Desert Survivor
The Adventurer's Guide
To Exploring the Great
American Desert

John Annerino
(Four Walls Eight Windows)
This is supposedly a guide on how to survive in places like the Great Basin Desert (Oregon), Big Bend (Texas), and the Canyonlands (Utah). In truth, it is a litany of all the disasters you and I are going to have when we go off desert hiking on our own.

We're talking about spontaneous hair-curlers such as dehydration, hypothermia ("dangerous cooling of the body's inner core), hyperthermia ("which leads to heat prostration, heat stroke, and death").

Then there is being struck by lightning, drowning in flash floods ("if you are foolish enough to hike through narrow slot canyons like Buckskin Gulch...") Or perhaps you'd opt for a run-in with Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) and Datura wrightii (sacred datura), or spiny plants like cat claw, New Mexican locust, prickly pear. Not only do these guys stick it to you, they create "granulomas and well as allergic reactions."

There's even one we wanted to try out because of its name ("teddybear cholla") but we'd probably not be cuddling it: the locals call it "jumping cactus" because if you come within ten feet of it, it leaps out to embrace and kiss you, and you will develop "pain, sores, and lesions."

On your relaxing fall desert journey, you, too, may encounter coyotes, gray fox, black bears, skunks, and mountain lions. There are also bark scorpions, black widow spiders, conenose bugs, bees, harvester ants, umbrella wasps, and brown recluse spiders. I once asked a desert fox friend of mine how to identify the latter, and he paused, spat on the ground, and said, "Waaal...they're very reclusive."

Scorpions are big, too. Once when I was living in the Sonoran Desert, one of the bastards crept into my shoe late at night, thinking it was the Adidas Hotel. I got up in the morning, yawned, drank my coffee, got dressed, and stuck my foot right in the sucker's bedroom.

He evidently resented my stepping on his head and I, in turn, asked the people I was with how in the hell I got a cactus in my shoe overnight. They pulled it off and squashed Mr. Scorpion as I was writhing about on the floor.

If I had had Annerino's book with me, I would have had to go twenty miles to call the Arizona Poison Control Center (1-800-362-0101). Fortunately, my friends didn't have a cell phone, but they did have several Mexican limones. They cut them in half, smeared one on the wound, had me suck on the other, and within a few minutes, I was able to stop weeping long enough to drive home, by which time my foot returned to its normal ugly self.

§     §     §

Outside of these party-poopers, there are a myriad of snakes who seem to resent our presence in their homeland: copperheads, Arizona coral snakes, and "thirty-one existing species" of rattlesnakes. There are, too, three poisonous lizards: the reticulate Gila monster, the banded Gila monster, and the Mexican beaded lizard. These latter don't shave and they definitely don't bite: they chew you to death. If you are stupid enough to stick you hand in the mouth of one of them, you are advised to "yank it by the tail and the hollow teeth should break loose."

To complete your journey in Tierra Peligrosa, the author lists the final (and possibly the most dangerous) creature, Man. We go off hiking thinking we might run into some hardy folk like ourselves, to sit around the campfire and reminisce with us about other desert adventures. But no: Mr. Paranoia has some heavy advice for you.

    Rely on your gut instincts if you have a bad feeling about someone or the situation. Leave if you must. Make sure you're not followed. Drive to the nearest ranger station or campground host, or get on your sat phone, call in a surgical air strike, and resume your vacation in peace.

I picked this one up thinking I might like to spend a week with a little peace and quiet in the Arizona out-back next fall. After I got through, I had closed and locked the windows and doors of my house. I called up my travel agent to tell her I wanted to go off on vacation to the desert --- but a safe one. Like Algeria, Iraq, or Afghanistan

--- Lolita Lark

Go Up     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH

Send us an e-mail