Top 5 Dumb Ways to Die in the Southwest

Written by on March 16, 2015 in The Southwest - Comments Off on Top 5 Dumb Ways to Die in the Southwest

The four corners states have some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the continental U.S. That means it offers unparalleled opportunities for getting into trouble when exploring the beauty of the Southwest — rugged terrain, dangerous critters, extreme weather conditions and much more. The last thing you need is to make dumb mistakes when you go exploring.

#1 Dumb Mistake — Don’t Carry Enough Water
Not taking enough water with you is probably the number one reason people have to be rescued.
The Southwest is dry, people! Huge chunks of it are considered desert or high desert, and the sun is strong. During the summer months, temperatures can soar into the triple digits. One gallon per day per person is the minimum, especially during the hot summer months.

#2 Dumb Mistake — Get Lost
Every year, dozens of people get lost in the mazes of canyon, badlands terrain and mountains that make up the Southwest. There are many steps you can take to prevent this.
• First, study the maps of where you intend to go and then let someone know where you are going, the route you are taking and when you expect to return.

• Second, carry a compass to help you find your direction should you become lost.

• Third, carry a cell phone to call for help if you do get lost.

• Fourth, if you are traveling with a group, find a way to stay in contact if you split up. A two-way walkie talkie or radio can help keep the group in communication with each other. Keep in mind that these don’t always work well in the rugged terrain of the southwest as canyon walls and weather can block the signal. However, according to Dave McClintic, owner of HQ98, “For the outdoor enthusiast, I would actually recommend a less expensive set of radios in the FMRS/GMRS bands: The higher end of these is the Midland GXT5000 ($119.98 / radio). It is 5 watts, water and dust proof and generally a very rugged radio. The downside of this radio is that it does not use AA or AAA batteries and will need to somehow be recharged if you are out more than a day. For backpacking, rafting, hiking, kayaking and other activities, I’d recommend the Motorola Talkabout MS350R NOAA Waterproof Radio $84.98 / pair). I like these for several reasons. First, they are also water and dust proof. Second, they use AA batteries, so you can recharge one set with a solar charger while using another set. Third, the On/Off button cannot be mistakenly turned on and off. (Most of these radios have a radial twist button which is forever being accidentally turned on or off while in a back pack.) Fourth, this radio actually floats. Finally, if and when you lose, drop in the fire, kick off the cliff or otherwise abuse this radio, you won’t have to bemoan the loss of a $42.50 radio, where you might a $120 one. And one more thing, since the FMRS/GMRS radios are owned by millions of outdoor enthusiasts, you are far more likely to be able to communicate with a fellow traveler if you get into trouble. While a business band radio may offer quiet airwaves, communicating only with your buddy may not be good in an emergency.”

#3 Dumb Mistake — Ignore the Weather
The Southwest is notorious for brewing epic blizzards in the winter and torrential rains and flash floods from Monsoon storms in the summer. The first step is to check the weather forecast for the area you intend to explore and check the weather forecast for the upstream area. Don’t enter slot canyons or washes if rain is predicted because even if it isn’t raining where you are, rain upstream can flood canyons, creeks and rivers without warning. During the winter months, don’t set off if a major storm is predicted.

#4 Dumb Mistake — Play With the Wildlife
One memorable trip, I watched a family with young children pile out of a car and run across the road (without looking both ways, I might add) to take photos of a mama bear and her cubs. They were within 50 feet of the bears and I was sure I was watching a disaster in the making. Their guardian angels must have been watching over them, because the bear didn’t turn on them.

Animals are unpredictable, so it is your responsibility not to give them a reason to attack. Mama bears will protect their cubs so don’t get too close. Don’t stick your bare hands under rock overhangs in the desert southwest, or you may find yourself bitten by a rattlesnake, scorpion, gila monster, or spider. They like to shelter under stone hangs during the summer heat. Moose are pretty much crazy all the time and will attack just because. Even generally shy creatures like elk, mountain goats, mountain sheep or deer can become aggressive during breeding season. Last but not least, especially in Arizona, check under picnic tables for spiders before sitting down to a meal. If you must photograph the wildlife, do it from the safety of your vehicle, or in the presence of an experienced wildlife guide.

#5 Dumb Mistake — Wear the Wrong Clothing
Probably every state has the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” That saying holds particularly true for the four corners states. Mountains breed their own weather, independent of any high or low pressure systems that might be coming into the area. These surprise storms can hit so quickly that a nice summer day can turn into a blinding hail or snowstorm, and temperatures can plunge from a balmy 80 degrees into the 40s in just minutes. Death by hypothermia is a bad way to die! That’s why it makes sense to carry extra layers and rain gear even if it looks like you might not need it. The reverse is also true — in the desert southwest, the mornings can be chill during the winter months, but warm quickly during the day. Wearing too much clothing is a great way to become overheated and end up with heat prostration/stroke.

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