Be prepared, watchful in exploring desert areas

Keeping thirst under control crucial, as is knowledge of animals
2013-05-23T00:00:00Z Be prepared, watchful in exploring desert areasDoug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Wonderlands of natural beauty and adventure await in the mountains and deserts around Tucson - but so do potential dangers.

Today, in advance of the outdoorsy Memorial Day weekend and the coming days of summer, is a good time for hikers, bikers, campers, bird-watchers and others to brush up on outdoor safety strategies.

Hydration, heat and sun protection, fire safety and avoiding harmful run-ins with bears, bees, snakes and other critters are among the topics in our report.

Sources of information include:

• Paul Austin, chief ranger at Saguaro National Park

• Heidi Schewel of the U.S. Forest Service

• Mark Hart of the Arizona Game and Fish Department

• Websites, including ones maintained by the Mayo Clinic, Grand Canyon National Park and the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center.

HYDRATION

The deserts and mountains of Southern Arizona are extremely dry and hot at this time of year - and dehydration is a real danger.

How much water you'll need per hour of hiking or other strenuous activities depends on temperature, sun exposure, pace, altitude and steepness of terrain.

As a very general rule of thumb, Grand Canyon rangers and other experts advise drinking one-half quart to one quart of fluids, including some sports drinks with electrolytes, every hour that you are hiking in the heat.

Pay special heed to that part about electrolytes, including salts, said Saguaro park's Austin, who has worked as a backcountry ranger at the Grand Canyon.

"Don't drink strictly water," Austin said. "You need more than that. You need salt and electrolytes."

The Mayo Clinic website notes that signs of mild to moderate dehydration include dry, sticky mouth, tiredness, thirst, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness. It's critical to rest, drink fluids and turn back or the dehydration could become severe, with rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing and other symptoms.

SUN PROTECTION

You probably know the drill: Wear a hat, sunglasses and lightweight but protective clothing - and apply sunscreen regularly.

HANDLING THE HEAT

It's common sense, but our experts say the message bears repeating: Avoid overexertion during the heat of the day and carry plenty of drinking water.

"If you're planning a somewhat strenuous activity, plan to start very early in the day and plan to be done by 10 a.m.," said Austin. "And don't push your body really hard when traveling in the heat."

Another strategy on very hot days: Postpone your outdoor activities.

Animal ENCOUNTERS

Venomous snakes, black bears and mountain lions pose a potential danger to hikers, campers and others traveling outdoors.

Snakes: Schewel of the Forest Service noted that snakes often seek shade to escape the heat. "Always be aware of where you put your feet and hands, and avoid cracks, crevices, areas under rocks and places you can't see," she said.

Bears: Bears generally avoid people, but they're sometimes attracted by food in picnic areas and campsites.

Use bear-proof food containers where provided, experts advise. Otherwise, lock food out of sight or hang it out of bears' reach.

Hart, of the Game and Fish Department, offered this advice for those who encounter a bear:

• Alter your route to avoid a bear in the distance.

• Make yourself as large and imposing as possible if the bear continues to approach. Stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items. Make loud noises, such as yelling.

• Do not run and never play dead.

• Give the bear a chance to leave the area.

• If the bear doesn't leave, stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away.

Mountain lions

Hart's advice in the event of a lion encounter:

• Do not approach the animal. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

• Stay calm and speak loudly and firmly.

• Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate its instinct to chase.

• Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.

• Appear larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket. Throw stones or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly. Maintain eye contact and slowly back away toward a building, vehicle, or busy area.

• Fight back if attacked. Many people have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, jackets, bare hands, and even bikes. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the animal.

BEES

Bee encounters can be deadly.

Recently, a Tucson rock climber was found dead on a cliff after suffering hundreds of bee stings.

Bee experts and the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center offer this advice in the event of a bee attack:

• Run away quickly and attempt to cover your face and head without slowing your progress.

• Don't stop running until you reach a shelter such as a car or a house.

• If you are trapped away from shelter and can't outrun the bees, cover up with sleeping bags, clothes or whatever else is available.

• Don't jump into water. Bees can hover and wait for you to come up for air.

• Avoid swatting the bees, and scrape stingers off with your fingernails instead of plucking them out, which can intensify the sting.

FIRE

Fires - including those currently allowed only in a developed campsite or picnic area where grills are provided - should never be left unattended and should be completely extinguished before departure.

"Always ensure a fire is cold to the touch before leaving it," said Schewel.

ARIZONA fire restrictions

Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect Wednesday on federal and state lands in Southern Arizona, including the Coronado National Forest and Saguaro National Park. The restrictions prohibit:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal or wood stove other than in a developed campsite or picnic area where grills are provided.

• Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site/improved site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of flammable materials.

• Fireworks are prohibited year-round on federal lands.

Go to firerestrictions.us/AZ for restrictions on lands elsewhere in Arizona.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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