Four years ago my husband and I broke down one afternoon in a remote Nevada desert canyon where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. We covered the car with towels for shade, prayed, made a plan and, by the grace of God, were rescued within a matter of hours by strangers arriving in the canyon to camp. Despite the speedy rescue, the breakdown became a defining moment for us because one of the big “what if’s” that confront every wilderness traveler was from then on a “remember when.”
My husband and I routinely but reticently break one of the fundamental rules of desert wilderness travel–always travel with another party. We are eremitic travelers–meaning that solitary travel is for us a means of deepening our intimate relationship with God. The decision to travel alone comes with added risk and responsibility so we work hard to be prepared. A triage is a useful model for establishing a hierarchy of preparedness. Although triage refers to rapid assessment and prioritization of injuries, I like to use the concept in reverse to prioritize prevention of predictable medical threats.
The preeminent consideration in a survival situation is core body temperature. You can live three weeks without food and three days without water. But within three hours a fluctuation in core body temperature of merely a few degrees is potentially fatal. Therefore the largest allocation of space in and on our Land Rover–after the tools and equipment required to maintain (and, if necessary, liberate) the vehicle–is for clothing, bedding and shelter. Water occupies the second-largest apportionment of our space. And a moderate but sufficient amount of space is allotted for food.
Being prepared requires a lot of hard work and constant management of our gear, our vehicle and our supplies. It’s all worth it, though, when we roll out onto the road and enjoy the ride.
33 thoughts on “The Art of Desert Travel”
It is something I’ve often thought about Viv, the ‘what if?’ in those wide open spaces, almost too wide and open for a Englishman to grasp. I imagine the no water and buzzards circling . When I first visited the USA and we drove from Florida to Kansas, I couldn’t quite fathom how we’d been driving all day and made so little progress on the map. Drive all day in the UK and you can cover the entire country. We were of course driving well populated routes but when we got to Kansas and came off the Interstate, the highway seemed mighty empty.
I’m glad to hear you and your husband are well prepared to deal with the ‘what if?’. 🙂
Dear Chillbrook, Thank you for your concern! After a desert journey we always debrief and make modifications to improve our preparedness. We also study wilderness survival skills and are careful to retain any information we gain in the field about possible water sources such as springs–or washes where we could dig for water, etc. Additionally we do leave word with a neighbor when we depart on a trip, indicating which region(s) we’ll be traveling in and our projected date of return. He’s a rather relaxed fellow and I doubt that he’d be hasty to call out a search party but would eventually.
When I visited England several years ago, I was struck by the intimacy of the counry and how quickly we moved from one region to the next. Ours is indeed by contrast a vast country. I am continually awed by the vastness of the Nevada desert and that is obviously only a fraction of the country’s entirety. xo Viv
Stunning! My dream is to take a month to drive from NYW to the West Coast using mainly road 66:)
That’s a fabulous dream. When it comes to fruition, I hope you’ll write about it on your blog! 🙂
I certainly will;)
Preparation of thought spiritually is a wonderful way to deal with – and dismiss – the “what ifs” before they even happen. The Psalmist says, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… What a great mental attitude to take on a journey.
That Psalm was my beloved grandmother’s favorite and it is one of mine. Thank you as always for your wonderful insight and contribution. 🙂 Viv
Great post. As one who travels alone frequently I agree that you have to be prepared. When my wife travels with me she is amazed (and irritated at times) at the amount of time it takes to get out of the driveway. It’s worth it though to have your kit ready should you have a situation arise.
Thank you Andrew It really is worth the time to prepare properly for a desert excursion. In my household, we sometimes both get frustrated by the amount of time that it takes–but more often it’s my husband because we have different areas of responsibility and he simply moves faster than I do. 🙂 Happy Trails! Vivian
Hello- Just wanted to stop by & drop of a star toward “The Blog of the Year 2012!” http://fictionalmachines.com/2013/01/15/blog-of-the-year-2012-nine/ Keep up the amazing work & enjoy the day!
You are so kind. Thank you, I am honored–and congratulations on your impressive list of awards! Vivian
Thanks, Vivian- And you are very welcome, you deserve it! [I just noticed a typo above, I typed ‘of’ instead of ‘off,’ oops!]. I’m trying to catch up on all of these as quickly as possible so that I can get back to working on / posting the Progression series. Thanks for all of the support & for sharing your amazing work! 🙂
…a ram in the bush
…angels in disguise maybe?
Thank God that He heard your prayers and both of you were safe. Wow! Once again, thank you for sharing this amazing story of rescue.
