By Bob Difley
When I was in the RV rental business a majority of our summer rental business came from Europe – Germany and England primarily.
The Germans were especially interested in traveling to Death Valley and no amount of persuasion could dissuade them from visiting – even advising them that travel in Death Valley voided their insurance because of the danger from heat-related problems. They went anyway.
It seems that it isn’t just the Germans that have a fascination for Death Valley in the summer. The number of people visiting when temperatures often exceed 120 degrees has soared from 97,000 in 1985 to more than one million in 2014. The high heat does not just make you uncomfortable. Every year one or two people die in Death Valley from heat-related illnesses, and many others have come very close.
For RVers that still want to visit in these conditions, certain precautions should be adhered to, even when you don’t feel that the heat is excessive. The dryness of the air will evaporate sweat from your skin before you even feel it. The process of evaporation will also cool your skin, so that you do not feel as hot as it is – the reason that you don’t feel the heat in the desert as much as you do in humid climates.
That’s what makes it dangerous. Dehydration sets in quickly, causing confusion, fatigue, disorientation and chills among other signs. You need to drink a minimum of a gallon of water a day in a hot, dry climate. If you get lost and run out of water, make no mistake, you are in trouble.
Rangers point out that one of the big problems in Death Valley is the reliance on GPS systems to explore off-road into remote areas. The GPS – in your tow vehicle or dingy that you use to explore – cannot tell the difference between a paved road that will likely have vehicular traffic if you run into trouble and an unmaintained, rough and nearly impassable dirt road. That dirt road, in fact, might be the shortest route and mistakenly chosen by the GPS system. Before you realize it your vehicle could become stuck, leaving you stranded miles from any help. And there are no gas stations if you underestimated how far you had to drive before returning to any services.
Because of this, Death Valley managers have added heat-danger warnings to dozens of wayside exhibits and are working with technology companies to remove the closed and hazardous roads from GPS units. They also have posted warnings on the park’s website, telling visitors not to rely on cell phones – only a small portion of Death Valley has cell phone reception – or GPS units, which have often also sent people where no roads exist.
Search-and-rescue experts say that having a good map, a compass and plenty of water enhance your chances of survival. And for those venturing off-road, they strongly advise carrying personal locator beacons that send a signal to a satellite advising others of your location and notifying authorities if you need help.
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