I have spent the better part of a month hiking the Southwest desert for every year the past 10 years. I have had many encounters with Europeans, since they are very aware of the Wave and other spectacular sites in the desert. Germans visiting the Wave are commonly encountered. Germany really has the Wave on the radar and they are frequent visitors. Ditto to a lesser extent to Asian tourists.
Many Europeans are superb hikers and outdoors people. However, there is not much that gives the European a real experience like the desert in this country. As a result, I’ve had situations to pull a Swiss couple out of a streambed, a few Germans got stuck in deep sand and were nearly dying of thirst by the time of the rescue, and so on. The Japanese are rather in the same boat. I had to point a group of Japanese tourists, who simply lacked all outdoor skills, the way to get out to safety at the Wave. They never saw it, but were happy they got rescued since they had wandered and had no idea where they were.
So if you are coming to the desert for holiday, here are a few suggestions to make the trip safer and a great adventure. If you lack experience, make the trip match your skill level.
- Hire a guide for backcountry excursions. They are experts at making your trip fun and safe.
- Rent a 4WD High Clearance vehicle that is meant for off road use. Don’t try to drive a subcompact car across a stream. It does not turn out well.
- Watch some YouTube videos on flash floods in the SW desert. They can be deadly. Pay attention to weather forecasts.
- Pack about 10 gallons of water in the car as well as a several day supply of food (I like to take soup with easy opening cans, cereal, jerky and so on). You can get stuck on the other side of a swollen stream, stuck in mud, stuck in deep sand…even a mechanical breakdown can be serious here.
- There is often no cell phone coverage. When going into a remote area, tell someone. If you don’t contact them by the appointed time, make sure you trust them to call authorities and ask for help.
- Carry your cell phone, but turn it off when there is no service. Searching for service, a common theme in the desert, will drain a battery.
- Consider carrying a 2 way mobile radio. I like using little walkie talkies to keep in touch with hiking partners. It makes communication easy and if you need assistance they have some range if you get good ones.
- Carry a shovel. You need one to dig your car out of sand, mud or whatever your encounter.
- Carry a machete. Well, that is hard to get on an airplane. But you will be glad you have something to cut with if you need to cut some shrubbery to use for traction if you get stuck.
- Bring the best photo equipment you can get hands on. You won’t visit a prettier place.
- Sunscreen and hat. Plenty of water on you when you hike.
- I like to have a GPS with me in remote areas, but I make sure I know my orientation since any mechanical device can fail.
- Particularly in hot weather, bring along electrolyte replacement such as Vitalyte.
- Remember temperatures change drastically morning to night. Have layers and adequate clothing, including rain gear since rain can be drenching.
- A waterproof stuff sack is great for protecting camera and other electronics in a deluge.
- Sunglasses, particularly wrap around ones to protect better against blowing sand.
- Headlamp and batteries. You might want to get some near sunset photos but you still need to exit safely. Only push the light if you are expert. Otherwise, leave with plenty of daylight.
- Our BLM offices have maps and information. Don’t expect them to always be friendly and helpful, but they have information. Get local maps and local information before heading out. You’ll find the National Park rangers more likely to be helpful.
- Google Earth Pro is amazing. Use it before you hike and see where you are going.
- If you are a complete novice at hiking, don’t start at the Wave. Experienced folks will find it simple. I never even glanced at the maps to find my way out, but I am lucky and was born with that sense of direction. I also watch as I enter any area, and turn around to see what I will be seeing when I exit if it is an out and back route.
- Bring good chocolate. Folks like me will ask for it when we spend an hour digging you out of a predicament.
This may seem like overkill, and for the Wave, some of it may well be. I go into more remote areas that are not frequented. But this list will serve you if you let it. It is not comprehensive nor is it meant to be, but it hopefully gives you the idea that you need to be self sufficient and ready to survive a few days if conditions change. You’ll need lots of water thanks to altitude, low humidity and the heat in summer months. Even in winter, drink a lot. Dehydration is a big problem in the desert. I have used all these items and more in my desert adventures.
Be sure to look around my website www.alantowerphoto.com because it has many remote locations pictured and it may help you decide where you want to go. You can’t see it all in one holiday.
So, Germans visiting the Wave and other Europeans visiting the desert Southwest, I look forward to meeting you on my next hike, and if you follow this advice, you may be assisting me rather than the other way around.