Driving In The Desert

Be Fully Prepared, Your Life Depends Upon it!

Be Fully Prepared, Your Life Depends Upon it!

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Don’t blaze a new trail; stay on the established path. The ruts made by your tires may be left behind for years, even decades, as an example of a thoughtless 4-wheeler, and may be used in photographs and publications as a good reason to close off the land. Plus, the weight of your vehicle might crush some of the multitudes of tunnels and tiny excavations of field mice, kangaroo rats and so on. These ruts may also cause erosion.

Don’t litter – not even a cigarette butt or a candy wrapper. If you pack it in, pack it out. Trash doesn’t rot on the desert like it does in wet environments; once it’s there, it’s there for a very long time.

Don’t spin your tires and chew up the soil – it breaks the surface crust and leads to erosion. If you need to pile stones up to get over an obstacle, then put the stones back where you found them afterwards.

Don’t play obnoxiously loud music when others are around. They have a right to enjoy the desert peace.

Don’t disturb the wildlife. Leave Desert Tortoises and other critters where they are; you are visiting their home, and chances are good they really don’t want to leave it for yours.

Slow down and enjoy the scenery; you’re out here to have fun, not to spend your day repairing damage you wouldn’t have done if you’d driven a little slower.

Desert Driving Tips
If you want to get off the pavement and onto the sand, you need 4-wheel-drive, and the tougher, the better. Whatever vehicle you choose to drive out there, make sure it’s in good condition, has good trail tires and is ready for the trail. Your vehicle is your lifeline in and out of the desert. Do a complete vehicle check before leaving, and make sure all of your fluids are topped off and your tires are ready for the trip.

Driving technique is equally important. There are some basic tips; first is drive slow and easy. You’ll damage tires, break things, run over desert tortoises and lose out on experiences if you try to drive too fast.

Second, stay on the top of, not in, the ruts (except in sand, of course; when driving in sand I try to keep the wheels where the sand is best packed from the previous vehicles).
Put your vehicle in 4-wheel drive before you need it, and shift to low range early to reduce the strain on your vehicle.

When in deep sand, keep your speed up and use higher gears; don’t spin the tires, and don’t stop till you’re clear of it. If you get stuck in sand, try letting some of the air out of your tires (remember to air them up again as soon as you can). After digging out the sand that is blocking your tires, you can use a piece of wood, some canvas or (if no other choice) some brush for traction. If you have plenty of water available you might try moistening the sand in front of your tires.
When you’re approaching a hill, don’t just rush into it blindly — look it over, and realize the road might make a sharp turn just when you can’t see anything but your hood.

Another good rule: remember that any hill you go down you may also have to come back up. If you don’t think you can come back up it, don’t go down unless there is another clear and obvious trail out. You will occasionally encounter other vehicles on the trail. Just as on the street, you should stay right to avoid oncoming traffic, if you can. If it is safer to move left instead of right, then by all means do so; the rule of common sense applies. If there is only room for one vehicle to pass, the more maneuverable vehicle, or the more experienced driver, should give way.

When two vehicles meet on a grade and there isn’t a safe place to pull over, the vehicle traveling uphill has the right of way. It is safer for the vehicle traveling downhill to back up, and it will be much easier for the downhill vehicle to get under way.
Remember that what may look like a short trip on the map may take many hours in 4-wheel drive — so allow enough time for safe travel. Also, know that a short trip by car can be a day-long hike. Plan accordingly; if you break down you may need to hike out if help doesn’t come along in a reasonable time.

Bring A Good Spare Tire Along..

Bring A Good Spare Tire Along..

If you do get lost, stuck, or if you break down:

Stay with your vehicle or otherwise make yourself visible.

Keep calm — don’t panic and don’t waste time on the ‘if’ word (‘If only I hadn’t done that’). It’s wasted effort, you did it, or it happened, whatever. Spend your time constructively.

Think through your options. Take stock of your supplies and situation.

Stay put, unless you have a clear and specific destination.
If you choose to hike out, avoid walking during the heat of the day; morning and evening walking is better for conserving your body’s moisture. If you must leave your vehicle, leave a note telling the direction of your travel, your destination, and the date and time you left.

Seek shelter from the elements, but try to make yourself visible (with smoke or a signal fire, or a brightly colored tarp).

Emergency Supplies

Aside from the usual tools, spare tire, jack and so on, carry enough food and camping equipment to stay alive and relatively comfortable for several days in adverse conditions.

First aid kit – includes a snake bite kit (be sure to replace the rubber suction cups each spring), suntan lotion, insect bite spray, burn ointment, ace bandage, iodine, bandages and Band-Aids.

Heat tablets or Fire Logs – There’s not much wood on the desert.

MRE’s – they really aren’t too bad if you’re hungry enough. Army surplus stores have them.

Spare compass, flashlight (check the batteries before you go), matches, pocketknife, spare blanket – one of those tiny aluminum emergency blankets (space blankets) you’ll find in the sporting goods section..

A small shovel, a towrope, and two 2-foot-long boards in case I get stuck

Camping and emergency tools: aerial or road flares, rope or cord, duct tape, electrician’s tape, small tarp or ground cover. I carry lots of fluids – usually a gallon of water per person.

Also, We take our cell phone. They work in many of the remote desert areas.

I also take along maps – usually two or three of the same area, as they don’t always agree – and a fire extinguisher.

* On longer 4-wheeling backcountry trips, additional supplies may be needed:
* Tire irons and an inner tube or an extra spare.
* Compressor or manual tire pump.
* 2 gallons of water for the radiator.
* 1 gallon of engine oil.
* 5 gallons of spare gas/diesel in a jerry can.
* Appropriate manuals for the vehicle to aid in trailside repairs.
* Hi-Lift jack (or Jack-all)

Before you ever leave the house:

* Check all equipment – Do you have everything that you will need to survive on the trail or in your vehicle if you become stranded?
* Do a complete visual check of your vehicle including the underside and under the hood looking for obvious problems.
* Check all equipment that you will want to carry in the vehicle in case of an emergency.
* Check on extra water for you and the vehicle.
* Check the spare gas for the vehicle.
* Do you have emergency food in the vehicle?
* Do you have all the necessary maps and GPS or compass?
* Do you have extra batteries (or charger) for your GPS, cell phone, camera, flashlights, etc.?
* Are all of your rechargeable batteries fully charged?
* If you use a camera, do you have extra batteries, disc/film, lens, etc.?

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Published on February 19, 2009 at 6:14 PM  Leave a Comment  

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