practical proficiency:
All the equipment in the world will not help you, if you do not know how to proficiently use or employ it. You have a compass and a map but do you know how to use them? Whats in your first aid kid and can you apply the principles when needed to save a life? Are you heading out on a camping trip having never set up your new tent? The time to learn how, is not on a ledge, in a thunderstorm, in the dark. The time to discover a products limitations or shortcomings is not when you need it most to save your life. Get out and practice using your equipment, take classes on land nav, download software for your GPS and know how to use it. Get familiar with your equipment in the back yard or on short overnight trips. The things you will learn and how to adjust or adapt your gear to any situation will amaze you. To often people assume that their equipment will perform as advertised. I have experienced this myth time and time again. The reality is, most equipment, regardless of how good it is, will fail at some point. Poles break; know how to fix them, batteries die; carry extras, pockets rip, tents leak, stakes bend, pack straps fail, moisture wicking clothing isn’t, marked trails aren’t, the injury is worse than it looks, the destination is always further than you think. Its gets darker faster, rains harder, gets colder, hotter faster than you imagined. The cliff is higher, the water deeper and the wind stronger, etc, etc. The point is, know how, when and where to use all of the equipment you are carrying before embarking on a trip. Otherwise, why do you have it. More importantly, know how to fix or improvise your equipment when it does fail……because at some point, it will.
Wilderness adaptability skills:
Now this can be a never-ending list, since every environment and situation you can imagine, comes with its own set of preferred skills, to successfully deal with it. That being said, if you’re heading into the wilderness, there are some basic skills you should have, along with some knowledge of the area you are going. I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered people here in Joshua Tree National Park, in the middle of summer, wearing a T-shirt, shorts, sandals, carrying a 1/2 liter of water on a four mile hike, wondering why they don't feel so great. Knowing your environment will help you avoid trouble and save you, more times than you may think. Preparing yourself for the environment should be first and foremost on your list of skills. Will it be hot, cold, rainy, snowing or maybe a combination of all the elements. Weather patterns change quickly and you need to be able to adapt accordingly. Are there poisonous plant or animals where you are
going? Bears, Mountain Lions? Yes, they will eat you! Landslides, rock slides, avalanches, cliffs, swift water, flash floods? Can you build a fire, construct a shelter or litter if needed? Can you find and purify water, determine direction without a compass or map? These are all things that can become very important when you step into the wilderness. How well you are prepared to deal with each situation may mean the difference between life and death. Regrettably, many people tend to overlook this critical information thinking, “It’s only a day hike on a marked trail; What could go wrong?” The answer is: Anything and everything and always when we least expect it. Therefore, do your research, take classes and practice the basic skills. Your life depends on it.
I prefer to use this term since “Common Sense” can be subjective and interpretive. Good sense however, is something everyone can relate to. What does "good sense" imply? Well, if you think that something you are doing or are about to do, may not be a great idea or potentially create a problem, then it probably isn’t something you should do. Listen to your inner voice. Ask yourself the question “If I climb this rock face, can I get down?” “Should I find a better place to cross?” “Maybe camping in this wash, isn’t such a good idea.” Take the time to think and assess your actions and the possible outcomes. The time to realize that you might be in trouble is not after the point of no return. Many times, people in the wilderness have found themselves stranded on cliffs or rock faces attempting descents. Never once thinking, “What if I reach a point and can go no further, can I go back the way I came?” Assess the risk versus reward equation. When you’re alone in the wilderness, rarely do you get a second chance to make a better choice. One wrong decision can turn an inconvenience into a disaster; not only for yourself, but others as well. There may be times and places to take calculated risks or when you are faced with dire circumstances if you don’t take the risk. However, good sense, can help you avoid many situations that could potentially cause you problems. A term that I have found useful is the Assess, Evaluate, Decide, Act equation. Assess your total situation and the environment. Evaluate the possible outcomes for each action you take or don't take. Decide on the best courses of action for your situation. Act decisively! Do not trap yourself in an endless stream of debate. We’ve all heard it before, “Think before you act”. If you can do this, it will help you avoid many unpleasant and possibly dangerous situations in the wilderness. Remember, there is no substitute for experience so get out there and practice using good sense.
So, if you can remember to pack these four essential items into your intellectual toolbox, along with all that coo,l hi-speed gear. You will gain a greater sense of confidence, awareness of your surroundings, make good sound decisions and enjoy your wilderness adventure safely regardless of where or when you go.
See you on the trail!
Kelly Crawford is the CEO and Founder of Joshua Tree Excursions. He is a Wilderness First Responder and a former Military Professional with 23 years of outdoor, operational, high risk experience. He currently lives and operates adventure tours in Joshua Tree, CA
So, you’re planning your next getaway to some far off exotic land like Joshua Tree National Park or maybe its a short trip, around the corner to Aruba. You’re thinking of all the things you’d like to do and see while on your trip. Now, if you’re like some of us, who think we can do it all on our own and save money in the process; you may be right, to not to hire a guide. However, even us self-reliant adventurers can benefit from the hiring of a local guide for some of our planned activities. “But, I don’t need a guide”. You say. “They cost to much money and most tours are boring. Besides that, I just want to do my own thing”. In some instances, doing your own thing is a smart choice. However, let us give you a few benefits of why, hiring a guide will make your trip much more memorable and enjoyable.
