By Vincent Stokes
The high desert of Southern Utah is one of the most magical places in the United States, if not the entire world. The Colorado Plateau towers above the valleys below creating awe-inspiring landscapes. Millions flock to the area to discover its beauty. Slot canyons dot the geography that also features impressive rock formations seen only in this region.
While viewing this desert oasis as a form of affordable wilderness therapy, many forget that it’s a wild place. Many get lost, dehydrated, and even die every year because they aren’t fully prepared to handle the conditions. This is why Utah is home to many wilderness survival programs for kids and adults alike to learn skills that will protect them in an emergency. In the meantime, here are 6 Ways to NOT Die in the High Deserts of Southern Utah.
This can never be stressed enough–water is the essential element to any visit to the high desert of Southern Utah. Four quarts of water per day, minimum, is the recommendation for any hiker on their journeys along the Colorado Plateau. In this area, water is not plentiful, it is a desert after all. So be sure to pack wisely and bring as much water as you think you can carry. You will stay hydrated throughout your hike and be prepared if an emergency situation arises.
A good rule of thumb is to remember that you’ll be sweating a lot, especially if you’re trekking in the heat of Summer where temperatures frequently can rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It never hurts to bring a source of electrolytes along with you on your trip. Replacing those healthy salts, secreted in sweat, will allow you to go longer and with more energy than without.
Never ever head out into the wilds of Southern Utah without telling someone where you’re going. You’ll be tempted to just get lost and see where the paths take you but it’s extremely easy to get lost here. Slot canyons wind and curve all throughout the desert but if you don’t know where you’re going, all the water in the world won’t save you.
Carrying a good GPS, map, and compass will give you more confidence in your travels. When thinking about navigation, the number one trick is to use common sense and good judgment. Stay safe and the trails should keep you safe. Backtrack when you run into issues until you come to a familiar waypoint.
Every pack should contain an emergency kit. You never know what the Southern Utah weather will throw at you, so it’s important that you be prepared. Your emergency kit should include the aforementioned water and navigation tools. In addition to these items, a first aid kit, headlamp or flashlight, matches, some snacks, and a multi-tool or swiss army knife are essential.
These items will have you feeling ready to take on the elements should things not go according to plan. Other good ideas to include are a mylar emergency blanket, a poncho, a whistle, and rope or paracord as they can be lifesavers.
Following the three-layer system is a good idea when traversing the wilderness of Southern Utah. A base layer that wicks away moisture is the first step to the system. Sticking with synthetic materials is the choice for base layers as they remove moisture from the surface of your skin and spread it towards the outer layers. The middle layer should be an insulating layer that will keep you warm when the temperature drops. The third, and final, layer is the outer shell. This should be a wind and water resistant barrier between you and the elements. Sticking to light colors and a loose fit will allow you to be comfortable and ready for any unpredictable weather that comes your way.
Always remember to listen to your body first and foremost. Only you can decipher when you’re thirsty, tired, or sore. Turn around if you’re feeling too ill to continue. The last thing you want to do is forge on, only to not have the strength or energy to make it back to home base.
Dizziness, nausea, heavy breathing, and a quick pulse are all signs of impending dehydration. Drink water often, replace healthy salts with electrolytes, and remember that it’s ok to turn around. Following these rules should keep you safe along the trail.
The weather in Southern Utah can be unpredictable. Rains and flash floods can come without warning in this area. One minute the sky is clear and the sun is shining, and the next clouds can roll in and dump a few inches of rain on you. People die every year in slot canyons because these tight quarters can fill rapidly with water leaving you trapped. Driving through washes can suddenly carry your car away, as well. Be cautious and mindful of mother nature before heading out for the day. Check weather reports and always play it safe before heading into areas where it may be difficult to get out.
Southern Utah is a wild wonderland ready for you to enjoy. Hiking the high desert is one of the most amazing experiences in the world and should be experienced. Being safe means being prepared. Pack wisely, mind your body, and drink plenty of fluids so your next trip is successful and the memories will last a lifetime.
Author: Vincent Stokes is an outdoor enthusiast and an experienced world traveler. He also writes writes for the National Parks and works to promote pride in homegrown travel destinations. You can also connect with Vincent on G+ or twitter (@TravelingGlobal).
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