The desert is a harsh environment!
The temperatures are extreme,
and they say everything out there either
"bites, sticks, or stings".

Walking & Driving in the desert
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Carry at least one gallon of water per person per day.

If stranded

  • Stay with your vehicle and signal for help.
  • If you must walk for help, wait until sunset & leave a note telling which way you went.
  • If you have water, drink it, don't ration it.

Walking in the desert

  • Always adapt gradually, going into the heat for short periods at first.
  • Drink fluids frequently and eat small meals regularly.
  • Avoid alcohol, which decreases your ability to tolerate heat.

Heat illness

The 3 commonly identified types of illness resulting from exposure to the desert heat include:

  • Heat Cramps
  • Heat Exaustion
  • Heat Stroke

    The symptoms, becoming progressively more serious, range from abdominal cramps and muscle spasms (Heat Cramps) to nausea, dizziness, headache, weakness, goose bumps, and cold, clammy skin (Heat Exaustion) to mental confusion or loss of consciousness with hot dry skin and no sweating (Heat Stroke). The categories may overlap. Heat Stroke can be fatal.

    • Get out of the sun, and out of the heat if possible.
    • Cool the person with water, not ice (which may cause shock).
    • Get medical advice ASAP.

The Insects

Insects and Spiders

There are several poisonous insects you may encounter in the desert.
While healthy adults usually survive these encounters, you should be aware
that they are potentially life-threatening to young children, older folks, or anyone with allergies.

Bark Scorpion
  • This is the small light-colored one (a little over 2 inches fully grown).
  • A sting will be very painful to touch and commonly causes numbness around the area.
  • Allergic sensitivity may result in swelling of the tongue and difficulty breathing. If so, you should get emergency medical assistance.
Black Widow Spider
  • Symptoms may include muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, and hypertension.
Brown Recluse Spider
  • Symptoms may include ulceration of the area, and flu-like symptoms.
Bees, Wasps, Ants, & other bugs
  • Any of these may result in itching, welts, nausea, headache, and in more severe reactions, difficulty in breathing.
General recommendations for avoiding insect danger
  • Never put your hands or feet anyplace you cannot see.
  • Shake out all clothes and shoes before reaching into them.
  • Never go barefooted.
  • Do NOT wear perfume or bright clothes in the desert.
General treatment

Since you may not know what bit you, here are a few things you can do that are generally recommended for most of the above insect stings.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply ice, using a layer of cloth between it and the skin (no longer than 10 min. at a time).
  • Elevate the area, if possible.
  • Seek Medical Attention

If you have not had a Tetanus booster in the past 10 years, you should get one within 72 hours following the sting.

The Reptiles

Poisonous reptiles

According to the Arizona Game & Fish Department, there are 13 primary venemous species of reptiles in Arizona. (Only one is a lizard, the rest are snakes.)

Gila Monster
The Gila Monster is rare and protected by Arizonal State Law.

  • Although very poisonous, it is easy to avoid.
  • Most incidents have occurred when someone tried to handle one.
  • If bitten, the danger is in the lizard maintaining the grip and continuing to grind poison from the teeth into the skin.
    1. The first thing is to make the Gila Monster let go. Suggestions:
      • Immerse the monster's head in water,
      • Applying flame under its jaw.
    2. Flush the area with water and let it bleed.
    3. Seek Medical attention.

Snakes are best avoided by never putting your hands or feet where you can't see. If you should sustain a snake bite, keep as quiet as possible and get emergency medical aid immediately.
Do not apply ice or a tourniquet.

Recommended Readings:

Desert Survival Skills
The Ultimate Desert Handbook : A Manual for Desert Hikers, Campers and Travelers
U.S. Army Survival Handbook
The Venomous Reptiles of Arizona

The last book listed above describes all the snakes you might encounter in Arizona and the toxicity of each. The two considered responsible for the majority of snake bite fatalities in the U.S. are the Western Diamondback and the Mojave Rattlesnakes. If you plan to spend much time in the desert, it would be good to become familiar with these two.

The Dust Storms & Flash Floods

Dust Storm
  • Slow down immediately and get off the highway.
  • Turn your lights off.
  • Stay in your vehicle and wait until it's over.
Flash Flood
  • Monitor road and weather reports before traveling.
  • Flash floods can fill low spots to dangerous levels very quickly.
  • Do not drive into water on the road if you can't tell how deep it is.