Hiking is a favorite hobby of many people. As a visitor or even a native of New Mexico knowing how to prepare for a hike in the desert can be a daunting task. I'm here to share with you exactly how to stay safe when hiking in our area. Here are a few things that you should always remember:
1. Don't go in the middle of the day in the middle of summer.
With temperatures often reaching the high 90's and even into triple digits hiking can be dangerous. Exposure to excessive heat can cause heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion happens when the body looses to much water and salts through sweating. When this happens if the fluids lost aren't replaced quickly the result could be brain damage. It can also lead to a heat stroke. Always try to check the local weather forecast to know when the best time to hike is.
2. Wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Having the appropriate apparel can be the difference between a successful hike and one that isn't so much fun.
- Wear clothing that is light weight, this allows for your skin to breathe and release moisture (sweat).
- Clothing should be light colors. This helps reflect the sun light instead of absorbing it.
- If you will be exposed to the sun for long periods of time long sleeves would be a good idea to prevent sun burn and other serious issues with sun exposure.
- Wear proper foot wear. Never wear open toed shoes. Always wear hiking boots or sneakers.
3. Pack smart.
- Always bring plenty of water!!
- Have high protein snacks. Beef Jerky is a great snack to carry to replace lost salts through sweating.
- Carry a map, compass or GPS and know how to use it.
- Bring a small first aid kit.
- Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses are good things to bring.
- Always have a cell phone on you. Although it may not get service on the trail calling emergency services at the trailhead is better than having to drive back into town. If you want to have a phone with service on your hike getting a satellite phone would be a good idea.
- Although not necessary a pocket knife, flashlight and a jacket are good to have in case you get stuck for a night.
4. Know what wildlife to watch out for.
In New Mexico there are a few venomous animals that you should be wary of and on the look out for. If you encounter one you should not attempt to touch, pick up, or tease them as this can lead to a bite. Here are what you should avoid:
1. The Rattle Snake-The most common venomous snake in New Mexico is the rattlesnake. Several species of rattlesnakes inhabit New Mexico. Adult rattlesnakes are usually 2.5 to 4.5 feet long and have a rattle button that sounds if they feel threatened. Rattlesnake venom is very toxic and can be deadly.
2. The Coral Snake-Coral snakes can be found in the southwest corner of New Mexico. Although the coral snakes in New Mexico are often too small to bite humans, please know that their venom is highly toxic. Coral snakes are often confused with the New Mexico milk snake (does not have toxic venom) because of similar banding patterns. This catchy rhyme can help one distinguish the coral snake from its less dangerous counterpart, the New Mexico milk snake: "Red touches yellow will kill a fellow (coral snake). Red touches black, venom lack (New Mexico milk snake)." However, if it slithers on the ground, it is best to leave it alone!
1. Black Widow- Black Widow spiders have a shiny black color and large, rounded abdomens. Females are larger than males, ranging from one to two inches in diameter. The female also differs from the male in that she has a red marking on her abdomen that may or may not look like an hourglass; however it is not recommended that one handles the spider to try to identify the hourglass shape. The bite is most painful during 8 to 12 hours after being bitten. Black Widow venom causes severe muscle spasms all over the body and can be deadly, especially in small children.
2. Brown Spider- In New Mexico, there are three species of brown spiders: the blanda, desert and Apache. All three species are similar looking spanning about an inch in length including the legs and light to dark brown in color. As close relatives to the brown recluse, the brown spiders may or may not have the "violin" marking present on their bodies. All three species live outdoors under logs, rocks, dead cacti, in burrows, etc. Their venom is very potent and can be deadly, especially in small children.
Although all scorpions produce venom, the Arizona bark scorpion is the only species that can cause serious medical illness and even death. The bark scorpion can be found in the southwest corner of New Mexico. If you live in an area that the Arizona bark scorpion inhabits, you are likely to find them in your home. The Arizona Bark scorpion is one to one and one-half inches in length. This scorpion likes dark and damp places, so be extra careful around water at night if you are in an inhabited area. The Arizona bark scorpion can climb virtually any surface except glass and clean plastic.
To avoid being bitten or stung by any of these you should:
Stay on cleared paths.
- Do not walk through thick vegetation where visibility is poor.
- Watch where you walk, sit, and put your hands.
If you are bitten by any of these then you should seek immediate medical attention. Try to bring a picture of what bite you so it can be identified. Call 911 or the New Mexico Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 for treatment advice.
5. Always tell someone where you are going.
Often times the terrain can look similar in the desert. Therefore it can be very easy to get lost. Always tell someone where you are hiking and when you expect to be back. This ensures that if you do get lost that someone will be able to contact emergency services if you are unable to.
6. If you bring your dog keep their safety in mind also.
Bringing your furry companion is a common thing to do, and can be some great exercise for you and your buddy. Hiking in the desert can be just as dangerous for them though. You should always bring water for them as they can suffer heat exhaustion just as we can. Also if the terrain is going to be on sharp or hot rocks and surfaces then you may want to invest in a pair of boots for your four legged friend. The pads on their paws can get cut and burned just like our skin. These can be found at most pet stores or online. Dog packs are also available to carry their supplies in. Healthy, young dogs can carry up to 25% of their weight. The amount they can carry changes with age and is a good thing to be discussed with your vet. You should also always have them on a leash as there can be other hikers or wildlife that could spook you pup. You also don't want them running into any of those venomous creatures mentioned above.
If you are unsure of where to start here are some of the great trails to hike in the Las Cruces area. Learn more...