How to travel in the desert


The desert is seen as entirely harsh and demanding but there are some simple pleasures and advantages that can be found only in the desert.  I’ve never slept so peacefully under such beautiful stars without so much as a tarp or tent separating me from the night as in the desert.  Water is the main and by far heaviest thing you need to carry in the desert.  It can also be surprisingly cold at nights depending on what desert and what time of year, so it also may require a good sleeping bag.  Often you can get away without a tent though and in some cases without heavy clothing or sleeping bag as well.  Even with water, you should investigate water sources, are there hidden pools, springs or streams?  There are streams in the desert that only rise above the soil at night when cotton wood trees are no longer pulling at the water.  There are secret potholes of water filled with fresh water shrimp and canyon tree frog tadpoles.  Then again, there are harsh and waterless deserts made of shadeless dunes that will kill in a very short time the unprepared.  A good example of the later is White Sands New Mexico, it’s a gorgeous place that I hope to visit again sometime but this french couple died in a relatively short amount of time, without enough water.  It’s really best to look for water sources but always pack a little extra water with you just in case.  Even when driving through the desert, I always carry at least a gallon or two with me, people have been known to die of dehydration on long highways in the south west when their car broke down.

Conversely, flash floods can kill you in the canyon country of the desert southwestern US.  It’s always good to look at weather reports and flood warnings specifically, use common sense and plan out an escape route as a last ditch measure.  Always be cautious when camping overnight in the bottom of canyons, especially narrow canyons, they can flood incredibly quickly and it’s hard to escape in time.  Deserts can be dry most of the time but there is little absorbent material in the soil to pull in large amounts of rainfall hitting in uncommon bursts. Flash floods are a very real danger in deserts, especially desert canyons.

Mainly what the desert requires is planning and foresight.  Clothing that keeps you from burning and sunscreen are good.  Water is an absolute necessity, 2 quarts to a gallon per day per person at least, if you need make water caches for long trips.  Shelter can be basic or almost non-existent depending on weather conditions but be sure to check your shoes, clothes, etc. for scorpions, snakes, tarantulas, etc.  Be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you should return, just so you don’t have to cut off your own arm; pretty unpleasant business that.

Plan, use reasonable caution but enjoy, the desert can be one of the most magical places you can ever see, it’s certainly one of my favorite landscapes.