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Thoughts on Desert Hiking

Upon first moving to the southwest in early 1997 I felt an uncontrollable urge to explore the outlying desert regions that are visible from the floor of the Las Vegas valley. Besides the higher temperatures and clear blue skys I find the average visibility range to be quite unique. Even in a large city like Las Vegas one can see for 20-50 miles in any direction towards the nearset hills and mountains that surround the valley. To someone from the west this has no impact but for someone from the urban, flat northeast it's a real novelty. Within 2 minutes of our house we can reach a hill that provides a panoramic view of the entire Las Vegas valley. I moved here seven months before Sindhu, as she had to finish up her Social Work Degree in Toronto and was also burdened with the tasks of selling our Toronto home and disentangling ourselves from Canada. I was able to help in a limited way but not as much as I would have liked. Iím very lucky to have someone like her around who will put up with my antics. I spent the first four months in Las Vegas with no vehicle, taking public transit and walking/running about six miles a day. At that time I got into the best cardiovascular shape I had ever been in for about 10 years, (I ran a 10K in 46min 26s!). On the occasional weekend I would rent a small car and drive into the surrounding desert and take short hikes. This was always a richly rewarding experience. The first thing that I realized was how quiet desert regions are. At times you can actually hear the flapping of birdís wings as they pass overhead. The presence of desert critters took a little bit of getting used to though; (I still jump when I see lizards darting about on rock surfaces). I have yet to overcome my fear of snakes.

The scenery here is vastly different that what I am used to back east. I had lived in Toronto since late 1982 and had exhausted the hiking potential of the Don Valley, Bruce Trail and Niagara Escarpment. In short, it was a great city in which I experienced a plethora of personal growth, met many wonderful and influential people but it was time to make a long-overdue move. It's great to be in a place where one has so much physical beauty in their own backyard. We are 10 minutes away from Red Rock Canyon, one hour away from Valley of Fire State Park and only a few hours away from the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Las Vegas is virtually a photographer's paradise. Now it's only a question of having the time to explore all of these places.

Desert Hiking Tips

If possible drive as close to where you ultimately want to get. Walking in extreme heat uses a lot of energy.

Wear a hat, sunscreen, thick socks, and decent hiking boots, I use Blundstone boots, (Aussie boots), great for horizontal walking on sand/gravel -semi OK for rock scrambling. They're expensive but well worth it! I wear jeans as a general rule for hikes with a lot of rock scrambling. Also carry a compact nylon shell in your pack for sudden rainstorms. A cellular phone, (if you have one), is great insurance.

Scan your future path AS you walk. If you want to look around -STOP!, -I almost stepped on a large snake once -I think it was a Western Diamondback.

Carry lots of cool water, -general rule is 1 liter per hour. Avoid drinking from springs and streams -especially true in the Nevada desert! In terms of food I take things like peanuts and jerky that I'll eat as I go.

Carry a compass. -Not as important in wide open areas with landmarks but one can easliy lose their way in low level washes etc... Trails are usually well marked with small piles of rocks called "ducks".

If it starts to rain get your butt to higher ground and stay clear of washes.

Avoid hikes in remote areas alone! Unless your name is Timmy and can call your dog named Lassie you might be S.O.L. if you injure yourself or are bitten by a snake!

Suggested Reading:

The Complete Walker, 3rd Edition, Colin Fletcher, 1984

Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey, Reissue edition (April 1991)