I. Surviving and Thriving in The Mojave Desert
The Magickall Spring Gathering of Traditions is rapidly approaching (April 5-13). Anyone who has ever attended Burning Man already understands and appreciates the challenges of living in the Mojave desert. Although temperatures on the playa near AΩ Isis Temple in April are less extreme than at Black Rock City in August (average 76º high and 46º low), 2013 temperatures in April reached as high at 95º and as low as 31º.
Like Burning Man, Alpha Omega's Isis temple is situated on the playa of a dry lake bed. The powdery, alkaline soil on the playa at Shadow Mountain is very similar to the playa at Black Rock City, but interspersed with rabbit brush, which hosts a wide variety of desert creatures.
As population centers in Nevada grow, more people are drawn to the Mojave Desert for its beauty and solitude. But the desert is deceptively fragile; plants are damaged that may take years to recover, and tracks across the open desert will not disappear for centuries. Incremental damage caused by individuals adds up to long lasting scars. No matter where we go to recreate, we should leave our camps and travel routes as we found them for the next visitor to enjoy. Here are a few important rules for good citizenship camping in the Mojave desert.
1. Choose a campsite where living vegetation is absent. Do not disturb living rabbit brush. Many of these plants are at least 70 years old and if destroyed will require the same amount of time to recover. (Dead rabbit brush, on the contrary, may be used as fuel for fire.)
2. Leave what you find.
a. Preserve the past: examine but do not collect, cultural or historic artifacts.
b. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
3. Do not build structures or furniture, or dig trenches.
4. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
5. Campfires directly on the playa leave burn scars. Your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple celebrate with a fire and drum circle every evening and you are welcome to attend. If you must have a campfire, please think green and use a fire receptacle elevated at least 8 inches off the playa. Such receptacles can be found in nearby Pahrump.
B. Leave No Trace
AΩ Isis Temple practices an environmentally friendly philosophy. The Mojave Desert has an incredibly delicate ecosystem. Life that thrives here needs far longer to establish itself or replentish itself than in less harsh environments. We would therefore like to share with you the following environmentally friendly practices for desert living.
1. Always choose pre-established trails to walk on. Although the soil surface may look like dirt to you, it is riddled with biological soil crusts, called cyanobacteria (previously called blue-green algae), which are one of the oldest known life forms that are a vital part of desert ecosystems. Communities of soil crusts also include lichens, mosses, microfungi, bacteria, and green algae. Mature soil crusts are usually bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and high densities of cyanobacteria and other organisms. Mature soil crusts are extremely fragile. Recovery may take up to 250 years in places of lower rainfall like on the playa at Shadow Mountain, assuming an area is not again disturbed. We will be happy to show you what mature soil crusts look like to help you avoid damaging them.
2. Trash - Please do not leave any trash anywhere on the playa. Please take it with you instead. You are welcome to use the recycling and composting facilities of your neighbors at AΩ Isis temple. At Isis Temple, where we can help you learn to separate all trash into burnables, compostables, plastic, metal, glass, and remaining trash.
b. Glass containers of any kind are a bad idea. They can shatter. Metal bottles and plates work well.
c. Smokers should make and carry a portable ashtray (a mint tin, for instance) to collect cigarette butts and ashes in.
d. Good desert citizens always pick it up trash and properly dispose of it whereever they may find it. Leave the desert even cleaner than you found it.
e. Always line-sweep your camp. The best way is to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with your campmates and clean your campsite in a grid pattern. Pick up EVERYTHING.
5. Camp Kitchen - You are invited to use the camp kitchen of your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple. If you do use it though, please clean up after yourself.
C. Desert Survival and Drinking Water
1. The Mojave Desert playa at Shadow Mountain is a thoroughly flat, prehistoric lake bed, composed of a hardpan alkali. In the Summer, daytime temperatures routinely exceed 100°F and the humidity is extremely low, which rapidly and continually wicks the moisture from your body. Because the atmosphere is so dry you may not feel particularly warm, but you’ll be steadily drying up. Sunscreen, lip balm and lotion are your best friends on the playa. At nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere provides much less filtering of the sunlight that causes sunburn. As a result, you will burn much faster and more severely than at lower elevations.
2. Put on sunscreen every morning and repeat as needed during the day. It takes nearly everyone a day or so to adjust to the desert climate. Don’t be surprised if you spend your first day feeling a bit queasy and cranky. Begin drinking more water as you approach the desert. To stay healthy and enjoy the week, drink water all the time whether you think you need it or not. Drinking up to one gallon of water per person per day is a reasonable rule of thumb.
3. Drinking Water - At AΩ Isis Temple we are blessed to be located over the Great Basin aquifer. Well water at AΩ Isis temple makes excellent drinking water, both in taste and qualiity. Although a bit alkaline, our drinking water is rich in well balanced minerals. You are welcome to fill up water bottles with water from the well of your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple.
