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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How Do You Cheat Death In The Desert?

The answer to that question is simple.
Knowledge is everywhere about survival in the deserts. Books, videos, and survival courses are all over the place. On the Dirttime forum you will find in-depth information.
A few basic items and forethought , called “planning”, is what is needed.
A few yaers ago, from the date of this article, two people died in the Joshua Tree National Park. The word “park” is a little misleading for this area. First it is larger than the state of Rhode Island, some 1200 square miles, that is not a walk in the park. Sure riding along in your air conditioned car/truck you are protected from the full force of the summer heat. In reality it is a thin security blanket and it is a false sense of security, really. Those horror stories would never happen to me! Really?
They were a young married couple, the Van Hove’s, spoke German, and were here on vacation.  At each entrance to the “park” is information in several languages, including German. I have run into many German folks in the “Tree” over the years. They seem  in awe of these deserts. He was found about five miles from his wife. The spot where Van Hove died is very near the place where a very famous Dutch photographer shot U2’s album cover for “Joshua Tree” in 1986. Friends said he wanted to visit this spot. This road is clearly marked ” Off Road Vehicles”
I did not know this man, but I knew of him as he was a music promoter in europe. He was driving a rented Dodge Charger, and how he got to where he did is beyond me. About a week before this preventable deadly situation I drove my Tahoe right by the road they were found on.
First, not many are ready for this kind of intense heat. It can take days to acclimate, up to a week in fact. The reports say they died from exposure, heat exhaustion, at 105, or more degrees, can equal dehydration starting in minutes. What has to be measured is the heat on the ground that is reflecting up your body, that can be 10 to 20 degrees hotter that the air temp. If you find yourself in a place/situation like this pay attention to the little signs like a slight headache, dizziness, can lead to fatal heatstroke, and it can happen in only a few hours. Find shade and rest, wait until night fall.
Cell phones do not work in large areas of this “park” and being from another country they may not have known who to call or how, even if they did have cell coverage.
My own experience in the “Tree” goes back to the early 1950s. Then, when I was in the Corps I was stationed in 29 Palms, or the “Stumps” to those in the know.
Not far from the park. From the time I was about 12 years old until, and right up including now, I have hiked, camped, tramped, off roaded, and batted all over the “Tree” and adjoining deserts. I know much of the area very well. I do know exactly where these two were found.
A real shame they died,  a few simple tricks could have saved them.
Number one, set a tire on fire. That black smoke would have been seen for miles, and help would have been there in a heartbeat. By heeding the advice at the entrance and having water it could have saved them. Even waiting until night might have been a huge difference. I have no idea if they had water or cokes, or beer, but it seems they had nothing. Stock what you feel is a prudent amount of water for the deserts, then times that by four. Not soda, not beer, not juice , water. Some will add Gatorade, that's okay but have more water. Then stash some more water.
One book that can help you, and you should have on your shelf,  is the late David Alloway’s book ” Desert Survival Skills” , one of the best , if not the best book and info on the deserts I have ever read. This book was gifted to me by a Dirrtimer, Magna, many of you know Lou,  in 2000, and it is signed by David Alloway, with a very kind inscription about my(so called) skills. This book is still available and  I feel it is a must have. David,  covers information , in this book on the deserts, that I have not seen anywhere else. Before his untimely death, I had several conversations with David on the phone, he was a very modest man and great guy, we had planned on hooking up in the AnzaB desert and it never happend.  He packed his book with hard earned knowledge. His sense of humor and the added stories are a treat.
One other book is not a survival book on the deserts but in a way it is , it is a learning experience about how to see the landscape with a fresh eye , and how to enjoy being in the deserts. When this book came out in 1968 it hit like a bomb. Many of you already have read it , I have no doubt.
” Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey, has never been out of print. It is really a series of essays , observations that are  deep, profound and original. It gives you a ride that is tough, rough and combative, just like Abbey, his look at the deserts is “beauty”, harsh , hostile and unique. Plus you will learn from the many object lessons in the book. In a word  “eloquent”.
For most who wish to venture into the wild deserts, go in the winter, the fall and the spring, never in the middle of summer. Although that is when I go many times, because no one else is there. And I am a little crazy.
Do not be a victim, a little bit of common sense and knowing what to do is easy to learn.
The deserts offer a rare beauty, moments, hours, days and weeks that are amazing. You just have to know how to see.

By Dude McLean

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  1. “Down with eremophobia!” --David Alloway

    I sometimes ponder about what a cruel thing ignorance really is - yet that condition is curable if one takes time to learn, pays attention, and ever remembers that nature simply doesn't care about you.

  2. Will be looking for your thoughts on sheltering in the desert, ie. using two tarps to create an air "barrier" of sorts v/s reflective tarp, and of course - natural materials.

  3. Thanks Dave how did you know that is an article I am working on, great minds etc... lol


  4. Not playing Solitaire on your mobile device? Download From This Cool Link (Built for iOS and Android)