Monday, March 17, 2014

Desert dangers to watch for on a day hike with children

Opal Canyon, California
As a dry, often inhospitable environment, deserts offer both incredible scenic wonders and grave dangers. Because of the former, they make for great hiking terrain…because of the latter, you should be aware of the variety of dangers that you could encounter during a day hike there. Foreknowledge is power.

Among the many dangers a desert environment can present are:
g Sun- and heat-related illnesses – Sun stroke, sunburn, heat stroke, and dehydration are serious, life-threatening ailments that often affect hikers who don’t respect the desert. Hiking during more temperate seasons and hours of the day, drinking plenty of water, dressing properly, using sunscreen, and pacing oneself all can go a long way to avoiding these problems.
g Flashfloods – Often trails head down canyons and arroyos, which are perfect spots to get caught in a flashflood. When hiking in such locations, always keep an eye out for an escape route to higher ground. Also keep an ear out for a roar rising in volume up canyon, even on sunny days, as thunderstorms several miles away can quickly send floodwater roiling down a canyon or a dry run. If you hear such a sound, immediately head to higher ground.
g Creepy crawlies – Spiders, scorpions and snakes all can sting or bite, and some are poisonous. To avoid meeting one, don’t place your hand in holes or pick up rocks where these creatures like to hide and don’t place your feet in grass or brush where you can’t see your toes. Should you encounter one, keep your distance and slowly back away.
g Getting overadventurous – Exploring side canyons you don’t have maps for or climbing up rocks and cliff sides that have no easy way down are all no-no’s in the desert. You don’t want to get lost or become trapped so that your water supplies run out before you be rescued.

Of all of these dangers, sun- and heat-related illnesses by far are the most common followed by injuries from climbing where one shouldn’t or letting lost by going off the trail. I’ve spent several years hiking the Mojave, Colorado, Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, and during all of that time have encountered one rattlesnake, one scorpion, and zero flashfloods. What’s even better is you can control sun- and heat-related illnesses and being overadventurous simply by using common sense. In short, a desert hike can be fun and safe!

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.