If you ever venture beyond Tennessee (and we suggest you do!) you’ll find a lot of desert terrain in the American southwest and parts of Mexico. It’s dry. It’s dusty. It’s the wild-wild west. It’s fascinating to visit, and the terrain is popular among campers on their way to the Grand Canyon and Vegas— but it can also be deadly if you don’t come prepared. Read more to find out about desert camping 101. Don’t take our advice to heart, but do consider it.
DRINK TONS OF WATER BEFOREHAND (AND BRING EXTRA, TOO)
Several years ago, I drove through the Mojave desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Halfway through the trek, my rental car’s AC went out. Let me be honest — I did not care that it was a “dry heat.” Whoever came up with this saying obviously didn’t understand triple-digit heat. One of the desert’s worst plagues is heat and dehydration. Dehydration is avoidable if you bring one gallon of water per person, per day. This will be enough to keep everyone well hydrated, but you’ll also need to bring enough for bathing and cooking. It also won’t hurt to purchase a filtration device!
FILL UP YOUR GAS TANK WITH EVERY OPPORTUNITY
To avoid what we mentioned beforehand, i.e. dehydration, heatstroke, sunburns, etc., make it your one mission to NOT RUN OUT OF GAS. AAA is not “just around the corner” in the middle of the desert, and parts of the southwest are known for having NO gas stations at all. The ones that do have fuel may only have it during certain months of the year. We recommend teetering the line with a tank that’s three-quarters full or more.
GET TO KNOW YOUR DESERT BUDDIES
If you’re unfamiliar with desert wildlife, now would be a great time to brush up on your sand-knowledge. Common creatures spotted in the American southwest include rattlesnakes, scorpions, lizards, coyotes, wolves, roadrunners, jackrabbits, and yes, rabid squirrels. The squirrels can honestly be some of the most dangerous animals on the list, not to mention the venomous nature of the others. And, if you’re on the outskirts of the desert in various national parks, it’s also not uncommon to see larger mammals like bears and elk. Don’t forget to clean up your campsite, store food properly, and know where the dangerous critters live, what to look for, and have a gameplan in case of a bite or an attack.
Photo courtesy of HipCamp
LAYERS AND MORE LAYERS
Most people think of the desert’s sweltering heat, but depending on the season, you may find yourself in below-freezing temperatures when the sun goes down. It can even snow in the desert. Don’t forget to pack extra blankets and insulated clothes that can be easily removed as temperatures change.
STRATEGIZE TENT SET-UP
When setting up a tent in the desert, your main focuses should be on avoiding the sun and the wind. Heat can be a major problem if you keep your tent erected during the day, acting as an oven and trapping in hot air. These temperatures have been known to melt certain plastics and glues, which can create even more dangers when taking toxic fumes into account. If you erect the tent perpendicular to the wind, be prepared for lots of gusts!
PLAN YOUR NUTRITION AND TAKE IT EASY MID-DAY
Extreme temperatures may suppress your appetite, but you still require proper nutrition as you adventure into the heat. Think strategically about your nutrition, and don’t divide your food into three meals, rather, eat consistent small snacks throughout the day. This will keep you from being weighed down by a heavy meal, and it also prevents you from growing hungry. We suggest high protein snacks and non-perishable foods like dried fruit, nuts, and complex carbs. It will also help if you do most of your major exploring in off-peak hours so that you’re relaxing rather than exerting in the hottest time of day.
DON’T COUNT ON GPS OR CELL SERVICE
Just plan on being so far out of range that you will have no cell service or GPS. Bring a paper map, a compass, and if you’re a real trooper, a star chart. Please tell friends and family your exact location, your exact plans, and a time window for your return. If those fall through, people will know where to start looking if you get into trouble with injury or danger.
The desert is an unforgiving environment and it packs mean punches. If you venture here, know that you’re not coming to play. It’s best to arrive before dark because it’s easier to get lost when the sun goes down. Remember to make a checklist of all essentials, and keep your belongings organized — think food, water, clothing, powerful sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, hats, flashlights, batteries, a few lighters, a knife, and even a spare tire.
Safe travels and happy camping!
—Outland Expeditions, Inc.
BOOK YOUR RAFTING TRIP ON THE OCOEE RIVER WITH OUTLAND EXPEDITIONS, HERE!
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