Hiking Around Tucson and Arizona
with Kim Beck

DANGERS OF HIKING IN THE DESERT

Hiking in Arizona offers a unique set of perils for the ignorant or unaware.

Some of the dangers associated with hiking include heat exhaustion, lightning, creatures (such as scorpions and snakes), falls, and getting lost.

According to Tom Price, a 19-year veteran of Pima County's search and rescue unit, "On an average, around 200 missions are undertaken annually. Of these, about half are hiking or wilderness related."

Simple awareness, common sense, and perhaps a little information will likely prevent a hiker from having to deal with these dangers.

Signs of heat exhaustion include: excessive sweating; cool, clammy skin; nausea and vomiting; and dizziness or headache. Take it easy, avoid the "heat of the day" (noon to 3 p.m.), drink plenty of water and dress to "beat the heat." If heat stress is apparent, resting in shade and drinking lightly-salted fluids will help.

Lightning can be avoided completely, usually by paying attention to the weather report before you hike. However, sometimes summer storms cruise in and a hiker can find it frightening to be so close to the lightning. Stay away from high points (such as tall trees), lay flat in a field if necessary, or go to a low-lying area.

Scorpions sting only when frightened and live under rocks, wood, and in dark places. Shaking off clothing and emptying boots before putting them back on is always a good idea.

Rattlesnakes do not have to be coiled to strike and may without any warning or noise. If a snake is encountered, stop immediately and slowly back up and away. If bitten, keep quiet and try to stay still. Do bind the bite area, not too tight, and loosen for 90 seconds every 10 minutes. Keep the bite lower than the heart. Always seek medical care for any type of poisonous bite, including flying insects.

A fall may result in a twisted or sprained ankle or worse, and can be best avoided by paying full attention and not hurrying.

"Getting lost is very hard to do in the Catalina Mountains," said Jonason. "Being temporarily misplaced occurs sometimes, but having a compass, a map, and knowing major points of the area are a simple way to get back on the trail.

Books and maps related to hiking can be found at any of the outdoors shops in Tucson, as well as the visitor's centers located within each of the parks-such as Sabino Canyon's Visitor Center.

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