Deserts are some of the most stunning and breathtaking landscapes on the globe. The dry heat, the sand, and the special plants and animals that are specifically attuned to living there are infinitely unique. Growing up in the Southwest, I have an especially acute affinity for desert flora and fauna, and I’ve always admired the tenacity and specialized adaptation of these species that somehow thrive in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Throughout all the time that I spent exploring, hiking, and camping within nearby national and state parks, my admiration for the people that made these stark and rugged environments their homes grew, too. The landscapes of salt flats, sand dunes, and rocky mountains do require a specific set of skills to live in, but humans have an amazing ability to adapt to just about anything. Without nature’s adaptations against barren landscapes and oppressive heat, however, we humans have developed tools and strategies that have made desert living possible. Whenever I plan an extensive desert camping trip, I make sure to keep these preparations in mind.
Water is Life
This is obvious, but it’s mandatory that I reaffirm how important it is. When in an arid desert, we lose our body’s precious water at an exponential rate, and those levels are the difference between a fulfilling experience in the desert, or a draining and difficult one. If you’re camping near a water source, you may not need to bring along more than a few gallons—if not, then I recommend bringing a gallon a day per person at least. The key to making your water last comes down to some simple, yet effective methods. After some extensive hiking and exercise, make sure to sip your water but never chug it. Trust me, I know what it’s like to want water more than air, but your body will appreciate it if you quench your thirst over a longer period of time: if you drink too fast, you’ll risk diluting your blood, which may cause faster excretion of water by the kidneys. I’ve invested in some pricier canteens that keep my water cool during all-day hikes, and the satisfaction of hydrating with a portable oasis is worth it.
When I first started spending extensive time in the desert, I originally thought that I’d dress to impress by dressing to sweat less: I wore cut-off khakis and sleeveless shirts, thinking that fewer clothes would keep me from overheating. The beautiful desert sunrises and sunsets belie the sun’s midday intensity, though, and it’ll burn your unprotected skin if you let it. Keep it covered. Pick yourself up a good set of protective clothing. I use pieces that are lightweight and baggy—and preferably made of breathable, natural materials—so the dry desert air picks up the moisture from my skin while keeping me safe from direct sunlight. When I do decide to bask in the sunshine, I put on a layer of sunscreen first, or the subsequent burn will be a better reminder later on. Your tent is the next step of protection. Set your tent up in a shady spot if at all possible and your chocolate chip granola bars will thank you.
Tools of the Trade
Now that you’re prepared to camp in the middle of nowhere, you’ll need a way to get there. Your car needs its own basic essentials to make a successful desert trek, and I also recommend a toolkit, flashlight, jumper cables, toilet paper, water and food storage, and a first-aid kit. My backpack’s also stocked with food, water, and a first aid kit, as well as a multi-tool, and last-but-certainly-not-least: a journal and pen to poetically reminiscence about the distinct arid beauty of the environment.
Whatever Happens Just Outside of Vegas
When I’m gearing up for some of my more extensive desert solo trips, sometimes I start by exploring a metro area nearby. In Nevada, Henderson offers access to an array of desert landscapes to explore. From there, I’ve traveled to Lake Mead, the surrounding slot canyons, the wide-open desert plains, and incomparable mountains. When I head back into town to refuel, I take in some creature comforts that help me appreciate the beauty and solemnity of the desert even more.
Before you take off towards this magical wonderland, go through a check-list of items that will make or break the trip. Make sure to take plenty of memorable pictures, and keep your free time open to meditation, healing, creation, and growth. Keep an open mind: the desert isn’t a barren wasteland to endure, but a dynamic environment to explore to your heart’s content.