As the summer months approach, there is a growing anticipation of vacations and adventures. There is something about the great outdoors that makes you feel like Christopher Columbus discovering the new world, or Lewis and Clark exploring the unknown of the West.
The summer months provide the most opportune time to explore the Mojave Desert’s wonders and beauty. Boulder City and Southern Nevada offer a wide variety of popular and secret desert adventures: Bootleg Canyon, Nelson’s Landing, dirt-biking trails, Valley of Fire, hiking, hunting and bird-watching, to name a few. The desert surrounding Boulder City has something to offer everyone.
However, it is important to remember that nature, in its awe and beauty, can still be a furious, dangerous setting. A few simple precautions could be the difference between an amazing adventure and tragic exploration.
First, it is important to plan your trip. It is never recommended to travel alone. Tell someone where you’re going and who you are traveling with. With the heat of the summer and the unlikeness of finding fresh springs in the desert, you should pack enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the day.
According to DesertUSA.com, an average of 1 gallon of water per person per day is necessary to keep hydrated. You should dress to protect yourself from the summer sun’s rays. Layered clothing slows dehydration and prevents sunburns. You should apply a smooth even layer of sunscreen, and wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses.
Dehydration and hyperthermia are your No. 1 enemies and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The first signs of dehydration and hyperthermia are a headache and nausea. If you start to feel sick, remove yourself from the elements. Get out of the heat and start to replenish your fluids. If you are vomiting, or become altered or confused, dial 911 or seek emergency medical care at once.
Aside from the desert heat, wildlife may present its own dangers. Many animals that roam the desert are harmless and, more often than not, fear you more than you fear them. But that doesn’t provide you with total security. As the weather warms up, animal activity on the desert floor increases immensely; many animals such as rattlesnakes, scorpions and desert spiders are venomous and potentially poisonous to humans. Avoiding these animals and leaving them in their natural habitat is the safest way to avoid injury.
If you get bitten or stung, seek emergency help immediately; the difference between life and death could be minutes. Other animals such as coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats are scarce and often hide themselves from humans, however if you’ve been attacked or bitten by one, seek emergency medical care.
The desert also has many beautiful plants and flowers to admire. Though water is sparse and plant life is seemingly impossible, nature proves again just how tough she is. It is important to remember that plants, like animals, devise natural ways to protect themselves from predators.
Cactuses, for example, thrive in the desert; they can store enough water to survive the tough summer months. To protect their water, many cactuses have sharp spines. These spines are like modified leaves and protect the cactus from aggressors.
Once these spines get lodged in your skin, they become unpleasant and painful to remove. It would be smart to seek emergency medical attention to have the spines professionally removed to avoid excess pain and potential infection.
Other plants such as dogbane, also known as Indian hemp, or datura, also known as jimsonweed, can be poisonous, or deadly if consumed. It is best to avoid consuming any plants found wild in the desert, as not to confuse them for something potentially harmful.
As many people look forward to their summer months of 4×4 off-road trucking and dirt-biking remember to share desert with the hikers, bird-watchers and sport-shooters alike. Avoid potentially unsafe desert mines, and keep an eye to the sky to avoid being caught in a potentially deadly flash flood.
Get outdoors and explore! If you have any additional questions or comments on desert safety, call me at the firehouse at 293-9228.
Brian Shea is a Boulder City paramedic/firefighter. If you have further questions about this or any fire safety issue, contact the Boulder City Fire Department at 293-9228.