In the Desert
- Plan activities in the early morning and late afternoon; rest during the peak heat of midday.
- Carry water with you at all times. It does you no good back if it's back at the campsite and you take a wrong turn while out on a day hike.
- Salty snacks or sports drinks help replace the salt and minerals you lose to perspiration. You might not even realize you are sweating because it evaporates so quickly in the arid atmosphere.
- Never travel alone, and make sure to tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back.
- Whether you're in your car or hiking on foot, you should carry a map and compass in addition to a GPS device, and know how to use them. Trails can be difficult to find or non-existent. Do NOT count on your cell phone working.
- Watch for critters, including snakes, scorpions, spiders and lizards. Snakes in particular like to hang out in rocky areas that provide shelter from the sun. Always shake out your shoes before putting them on in case a scorpion has crawled in. Mice, rats, squirrels and coyotes can also be plentiful in the desert, so keep food locked away in a hard container, never in your tent.
- Check the weather report often for warnings of sandstorms, and avoid camping in a ravine that could be susceptible to a flash flood. The latter can occur even when there is no visible sign of rain, as a result of precipitation miles away.
- Whether in the desert or anywhere, it's always a good idea to check in at the local ranger station to see if there are any conditions you should be aware of.
- Gas stations will be harder to find, so top off your tank at every one you see, even if your gas gauge reads well above half a tank. The last thing you want is to be stranded in the blazing sun.
Where to Go
Now that you're prepared to experience all that desert camping has to offer, here are some top desert campgrounds to consider:
Death Valley National Park (California/Nevada) – This is the first place that comes to mind when you think of desert camping, and with good reason. The national park has more than 3 million acres designated as wilderness areas, and the world's hottest temperature was recorded here (134 degrees in 1913). Popular campsites include Furnace Creek, Sunset and Stovepipe Wells, and backcountry camping is allowed.
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) – What more needs to be said about a park that draws more than 5 million visitors a year? Those willing to hike down—and up—its mile-high walls are rewarded with the experience of a lifetime. You'll need to apply for a backcountry permit to camp here, or reserve a spot at one of the local spots including the North Rim Campground, the Williams KOA or Mather Campground.