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After living in Utah (and the desert) for almost seven months, with at least five more this year, I’ve developed a few habits for traveling in the desert to stay a little safer. It can be a little intimidating traveling through the desert, but I love it and want to share with you how to stay safe and prepared on a desert road trip.
Bring lots of water
I try to keep two gallons in my car at all times. I prefer gallons over small water bottles so I can fill up my Hydro Flask and it’s less plastic use. This is in case you break down in the middle of nowhere without phone service, which is a lot of places. It’s important to stay hydrated, but even more in the relentless desert heat and sun. I also bring my insulated water bottle with to keep it ice cold and refill it at gas stations whenever possible.
Watch out for rattlesnakes
I encountered my fair share of rattlesnakes over the summer, at least five or six that I was maybe too close to. Two were while I was out hiking, two were behind the dorm I lived in at work, and one on the road. We stopped to look at it, they’re all over the road at night. Be aware that they are out there. Some people I met hadn’t seen any in years, or maybe just one. Still, keep an ear out for the rattle and if you do see it, don’t get too close. It would be good to know where the closest hospital is and what to do if someone you’re with does get bitten.
Wear good sunscreen
Like I said before, the sun is relentless and you don’t want to get an awful sunburn. Your vacation pictures would be of a lobster instead of you, and it’s just inconvenient and hurts. Of course, it’s also bad for you. Wear sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply it. I like Sun Bum because it smells delicious and is vegan/cruelty free. They have sprays and the regular creamy stuff as well as a face stick. They even have some for delicate little babies.
Fill up on gas as often as possible
This is really important, and can also prevent you from needing all the water from above, that you should still always have no matter how often you get gas. Once you are out in the Great American Southwest, gas can be rare. I know stretches of highways and interstates where there is 100+ miles between gas stations. Fill up every chance you get, even if you’ve got 3/4 of a tank left. It’s also the perfect chance to fill up your water bottle again.
Tell someone where you’re going or your route, well both really
If you’re going hiking, tell someone where you plan on going. In case something happens, they’ll at least know where to start looking. Also, give them a time you’ll check-in and if they don’t hear from you to let someone know. If you change where you’re going, update them. Tell someone your rough driving route, too just in case. This story of the Death Valley Germans is an eyeopener to be prepared. This one of Bill Ewasko, who still hasn’t been found, in Joshua Tree shows the importance of telling someone your plans. 127 hours, anyone?
Bring lots of snacks
Along with water, you don’t want to be stranded somewhere without food. Bring snacks and extra water with when you’re hiking, too. Trail mix, Clif bars, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and other energy bars are all great options to have on hand.
Don’t be afraid to pull over on the side of the road for pictures or short hikes. This is how I saw a lot of what I did last summer. If I saw something cool or interesting on the side of the road, off I went, usually with someone though. Of course, if you’re climbing things, make sure you can get back up or down the same way. I almost got stuck in a canyon on the side of the road because I couldn’t get back up something I went down. More on that story later. Basically, if you’re comfortable doing this, it’s fun. If not, just stick to trails.
Be aware of where you are
If you are hiking, look out for geological landmarks (mountains, big rocks, that kind of thing) and if you get lost, go up for vantage points and down for water. If you really want to be prepared, bring a Lifestraw or a GRAYL filtering water bottle. I’m going to try and get my hands on the water bottle for this next summer. They could both be essential if you got lost and needed water out in the desert.
I have to say, I think everyone should go on a Great American Road Trip. I would highly recommend everyone explore at least some of the Southwest US. I love the desert. There is so much cool stuff to see that’s hidden in canyons that are just asking to be explored. Just make sure to keep all of this in mind for a safe and awesome desert experience.
Have you done a lot of desert travel? Have you gone on a Utah or Southwest road trip? Would you add anything to this list?