Traveling in Nature
The high desert plateau that surrounds Moab is a breathtaking part of our country that demands respect; you must be self-reliant and have basic outdoor skills while exploring the desert. Be realistic about your physical abilities, know your limits, and use common sense.
Have the proper gear, enough water, a good map, and plenty of food. Do your research before you hit the trail; be aware of mileage, elevation gain, signage (or lack thereof), and terrain features.
Cell service is spotty in the desert, so never count on having reliable cell service while out and about.
While in the backcountry, put your phone in airplane mode and turn off the Bluetooth function. Your battery will last longer, and most importantly, you can still take photos!
Don’t go into the backcountry alone. Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. If you become lost and need to be rescued, don’t move from where you are or try to find your way back. This can make it difficult for search and rescue teams to find you. Stay put, make yourself visible, make noise to let people know where you are, and wait for help. Consider hiring a local guide to explore the desert backcountry safely.
Moab is 4,025ft above sea level, with the nearby La Sal Mountains topping out at over 12,000ft above sea level. These higher altitudes may trigger mild altitude sickness in visitors, regardless of gender, age, or physical health. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
Resting and drinking plenty of water are the keys to treating mild symptoms. It’s also a good idea to limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine for the first few days of your visit, as these can worsen symptoms.
This area is part of the Colorado Plateau, a high desert region that can experience wide temperature fluctuations—sometimes over 40ºF in a single day!
Temperatures tend to be comfortable and mild during spring (April-May) and fall (mid-September-October), with daytime highs averaging 60-80ºF and lows averaging 30-50ºF.
Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF, making strenuous exercise difficult and sometimes dangerous. The middle of the day can be hot and dry, but the temperature can drop quickly when the sun sets. Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30-50ºF and lows averaging 0-20ºF.
Local weather conditions and forecasts are available at weather.gov and search for Moab, Utah.
Thunderstorms are a needed part of weather in the desert as the water is always welcome. With the heat of the desert air, thunderstorms and lightning can be a common, afternoon occurrence (but are possible at any time of day).
Lightning can be very dangerous so check the weather forecast before you head outside. It’s always best to start early for any outside activity. If you think there is lightning around, get to a lower elevation as quickly and safely as you can. Seek shelter in a building or hard-sided car.
Once the storm has cleared, still wait 30-45 minutes before resuming your activity. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm.
The Heat’s on
The desert is known for hot, dry temperatures. The heat can wreak havoc with our bodies. It’s very important to do any activities during the cooler times of the day. Be careful and be aware of how you are feeling while outside. Heat-related illnesses can be very dangerous.
Heat exhaustion is a serious concern during the hotter months in the desert, especially if you’re not drinking enough water. It’s caused when the body is active, the temperatures are high, and the body cannot release the heat. The main symptom to look for is if you are hot and sweating a lot, but feel cool, often with goose bumps even in the heat. If you don’t take care of this right away, you could have a heat stroke. If you think you have heat exhaustion, get out of the heat and find a way to cool down and re-hydrate.
A heat stroke can be fatal and can occur suddenly, without early symptoms. The main difference between heat stroke and exhaustion is sweating. In a heat stroke, you don’t sweat and your skin will become hot, red, and dry. Your pulse will also be very strong and rapid. With a heat stroke, cool the body down quickly by getting as wet as possible, and get medical attention quickly!
Beverage of Choice
Make it water, and lots of it! We cannot emphasize this enough: not having enough water can be a dangerous, even deadly, mistake. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are very real threats and can affect anyone. Always carry water and either a portable filter or water purification tablets.
Plan on a gallon (yes, a gallon) of water per person, per day. Take small sips regularly; waiting to drink until you feel thirsty means you’ve waited too long and your body is already becoming dehydrated. An important tip is to begin hydrating the day before your activity. If you are not properly hydrated the day before, you start your day dehydrated, and you can’t catch up in just one day.
Do not drink water from streams, potholes, or any other natural source without purifying it. Most importantly, don’t rely on natural sources for your water—bring your own water, and bring plenty of it!
Keep the charge up
When the body is dehydrated, it lacks water and essential electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride) which reduces its ability to sweat.
Many automatic processes in the body rely on a small electric current to function, and electrolytes provide this charge.
With all of the water you need to drink, make sure to replace electrolytes as well to keep the body in balance. There are drink supplements that can be added to water (avoid sugary drinks) or drink chocolate milk. Bananas, watermelons, and peanut butter are good food options.
Dress for Success
Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, and socks and shoes that are appropriate for your activity of choice (avoid cotton). UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) fabrics come in short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts, pants, and hats that incorporate up to UPF 50 factor protection.
Temperatures drop quickly at night, even in the warmest months, so carry a jacket if you plan on being outside after the sun goes down.
Having properly-fitting boots will help avoid blisters. Wet feet can also cause blisters. We recommend bringing an extra pair of non-cotton socks on hikes to prevent blisters due to sweaty or wet feet.
Go Out Protected
As always, practice safe sun. Apply sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 25 or higher. Lube up at least 30 minutes before going out, and reapply liberally every two hours. You will sunburn much more easily than you’d expect because of the thinner atmosphere. Also make sure to wear high-quality sunglasses! The ultraviolet radiation is 36 percent higher here than at sea level.
The sun and heat get all the blame for burned, dry, and cracked skin, but the wind is just as damaging. Use moisturizer, sunscreen, and lip balm with SPF. Men are seven times more likely than women to develop lip cancer, but lip balm with SPF cuts that chance by 50 percent.
Put a Lid on It
There’s no denying it: summer is hot and the sun is relentless. Always wear a brimmed hat in the sun to shade your scalp, ears, and face. A bandana around your neck will help protect your skin. Using a wet bandana on your skin will offer cooling relief as the moisture evaporates.
Always keep your gas tank at least half full. Gas stations can be few and far between once you leave the main street. Carry snacks and have enough water in your car for everyone, including pets.
A headlamp or flashlight is always good to have for dark nights (and when you drop your keys under the seat).