Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Surviving in the Sonoran Desert from A to Z

To someone who is just casually observing, the Arizona desert is a strange yet beautiful place. It has some of the most unusual landscapes, wildlife, and plants in the world. The sun shines and things grow. The shadows are mystifying and the desire to explore more is always there. What is over the next ridge? What might I miss if I do not look?Yet, for the unwary, unsuspecting, uneducated visitor who makes too many mistakes, it can be a very unforgiving place as well. One small mistake can turn an afternoon drive off road or an overnight camping trip into a tragedy.

There is a reason cartoons are drawn with human skeletons and animal remains left scattered on the desert floor beneath the desert sun. You can die in the desert!With so many people moving to desert areas or traveling to a desert region for a vacation, it is important to share the truth about desert life and desert adventures. It is also important so safety precautions can be taken to help prevent potential disasters. Man has turned a lot of the desert into Suburbia, but it is still the desert – though camouflaged, and the desert can be deadly. Even being caught on the side of a road without enough water can become potentially dangerous. Yearly, residents of the Sonoran Desert hear helicopters flying overhead, searching the desert arroyos for a winter visitor or careless resident who had not returned from an outing. Regularly, the news carries stories about someone who climbed a cliff and could not negotiate his way back down. Stories abound about people in flooded washes during monsoon season, people who never suspected the severity of a desert environment.Even the experienced hiker can be in a dire situation. Fortunately, most hikers travel prepared for emergencies so they survive and they learn from their errors. With a bit of knowledge, however, and a lot of common sense, tragedies can be avoided completely. There is no such thing as being too prepared when you are in an environment that can pose potential danger. After all, surviving in the desert is nothing more than plain old common sense with a few added bells and whistles.

Rules for Desert Survival

A. Share your plans. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Let them know your route and the type of vehicle and communication methods you will be using. Leave a map and do not change your plans without letting someone know. Leave the following information n writing with someone who will be contacted upon your return: ---Your route ---Information about your vehicle ---Information about with whom you are traveling---Potential health issues anyone who is with you might have---What type of emergency supplies you already have with you, including medications.

B. Do not depend on a cellular/mobile phone in these situations, as they do not always work when away from civilization. If you are in doubt, check with your service provider or the link below to confirm coverage areas. It is wise to be doubtful about the promises made about battery life and coverage area with cell phones. Err on the safe side.

C. An alternative to a cell phone is the rental or purchase of a satellite phone. A satellite phone or satphone is a mobile phone that communicates directly with orbiting communications satellites. The handsets can be the size and weight of the original mobile phones of the 1990s. They also have a large retractable antenna. Two large satellite networks cover the US: Globestar and Iridium. Satellite phones work better than cell phones although they require a clear view of a large percentage of the sky to get a reliable connection.

D. A CB or ham radios is another option. Ham radios have the potential to work from very remote locations; however, they are a very do-it-yourself proposition and they require a government license. They also require training and informed gear selection to be of use.

E. Today’s technology provides the adventurer with some newer options. Handheld GPS devices are available. These can provide topographical maps, aerial photography, and satellite imagery for the desert traveler. An example is the Earthmate GPS PN-20 with Topo USA 6.0 National & 1GB SD Card/Reader. This device is low-cost, has high-sensitivity, and delivers capabilities previously unavailable at any price.

F. You can also purchase a personal locator beacon (PLB) - emergency life saving devices that are used when all else fails. A PLB is a small transmitter that sends out a personalized emergency distress signal to your nearest rescue service. They are becoming a highly effective and internationally recognized way of summoning help though they are used only in life threatening situations.

G. Make sure you are using a vehicle that is meant for the desert terrain. If your vehicle does not have offroad capability, it is unwise to make the trip. Make sure you are skilled at maneuvering this offroad vehicle in unusual terrain. Many people buy vehicles with four-wheel drive and assume owning the vehicle makes them an expert. Offroad driving requires the proper vehicle and knowledgeable experience using it in rough areas. Classes are available for those wanting to learn the how to’s of offroad driving. Since many problems in the desert start with a car that breaks down due to ill repair, be prepared for everything. Make sure your car is in good condition with good hoses, a spare tire, spare fan belts, necessary tools, extra gas, water, and oil. A tune-up is wise prior to offroad adventures. Using a mechanic who is informed about the proper maintenance of an offroad vehicle is a wise choice. Make sure your tank is full to begin with. Bring extra fuel.

