Posted by: Sandy Steinman | March 14, 2010

Desert Travel Tips

Having just returned from a desert trip, I would like to share my experience and offer a few tips.

“THE BLOOM” is unpredictable. The national parks and various websites including yours truly, try to give their best guess.  However, that is all the predictions are is a guess.  Hot, cold, rain and wind can change the timing and quality of the bloom very quickly.  Even though the bloom had started when I was at Anza Borrego, cool weather had resulted in predictions for the bloom being pushed back.  The best information is reports from people who are in the parks (park rangers and visitors) and are knowledgeable of wildflowers.  What is happening is more useful than what might happen.

Roads and Vehicles. Some of the best places to see flowers are on unpaved dirt roads.  Get current reports on the status of the roads from local ranger or visitor’s centers.  Don’t overestimate what your vehicle can do and make sure you have good maps.  I watched an anxious group of RV travelers struggling with turning their vehicle around on a road they probably shouldn’t have driven down.

Accommodations. Make reservations before you leave.  At least for your first destination.  They are limited so don’t count on them being available when you get there, especially if this turns out to be a good season and the media starts to run stories about wildflowers in the desert.  If you are camping your options are much greater.  Camping is not limited to official campgrounds.  Most desert parks allow backcountry camping as long as you are a certain distance off the road and not in a restricted area. Check with each park to see what its rules are and make sure you have water and adequate equipment.

Wind, Dust, Rain. Expect to encounter wind and be prepared.  Every desert trip I have done,  I have run into serious windy conditions at least part of the time.  Protect your camera equipment.  Be ready for having a hard time taking close-up photos (my personal favorites) on a windy day.  High ISO, fast shutter speeds and wind shields all help but each has their limits and downsides.  It does rain and get cold in the desert. Make sure you have the proper clothes and equipment if camping.  Also be aware of rain runoff that can cause flooding, especially in canyons and low areas.

Be as well-prepared and informed as possible and maintain a realistic and flexible attitude.  Have a good time; enjoy the flowers and whatever else you find.  Feel free to add your own suggestions as a comment.

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