Saturday, January 16, 2021

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Desert Skills

A few things that might come in handy

Before you ever leave the house:

Check all equipment - Do you have everything that you will need to survive on the trail or in your vehicle if you become stranded?

Do a complete visual check of your vehicle including the underside and under the hood looking for obvious problems.

Check all equipment that you will want to carry in the vehicle in case of an emergency.

Check on extra water for you and the vehicle.

Check the spare gas for the vehicle.

Do you have emergency food in the vehicle?

Do you have all the necessary maps and GPS or compass?

Do you have extra batteries (or charger) for your GPS, cell phone, camera, flashlights, etc.?

Are all of your rechargeable batteries fully charged?

If you use a camera, do you have extra batteries, disc/film, lens, etc.?

Contact Person:

A Contact Person can be anyone that you trust or know is reliable.  Ex: spouse, friend, co-worker, neighbor, even an email contact that you email on a regular basis.  Set up something with that person to respond if they have not heard back from you by a certain day/time.  Example:  "Hey Bob, I'm going to Kolob today and should be back around 8pm and I'll email / call / notify you when I get back.  If you have not heard from me by......, please call out the posse!".  Be as detailed as possible about where you are going and who "Bob" should call.

Does your contact have emergency telephone numbers, agencies, or people to contact?

Do they have maps of your planned route?

Do they have your ultimate destination?

If possible, have you provided them with all GPS and/or maps coordinates?

Do they have your approximate return time?

Have you set a time when they should call out the troops, so to speak?

Do they have a complete description/photograph of you and the vehicle that you will be using?

Do they know whether you are alone or with a hiking partner?

Very important:  Stick to your plan, otherwise everything that you have setup with your contact person is just about useless.

Vehicle Breakdown:  Things to consider...

This is where your contact person comes into play.  Depending on their instructions rescue can be from several hours to several days away, or if there is no contact person, it may not come until it is too late.

If you become stranded with your vehicle, try and stay with the vehicle.  Most people would have been rescued earlier if they had stayed with the vehicle.

Keep in mind that a vehicle will be spotted easier from the air than a hiker will be.

Staying with your vehicle is normally the best unless you know help or shelter are close by, and you know that you can back track safely.

If someone is expecting you at a certain time and you know that they will take the appropriate action, then staying put is usually the best action.

Your vehicle can provide shelter and warmth if necessary.  If it has a hatch back, you can use it as part of the shelter in conjunction with a tarp.

Set up distress signals.  Raise the hood and open up the doors, and spread out materials around the vehicle.  This will make you more visible from the air.

You can use a mirror or shiny object for signaling.

Flares or bright fires can be seen for miles at night.

Burning a tire or oil from the vehicle will create a smoky fire that can be seen during the day.

Place a large X, three large marks, or the word "HELP" made of rocks or vegetation on the ground so that can be seen from the air.

Usually things in groups of three are determined to be distress signals.  Such as three blasts on a horn or whistle, three marks on the ground, three gun shots.

If you leave your vehicle, leave a note for rescuers.  Let them know the time, date, and direction that you are traveling, and anything else that may be of importance.

We highly recommend you STAY PUT as it will be easier to locate you.

Thinking about walking out?

Before you do anything - sit down, relax, think about your situation for a bit, and consider all your options.

How far are you from the nearest paved road or people?

Do you know for certain that the road and safety are in "that direction" and only a couple of miles away?

Did you GPS your route coming in?  Hint:  As soon as you are ready to leave the pavement "reset" your GPS mileage and track to zero.  That way you will know the exact distance from where you started to go off road and how far you may need to walk back.  What seemed like a 5-mile trip may be more or less than that depending on the condition of the road.  We have all been on jeep trails that took 3 hours to get to where we going because of the condition of the trail and it turns out that it was really only a few miles.

Try to retrace your footprints or the vehicle tracks.  If you are going to be guessing about the way out, it is better to STAY PUT.

Time of day? - Early morning or mid-day

Time of year? - Spring or summer

Are you in good enough physical condition to walk the distance?

If you end up spending the night on the trail, remember that nights on the desert can be 40 to 50 degrees cooler than daytime temperatures.

Do you have the supplies and water?

Keep hydrated.  If water is in short supply, breathe through your nose (to help reduce moisture loss), and do not eat, drink alcohol, or smoke.  All dehydrate the body.

Are you or someone in your party injured?

Are you sure that you know the way out?

Do not take short cuts just because it looks like a shorter distance.

If you are thinking about cutting across country instead of following the road out because it looks like a shorter distance to where you are going, you may want to rethink that decision.  Terrain that looks flat is often a convoluted mess of dry washes and it could make your trip out much longer.  Plus you have a better chance of meeting up with help on a dirt road than in a dry wash in the middle of "nowhere".

If absolutely no one knows where you are because you did not establish a contact person, chances are no one is going to miss you within a reasonable length of time; if your vehicle is beyond repair, you are going to have to make some difficult decisions as to what to do:  Do you walk out or stay put?

If you are in a deep or narrow canyon, you may need to get to a ridge line to be spotted, providing that you are able.

We highly recommend youo STAY PUT as it will be easier to locate you.

Collecting Water: 

You will n eed a sharp knife or machete, large plastic bags, small fold-up shovel, something to collect and/or pour the water into.

The absolute best method of collecting water is to "bring it with you".  Always bring more water than you think that you will need.

Keep water in your vehicle at all times and change it out on a regular basis.  In southern Nevada it is not that uncommon to have multi-car pileups on the highways and you could be stranded for hours in 100 degree-plus heat.  An emergency situation can happen anywhere at any time.

Myth: Old western movies picture the almost-dead cowboy knocking off the top of a barrel cactus and scooping out cups full of life-saving fresh water.  Reality:  The interior pulp does have a little moisture that can be squeezed from the pulp, but it can cause nausea and is very bitter.

Place the open end of a large plastic bag over the end of a tree branch enclosing as many leaves as possible.  Place a small rock in the bottom of the bag.  This helps to weigh down the lower part of the bag.  Then tie the open end of the bag tightly around the branch so that you are sealing the leaves and branch inside of the bag.  Now, theoretically the moisture that is released from the leaves will be collected on the inside of the bag.  Depending on the type of tree, you can get from 1 to 2 cups of water per day.  Not a lot, but every little bit helps.

Solar Still - In a preferably sandy wash/arroyo, dig a hole approximately 2-foot wide and 1- to 2-foot deep.  In the bottom of the hole place a container for collecting the water.  If available, place pieces of cut up cactus around the container. Over the top of the hole place a piece of plastic sheeting.  Secure the sheeting in place with sand and rocks around the edges.  Put a small rock in the center of the plastic directly over the container at the bottom of the hole (the center of the plastic is now lower than the edges.  This will cause the water to run down the under side of the plastic into the container.  Not very reliable and takes most of the day to get a little water.

Water can sometimes be found on the inside curve of dry washes, creek beds, and arroyos.  You will need to dig for it and it will not be clean, but it may save your life.

Many times water is trapped in the natural rock basins (tinajas) in the desert.  Water has been taken from these natural rock basins by Native Americans for thousands of years.

Watch for green vegetation as there may be a natural spring nearby.  Also check near the base of cliffs for moist areas.

Watch for animal tracks as they may lead to water sources.

Insects sometimes buzz around or over moist areas.

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