It will save you time…and frustration.
We all know that planning a trip can be hectic enough. With figuring out transportation, where to stay, what to eat and things to do. It can all be overwhelming and frankly, take a long time. Simply taking the time to contact a local guide can save you hours of planning and preparation time. They know the area and can give you valuable insights into the best places to visit, where to stay, where to eat and a real feel for the area. In fact, there are many concierge style guide services that are more than happy to help you plan your entire visit. They can arrange your lodging, coordinate transportation, address your meals and schedule your activities all based on the kind of experience that YOU would like have. I mean really, how many times on vacation have you sat discussing what the plan would be for each day or decided to book a last minute activity, only to find that it was booked. Or, you arrive at your destination and set out to discover some unique point of interest. Only to find that it is much further or, much more challenging to get to than you imagined. So then, you spend your time aimlessly exploring other areas, maybe wondering what you are looking at and what the story is. Or worse, you spend all your time just trying to navigate an area successfully and miss the unique details that make your destination so interesting.
It will enhance your overall experience.
Yes, you are perfectly capable of reading a map, driving or walking from point of interest to point of interest, reading information plaques and taking pictures. But, how much are you really getting out of your wanderings. Not to mention, sharing your trip and time, with all the other visitors who are trying to see and do the exact same things you are. We’ve all been there before, standing in that long line to climb Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park or waiting for those ahead of us to finish their photo session or selfie stop in order to take a picture of a spectacular view. Well, hiring a local guide can provide you with an experience you would otherwise not have. They can take you to places off the beaten path that are equal to and often more impressive than the popular sights. They can help you avoid the crowds and give you not just an experience but an education as well. They know the best camp sites, secret trails, hidden valleys, the stories, the history, geology and facts that pertain to the area. They can help you choose where to eat, stay, activities in the area and in general provide you with inside information that will make your trip one to remember.
Hiring a guide will help to get you out of your comfort zone and discover things you never thought possible. Both about yourself and the place you chose to visit. A guide will get you down that path you wanted to hike but were unsure of where it might lead or, if you could get back to the car. A guide will ensure that your safety and security are first and foremost throughout your entire trip. They will keep you from going places that may not be safe and will educate you on wilderness skills and best practices; so that one day you will feel confident about exploring on you own. So the next time you are planning a trip, consider hiring a professional guide.
Especially if your trip includes visits to National Parks, Forests, Preserves or other outdoor locations. Of course don’t overlook hiring a guide if your headed to a big city as well. The value of private, professional guides, regardless of the location, cannot be overstated. You can be assured that doing so, will not only enhance your vacation but will make the overall experience much more memorable and enjoyable. See you on the trail!
Majestic and awe inspiring landscapes, unfold before you in an ever changing kaleidoscope of wonder and enchantment.
Gazing across the panoramic views of Joshua Tree National Park. One is immediately struck by this incredible desert cathedral for the soul. Landscapes dotted with Joshua trees, creosote bushes, juniper and yuccas sprinkled amid soaring and prominent rock formations. Create an enchanting Orwellian/Dr. Seussian world, that's like no other place on earth.
A place of tranquil inspiration
As you sit atop one of the many granite towers that cover the park. One can immediately see why this has long been a place of quiet reflection, meditation, discovery and inspiration. Musicians have sung about it. From Graham Parsons to U2 to the Eagles. The desert has provided an unending stream of musical greatness. Artists have long been painting and photographing the wonders offered by this mysterious and enchanting place. It is the place that Hollywood has found to provide some of its most spectacular backdrops and locations found in countless film and television shows. Even the A-listers, socialites and philanthropists, have found a place here amongst the rocks and Joshua Trees to escape the chaos of their everyday lives and find moments of peace and solitude. For the climbers, hikers and campers, This Eco playground provides and unending array of opportunities. The wildlife, plants, history and geologic wonders are like long lost friends for those with an interest in the natural sciences.
It is truly a place of wonder and discovery. For the unindoctrinated, you may not believe that this place, nestled between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, could hold anything of interest for you. I would say, reserve those beliefs until you have stood atop one of the many peaks and experienced one of the stunning sunsets that are visited upon this land every day. Or, found your quiet sanctuary in the sun, nestled amongst the many rock formations.
This is a place that has called to many and captured the spirit and soul of those who have visited. It has found a way of calling those who have experienced the magic here back, again and again. It is a place with something for everyone. It is a place that once experienced, will never be forgotten. Come stay, explore, find your center and take a journey in this incredible place. For more information on the wonders of Joshua Tree or to plan and book your own customized desert journey, visit Joshua Tree Excursions. Remember; Life is all about Journey's, not Destinations!