Stay Cool in the Desert: Expert Tips from a Death Valley Local
When it comes to extreme heat, few places in the world can rival the scorching temperatures of Death Valley. As a native of this desert region, I grew up navigating the unforgiving heat waves that frequent my hometown. Over the years, I've learned invaluable tips and tricks to endure and conquer these blistering conditions. If you find yourself in the midst of a heatwave, follow these survival tips from a Death Valley local to stay cool.
Hydration is key in combating the intense desert heat. Drinking plenty of water is essential to maintain your body's functioning and prevent dehydration. Aim to hydrate continuously throughout the day and carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. Additionally, it's crucial to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Consider incorporating sports drinks or coconut water into your hydration routine to restore these vital nutrients. Most importantly, always bring more water than you think you need if you’re engaging in ANY outdoor recreation. Getting stuck on a trail in triple digit heat with no water is NO JOKE. If you’re halfway out of water, you’re halfway done with your hike. I don’t care if you feel fine. If your water supply is half gone, it’s time to turn back.
Choosing the right clothing can make a significant difference in keeping cool under scorching temperatures. Opt for loose, lightweight fabrics that allow airflow and aid in sweat evaporation. Light-colored garments reflect sunlight, whereas dark colors absorb heat. So, sticking to light-colored clothing can help to minimize your body's exposure to heat. When venturing outside, select breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen that let your skin breathe and aid in temperature regulation.
While it may seem obvious, seeking shade is a lifesaver when the sun is beating down relentlessly. Whenever possible, take shelter under trees, umbrellas, or any other sources of shade. Not only does shade provide an escape from exposure to direct sunlight, but it can also significantly lower the ambient temperature around you. Carrying a compact, portable shade structure or using a wide-brimmed hat can provide additional protection when moving about outdoors. And remember, even our native reptiles seek shade in triple-digit heat. You won’t look like a fool for wearing a wide-brimmed hat or sticking along the treeline.
Don't underestimate the power of sunscreen in protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Apply sunscreen with a high SPF (preferably 30 or above) on all exposed areas of skin before venturing outdoors. Remember to reapply every two hours, especially if you're sweating profusely or swimming. Protecting your skin not only prevents sunburns but also reduces the risk of long-term UV-related damage and skin cancer.
Limit Outdoor Activities
If possible, limit strenuous outdoor activities during the peak heat of the day, typically from mid-morning to late afternoon. Engaging in intense exercise or physical labor while the sun is at its zenith puts you at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses. Instead, reschedule or plan your activities for early morning or evening hours when the temperatures are relatively cooler. Alternatively, seek indoor activities or spaces equipped with air conditioning to escape the heat during these peak hours. I was recently asked what people around Death Valley do when temperatures reach the triple digits, often as high as 115 F. The answer to that is this: WE STAY INSIDE! If we have anything planned outdoors, we take a page from the native reptiles’ playbook– do it in the early morning or late evening. The great thing about the desert is that it cools down dramatically when the sun sets. I highly recommend planning your hikes and lake days around the rise and set of the sun.
Keep Your Home Cool
Maintaining a cool home is crucial in combating the scorching temperatures of a heatwave. Close curtains or blinds during the day to limit the amount of heat entering your living space. In the evening, open windows strategically to encourage natural ventilation and airflow. Additionally, make use of fans or air conditioning to circulate cool air inside your home. However, be mindful of energy consumption and try to find a balance between comfort and sustainability. To learn more about how to keep your home cool during a heat wave, watch this video from KOLO News 8: https://www.kolotv.com/video/2023/07/12/nv-energy-tips-efficient-energy-use-during-heat-wave/
Check on Vulnerable Individuals
It's crucial to check on vulnerable individuals in your community, such as elderly neighbors or family members with pre-existing medical conditions. Extreme heat affects individuals differently, and those who are more sensitive or prone to heat-related illnesses require extra care. Make sure they have access to a cool environment, recommend they stay hydrated, and offer any assistance they might need in navigating the heatwave. Such acts of kindness can make a significant difference in ensuring everyone's safety and well-being.
Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Understanding the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke is vital to protect yourself and those around you. Heat exhaustion symptoms include profuse sweating, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and headache. If you or someone else experiences these symptoms, immediately move to a cooler environment, drink water, and rest. Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a medical emergency characterized by confusion, loss of consciousness, hot and dry skin, rapid heartbeat, and high body temperature. If you suspect heat stroke, call emergency services immediately.
Surviving a heatwave requires careful planning and implementation of preventive measures. As a Death Valley native, I've grown accustomed to the challenges that extreme heat brings. By following these tips, you can stay cool, hydrated, and safe in even the harshest of desert conditions. Remember to prioritize hydration, seek shade, use sunscreen, and be mindful of your activities during peak heat hours. By taking the necessary precautions, you can beat the heat and enjoy a safe summer no matter where you are.
About the Author:
Bradley is from a small, rural town in southern Nevada where they grew up herping with their family in the Mojave Desert. They attended UNR and studied Wildlife Ecology, then later pursued a degree in Secondary Science Education. Before joining our staff, Bradley served an AmeriCorps term as a Naturalist Educator. If you ever have a question about toads or the best paddle-boarding spots in the Truckee Meadows, they are your go-to person!