4. Remember to eat salty foods to prevent electrolyte imbalance. Users of alcohol or caffeine are particularly at risk for dehydration, and should pay careful attention to their water intake. Dehydration can cause headaches, stomach cramps, abdominal pains, constipation, flu-like symptoms, and mood swings. It exacerbates both heat-related and cold-related conditions (i.e. heat exhaustion and hypothermia), and makes it difficult for the body to mend itself.
If someone you know complains of these symptoms, or shows signs of either severe overheating or (worse) a case of chills under the midday sun, get them to shade immediately and seek prompt medical help.
D. Surviving the Elements in the Mojave Desert
a. Make sure you bring some kind of shade for your camp and try to lie low during the hottest part of the day (save your strength for the night). Use sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and water. If you don’t take a few basic steps to protect yourself, the desert’s midday sun will cook you in no time. However, when the sun drops over the horizon, temperatures can quickly plummet fifty degrees. Overnight lows in the 40s can seem exceptionally cold after extensive daytime sun, so you’ll want to bring warm clothing, and a good sleeping bag as well.
b. The Mojave Desert surrounding AΩ Isis Temple can be subject to sudden bouts of fierce, unpredictable weather. Storm cells, fed by rising thermals that stream upward from the surrounding mountains, may arise in the late afternoon or evening and bring high winds, lightning and (sometimes) rain into camp. Likewise, dust storms can prowl the playa in packs or sweep in a broad front across the plain. Dust storms can produce instant “white outs” but are usually over quickly. Sustained rain is unlikely, although you should have rain gear at hand for brief and intensive rain. Wind storms and accompanying dust storms are quite likely. A dust particle mask and goggles are important gear to bring along for comfortable life. Be sure to read below the section on how to properly pitch a tent for areas with likelihood of high wind.
II. What to Bring
A. Don't worry. If you forget something, you can usually purchase it in nearby Pahrump - from food to camping gear. Those flying in you might want to buy your camping gear once you arrive. If you don't want to fly it out, you can always donate it to AΩ Isis Temple before you leave.
1. Water an be purchased at nearby gas stations or containers may be filled with well water from your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple.
2. Food. Pack your own food. Think ahead of time about whether you want to cook. The heat and pace of the playa may sap your desire to prepare full meals once you get there. Bring quick energy snacks: protein bars, bananas and trail mixes.
3. Drinks. Aluminim cans and plastic only. No glass, no bi-metal.
4. Portable Flatware and Cup.
5. Propane or butane stove for cooking. You are also welcome to use the outdoor camp kitchen of your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple.
6. Ice Chest(s) - Will be essential to protect your food from spoilage and wildlife. Ice cubes may be purhased at nearby stores. Your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple also have an ice machine that may or may not be working.
7. Tent. The sturdier the better. Your tent needs to be able to withstand high winds, dust storms, rain storms and extreme heat. Good ventilation is key -- it will be hot inside! Stake it down good, but keep the ropes away from foot traffic. Be sure to read the section on how to properly pitch a tent to survive desert windstorms.
9. Bed. It's hot during the day and cold at night, so blankets on top of a light sleeping bag should suffice. The playa floor is hard and unforgiving, so pack an air mattress or a foam pad. It seldom freezes at night in April, but it is best to be prepared for icy nights.
10. Clothing. Layers! Hot and cold, windy and calm. Dust storms. Bring a varied wardrobe.
11. Shade. A wide-brimmed hat, a tarp (with rope to keep it secure) -- you'll need all the shade you can get.
12. Camp Chair. For lounging out of the sun.
13. Goggles. To keep the dust out. Snowboarding googles work well, and if you can, get the kind with swappable lenses. Dark for the daytime, clear for twilight. They don't have to be airtight, but they have to offer more protection than sunglasses. Some cheap wrap-around shades are better than nothing.
14. Dust Mask. To keep the dust out. High quality disposables are great.
15. Head lamp. Better than a flashlight, especially for pre-dawn trips to the loo.
16. Duct Tape. For everything.
17. Sunscreen. Lots of it.
18. First Aid Kit. How big depends on how clumsy you are and/or the availability of sharp objects.
19. Single Ply Toilet paper.
20. Hand sanitizer.
21. Baby Wipes. Handy for taking a shower without using any water. The dust and the heat will leave you covered in a thick grime. These take care of it with no fuss. You are also welome to use the outdoor showers located at AΩ Isis Temple.
22. Hand Cream. The playa is notoriously unforgiving when it comes to drying out EVERYTHING. Don't leave bread out. It will be worthless in 15 minutes.
23. Trash bags. Every single piece of matter you discard on the desert floor is going to have to picked up by a volunteer. Make that volunteer you.
24. Gloves and shovel/rake. For cleanup.
25. Playa Bike. Reccomended as a great way to get around and explore the desert playa near Shadow Mountain.
25. Playa Bike. Reccomended as a great way to get around and explore the desert playa near Shadow Mountain.
III. How To Properly Stake a Tent For Desert Wind
1. Stake out the tarp.
2. Tie ropes to the staking points on your tent.
3. Orient your tent so the door opens to the east.
4. Find the staking loops on the tent.
5. Securely attach a length of rope long enough to reach outside the perimeter of the tarp to each staking loop.
6. Pound one stake (at least 6” long) per rope into the ground at a an angle with the tip of the stake pointed back towards the tent.
