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The desert is a strange and beautiful place, but for the unwary visitor who makes too many mistakes, it can be a very unforgiving place as well. One small error can turn a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive or a camping trip into a tragedy.

With a bit of knowledge, however, and a lot of common sense, tragedies can be avoided completely. After all, surviving in the desert is nothing more than plain old common sense.

Safety rules for desert survival:

1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Let them know your route and the type of vehicle you are using. And don’t change your plans. Don’t depend on a cellular phone in these situations as they don’t always work when away from civilization. Your best bet is to also leave your route and information about your vehicle and with whom you’re traveling in writing. This is also a good place to leave information about any potential health issues anyone who is with you might have and what type of emergency supplies you already have with you.

2. Be prepared for every emergency. Make sure your car is in good condition with good hoses, a spare tire, spare fan belts, necessary tools, extra gas, water, and oil. Many problems in the desert start with a car that breaks down due to ill repair.

3. Have extra water for each person traveling with you. A good judge is one gallon per person per day. Have adequate first aid supplies. Think “emergency” before you go and bring those extra things you might need. With water, the rule is more is better. You can always drink it when you get home if it isn’t used.

4. If you have water, make sure you drink it as needed. Rationing water can become very dangerous. Often when a person is dehydrated, the thinking processes malfunction. Drink what you need.

5. Stay with your vehicle if you have a problem. It will be the first things found by searchers because it’s much easier to see from the air. Also, your car has many things to help with your survival such as mirrors, hub caps, a horn, a battery, lights, a lighter, gas, oil, and floor mats. Raise the hood and trunk of your vehicle to show distress.

6. Make sure you have a flashlight and check the batteries often. A flashlight without batteries has no value.

7. If water is limited, keep your mouth SHUT. Do not talk, eat, smoke, drink alcohol, or eat salt.

8. If you are absolutely positive about the route to help, and feel you must leave your vehicle, make sure you leave a note for rescuers telling them who you are, when you left, and the route you are taking.

9. Do not sit or lie directly on the ground. Make a sun shade and elevate your body. The ground can be 30 degrees hotter than the free air temperature. Use a car seat or something to raise yourself at least a foot and a half off the surface. There is also a greater possibility of having a problem with a poisonous insect or snakes if you are directly on the ground.

10. Protect your eyes with sunglasses. Even though the glare doesn’t seem to make a difference, it will impair your distant vision and hamper your adaptation to night vision. It can also cause headaches. If you have so sunglasses, improvise with a sun shield made from cardboard or cloth. Applying charcoal, soot, or oil around your eyes may help.

11. If you have chapstick, use it. Do not lick your lips as it will hasten chapping and splitting.

12. Change your socks regularly. Change them even if you’re changing to used socks. Sunning and aeration of socks and undergarments have a marked freshening value.

13. Do not remove clothing in an attempt to stay cool. This hastens dehydration and can be deadly. Wearing clothes helps you avoid sunburn as well.

14. If you see a dust storm coming, lie down with your back to the wind, covering your head with a clost to keep dust out of your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.

15. If the weather is cool, get a fire started.

16. A roadway is a sign of civilization. If you find a traveled road, stay on it. You might find other people on a road.

17. Keep an eye on the sky. Flash floods may occur any time thunderheads are in sight, even thought it may not rain where you are. Do not remain in dry washes which can flood and be quite dangerous, if not deadly.

18. Try to stay under control. There is nothing more dangerous than blind panic.

In any survival situation, everything you do must be proceeded by only one thought: Am I safe in doing this?