We were indeed amazed at this rescue and we are forever grateful. Thank you for visiting and for leaving me such a lovely note! Blessings, Vivian
Water, bringing enough water is what I learned to be the most vital rule. I learned it through a painful experience but I still love the dry hot climate.
Hi Steve, When expeditioning in a hot dry climate, an inadequate water supply can quickly deteriorate into a painful and frightening crisis. I’m sorry to hear that you had such an experience but glad you’re resilient enough to retain a fondness for such a region. Thank you for your note, it’s always so nice to hear from you. Vivian
Thank you for your kind words and for your blog and yes, “a painful and frightening crisis” describes exactly the kind of anxiety I was going through. Steve
So happy & relieved to know that both you & uncle were rescued in time…
Ah, precious water, life sustainer, life saver! A lesson well received. I’m going to be sure to carry a few bottles of drinking water, the next time I’m in mood for some adventure (well, most of the times, I am!) 🙂
Thank you! We were so grateful and surprised to be rescued, particularly given that we were in such a remote canyon. You are absolutely correct, water is a resource never to be taken for granted. Stay safe on your adventures!! Love, Viv
Desert adventure is as risky as adventure on the sea and mountain climbing. what a very good post to read, Vivian. The photo is gorgeous as well. Do you have photo(s) of the mountain’s close up ? I like to see the textures of them. Best wishes.muhammads
Thank you very much, Muhammad, I am happy that you enjoyed this post and the photo. I’ll look through my photos to see if I have any which reveal the texture of the mountains…it is difficult to capture it with the point and shoot camera I am using…however, in future I am hoping to be photographing the desert with a DSLR so I’ll keep you in mind when I’m photographing the mountains. 🙂 Blessings, Vivian
Thank you, Vivian and I am looking forward to seeing them whenever you post it Best wishes 🙂
Hi! It’s so nice to have you back! 🙂 I haven’t been on wordpress for awhile. That would be so scary to break down in the desert. I worry about breaking down here in Minnesota when the temperatures are below zero. We have to be prepared with extra blankets and candles and matches. 🙂
Hi Kimberly, It was so nice to sign in and discover your visit this morning! I am always so delighted to hear from you. My husband and I are making some changes this year so I won’t be on wordpress as much either but I will definitely be here off and on and will pop in to see you!
Breaking down in extreme weather anywhere is frightening. It’s good that you are always prepared! That definitely gives you a head start. 🙂
I’m glad that you will still be on wordpress, I love seeing what you are doing and all of your pictures. Otherwise I would definitely want to email each other.
That’s so nice, Kimberly, thank you. xo Viv
Have a wonderful weekend!
Thanks, you too!
Loved your post!
We also live in a desert land and the great Arabian desert goes through most of central Oman and into Saudi Arabia and beyond. The dunes rise upto 300 meters here and we have had cases of single vehicle explorers like you getting lost for days. Now of course with GPS technology, things are much better.
Thank you so much for visiting and leaving me such a nice note. I am delighted to hear your news of the Arabian desert. Many years ago I lived in Kuwait and often visited Saudi Arabia. I have fond memories of the desert there…although I must say the family with which I stayed thought it odd that I wanted to spend so much time in the desert. They preferred domestic life but were kind enough to humor me…
Hi dear 🙂 I’m an italian guy, and trust me, I would come to US only to see this stunning landscapes….they cut my breath off. I love seeing photos where Nature is the only protagonist, just She and her beautiful creatures. I appreciate a lot the way you approach to your activity, and even if I don’t believe in what you call God, I understand how mistic and peaceful this places could be: it inspires me a sense of calm and interior peace, and my pure and ancient soul would reborn. I truly hope to spend a part of my life in such amazing wildernesses. Kisses from Sicily !!!
PS: …and obviously, don’t stop to take photos and give us the gift of gazing at them !!!
Dear Marco, I apologize for the long delay in responding. I am truly delighted that my photographs of the Nevada desert give you a sense of peace. It is indeed a mystical place. Beyond that, you have given me a lot to think about. My husband and I were so very touched that you reached out and wrote to us. This is one of the nicest comments we have ever received on the blog. I, personally, understand about not believing in God. Long before I met my husband, my family had two terrible tragedies. I was so broken by them that I lost my faith in God. It was only after I met my husband that I began to go to church again. Even then it took a long time, a very long time, for me to build a relationship with God again. But at a certain point on that journey of faith, I began to notice that the pain of those tragedies was getting less and less. Sometimes I still cry but my life is no longer defined by those losses. Anyway, that is a very long-winded way to say that I understand and that I, too, find solace and peace in the desert and the wilderness. Best to you my friend, I hope you will continue on this journey with us. — Love, Vivian