7. Tightly attach the ropes to the pounded stakes using a "taught line hitch."
This should be sufficient to secure your tent in our strong Spring winds here in the Mojave. For more thorough information, you will find a great website on how to properly prepare your tent for the possibility of foul weather HERE.
It does occasionally rain, and sometimes it rains mud, so when you stow your gear in your tent, remember to keep your gear well away from the tent walls. Tents are able to remain waterproof ONLY when there is no contact between the tent wall and anything else. Even the corner of your sleeping bag gently touching the wall of your tent will create a wicking situation that will defeat any waterproofing you may have squirted on your tent.
Be Warned: There are lots and lots of coyotes around Shadow mountain, and if you leave ANY food unsecured at your campsite they might help themselves to it. These coyotes are rather bold after having lived with people for so long, so to avoid an encounter, hide your food in a secure cooler or chest.
Poisonous Critters Live In The Mojave Desert! This includes but is not limited to scorpions, camel spiders, black widows, and rattlesnakes. If you leave anything you wear outside for any length of time SHAKE IT OUT before you put it on. This is especially true for shoes. Scorpions love to hide in shoes, and although the sting is about as bad as that of a bee, if you happen to be allergic to it, things could go badly for you.
IV. How To Stay Hydrated In The Desert.
If you have never spent time in the desert, you will find that it is more difficult than you think.
First of all, you need to drink, even when you are not thirsty. Each person needs to drink at least 3 liters/quarts of water per day. Since your neighbors at AΩ Isis Temple have their own well, you can drink as much un-chlorinated, un-fluoridated, naturally clean and pure water as you can stand!
Here are some rules to help you keep properly hydrated.
1. Don’t chug water. Get some in your mouth, swish it around two or three times so it mixes with your saliva, and THEN drink it down. You absorb water through the lining of your mouth, and this water is what will keep your lips from chapping.
2. If you are thirsty, drink immediately, and drink until you are not thirsty anymore. Who cares if you down three glasses in a row? Do it anyway.
3. If you are hungry, drink a big glass of water. Many Americans have forgotten that you can literally be hungry for water. If you drink a big glass of water and your hunger pains go away, you were just thirsty. If you drink the water and you are still hungry, then you probably are genuinely hungry.
4. If you are tired, drink water. One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue. Most people find that a glass of water will perk them up better than coffee or tea or any other pep drink. That being said, avoid drinking caffeine. It dehydrates you and will make you even more tired than a simple glass of water.
5. If you have a headache, drink water. Your brain is the first place dehydration makes it’s presence known. Slowly chewing mouthfuls of water usually takes care of the desert headache.
6. If you are nauseous, drink water. Nausea is a sign of severe dehydration. Come to the Temple for emergency medical assistance.
7. If you are irritable, grouchy, depressed, bitchy or annoyed for no good reason, drink a glass of water. These are all symptoms of early dehydration.
8. If you are dizzy, or find you are thinking slower than is usual for you, drink a glass of water. These are more symptoms of early dehydration.
9. If your contacts cloud up quickly, or you don’t produce tears when you cry, drink a glass of water. You’ve got it ~ more symptoms of early dehydration.
10. If your muscles and joints are sore, or if you are not as strong or fast as you usually are, drink a glass of water. These are more symptoms of early dehydration.
11. You can also use the “skin pinch test”. Pinch and pull up the skin on the back of your hand. The more slowly it snaps back into place, the more dehydrated you are. If your skin stays peaked up when you do this, you are in the beginning stages of severe dehydration. Come to the Temple for emergency medical assistance.
12. If it has been more than two hours since you had anything to drink, drink water. They best way to stay hydrated is to never let yourself get dehydrated. If you drink one 8oz. glass of water every hour on the hour, you will drink more than a gallon per day. This will insure you do not get into trouble during your stay in the Mojave.
Just in case you didn’t put it all together, here is a list of common symptoms of dehydration, in order of increasing severity:
g. Dry mouth
h. Dry eyes (especially for those with contact lenses)
i. Dry or chapped lips
j. Dark colored urine
k. Infrequent (less than 4 times per day) urination
l. Uncharacteristically cold hands and feet
m. Grouchiness or depression
n. Loss of strength
o. Loss of stamina
q. Dry skin that sags slowly into position when pinched up
r. Rapid heartbeat
t. Blood in your stool or vomit
u. Low blood pressure
w. Sunken eyes
x. A weak pulse
y. Inability to stay awake
If you exhibit ANY of these symptoms, drink a glass of water immediately, one mouthful at a time, chewing/swishing each mouthful. If you have more than one symptom, or your symptoms are numbered 11 or higher, seek immediate medical assistance.