H. Listen to your body. Bring sufficient water for each person traveling with you. A good judge is one gallon per person per day. With water, the rule is more is better. You can always drink it when you get home if it is not used, but if you do not have it when you need it, it can be a matter of life and death. With water, make sure you drink it as needed. Rationing water can become very dangerous. Often when a person is dehydrated, the thinking processes malfunction. Drink what you need. Don't tell yourself you'll save it for when you really get thirsty. That just doesn't work in the desert. Soda is not a substitute for water as it tends to dehydrate the person drinking it.

I. Respect the heat. If water is limited, keep your mouth SHUT. Do not talk, eat, smoke, drink alcohol, or eat anything salty. Limit activity.

J. Be prepared for emergencies. Have adequate first aid supplies including proper medication for anyone who requires it. If someone is diabetic or asthmatic, it is vital to have the proper medication and enough of it with you. Bring more rather than less than you need.

K. Stay with your vehicle if you have a problem. It will be the first thing found by searchers because it's much easier to detect from the air. In addition, your car has many things to help with your survival such as mirrors, hubcaps, a horn, a battery, lights, a lighter, gas, oil, and floor mats. Raise the hood and trunk of your vehicle to show distress. Pilots and rescue workers look for this as a sign of emergency.

L. Make sure you have a flashlight and check its batteries often. A flashlight without batteries has no value. Your best bet is to put new ones in the flashlight as a safety precaution and bring extras. This is a good time to be over-cautious. An investment in a better quality flashlight might be worth your while in the end. And remember – a cheap flashlight is a cheap flashlight. You get what you pay for.

M. If you are absolutely positive about the route to help either via a GPS device or your confident knowledge of your location, and feel you must leave your vehicle, make sure you leave a note for rescuers telling them who you are, when you left, and the exact route you plan to take. If you don't know where you're going, stay put.

N. Know the desert. Do not sit or lie directly on the ground. Improvise a sunshade and elevate your body. Think creatively with the supplies you have. The ground can sometimes be 30 degrees hotter than the free air temperature. Use a car seat or something to raise yourself at least a foot and a half off the surface. There is also a greater possibility of having a problem with a poisonous insect or snakes when you are directly on the ground. In addition, if your car is hot, it will send the heat to you, so if you can, stay away from the vehicle until it cools down.

O. Protect your eyes with sunglasses. Even though the glare doesn't seem to make a difference, it will impair your distant vision and hamper your adaptation to night vision. It can also cause severe headaches. If you have no sunglasses available, improvise with a sun shield made from cardboard or cloth, a hat, or a bandana. Applying charcoal, soot, or oil around your eyes may help.

P. If you have lip-gloss, use it. Do not lick your lips, as it will hasten chapping and splitting.

Q. Dress properly. Wear the proper foot protection and keep your body covered. The sun can be a killer. Change your socks regularly. Change them even if you are changing to used socks. Sunning and aeration of socks and undergarments have a marked freshening value, physically and psychologically.

R. Do not remove clothing in an attempt to stay cool. This hastens dehydration. Wearing clothes helps you avoid sunburn as well. Cover up your arms, legs, and face as best you can. If you have sunblock, use it.

S. Keep your eyes opened. If you see a dust storm coming, lie down with your back to the wind, covering your head with your clothes to keep dust out of your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Make sure you think about the worst case scenario with all situations.

T. If the weather is cool, get a fire started. Always bring waterproof matches.

U. A roadway is a sign of civilization. If you find a traveled road, stay on it. You might find other people on a road who can bring safety to you or you to safety.

V. Keep an eye on the sky. Flash floods may occur any time thunderheads are in sight, even thought it may not rain where you are. Weather changes in the desert quite quickly at times. Do not remain in dry washes (arroyos) which can flood and be quite dangerous, if not deadly.

W. Try to stay under control. There is nothing more dangerous than blind panic.

X. In any survival situation, everything you do must be preceded by the thought: Am I safe in doing this? If there is any question, don't do it.

Y. Use common sense! Lean toward experience if you are not capable. Hire a guide if you must, but never undertake something that you are simply not prepared for.


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