Mastering the art of desert day hiking: guest post by Amanda Winstead

Photo credit: Kerry Carron

As we now know, there are many beautiful places in California where you can hike, enjoy nature, and soak in the beauty of this wonderful part of the country. However, many L.A. hikers have yet to venture into the awesome desert areas that litter the golden state. There are a lot of great sights to see out there, so it is worth the trip.

However, before you go, you need to understand that the desert is very different from the forest or mountains. As such, you need to take the proper precautions to ensure your safety. Today, we will talk about some preparations you can make to protect your health and the sanctity of the desert. Plus, we’ll point out some destinations that you must add to your bucket list.

Stay safe in the desert

Yes, the desert is a completely different animal than your typical forested hiking spot. The sun can be overwhelming during the day, and it can be cold as ice during the night, so if you plan to hike, then you must dress accordingly. If you want to get the most out of your hike, then you should consider leaving early in the morning so you can spend most of your adventure in moderate temperatures.

Many places in the desert can have temperatures as cold as 10 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and they can reach north of 100 degrees by 9 AM, so you need to get out there as soon as you can. Due to temperature fluctuations, you need to wear layered clothing. At a minimum, you should wear a coat, pants, and a sweater for the morning hours. Underneath that, wear lightweight and breathable light-colored clothing. You still should wear pants and long sleeves during the day to protect your legs and arms from the sun.

Along with that, you need to wear a hat to protect your head and sun gloves to protect your hands from harmful UV rays. It is also important to protect your eyes, especially as you age. So, in addition to wearing sunglasses whenever you are outside, you should also:

⦁ Consume a healthy diet with plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids to protect your retinas.
⦁ Avoid smoking because it can clog the blood vessels.
⦁ Practice good sleep hygiene so you can rest your eyes at night.
⦁ Wear protective eyewear in the desert to avoid sand from getting in your eyes.

As you may imagine, it is also essential that you stay hydrated when you hike through the desert. Pack appropriately and aim to drink one or more liters of water every hour. You also need to take in the proper amount of electrolytes, so consider alternating between water and Gatorade or a similar beverage.

Navigating the desert while keeping it in good shape

Another danger of desert dayhiking is that there can be a lack of variety in the landscape, and everything can tend to look the same, which can make it hard to navigate. The best way to keep your bearings is to use a compass. Even if you are not well-versed with maps and compasses, you can use one by determining which direction you want to go in advance. Then, you can look down at your compass as you walk to ensure that you are on track.

If you plan to walk a certain distance and then come back, then you can also use a watch. Keep your eye on the time to see how long it takes for you to walk a certain distance and when you decide to turn around, you can see how long a journey you have ahead. You can also plan your hydration through this system.

While you are navigating the desert, you must respect the land and leave it how you found it. The life of the plants and the animals in the region depend on our ability to not disrupt the fragile ecosystem. Even the smallest ecological species, like the soil crust, deserves to be left alone. These crusts are found in every desert in the world, and they are essential to keeping the soil intact against the danger of erosion.

We must also make it a point to pick up any garbage we drop or find along the way. We should also follow the “pack it in, pack it out” philosophy, which is that we should leave no trace that we were ever there. It is also important to stay on the trail whenever possible. In many cases, those trials were set that way to minimize damage to the environment.

Great day hiking destinations

Now that you know how to stay safe and make the most out of your dayhiking trip, let’s talk about some awesome places to visit around California.

First, consider some of the national parks that are worth the trek. One of the most popular is Death Valley, California, which features a 26-mile road that brings you past mountain passes, ghost towns, and more. There are also many easy, moderate, and difficult hiking paths, including Mosaic Canyon, which brings you through many gorgeous rocky landscapes.

Then, there is the Hagen Canyon Trail that takes you through beautiful Red Rock Canyon State Park. It is here where you can walk amongst amazing red rock cliffs, wide washes, and tall canyons that you won’t soon forget.

To experience a truly unbelievable sight, take the Whitewater Canyon Loop Trail that brings you through the Whitewater Preserve near Palm Springs. This route will bring you through winding trails, and then you’ll see it — a gorgeous stream that runs right through the desert. The crystal-clear water will be an amazing and refreshing surprise.

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