Man shares secrets of desert inferno survival

By Joseph Altman Jr.

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Almost anyone who has been to Saguaro National Monument East will say it's a beautiful place. Well-marked trails guide visitors through beautiful fields of desert flowers, giant saguaro cacti and the homes of numerous desert animals. Taking a lovely mid-morning stroll down the trail is the perfect way to see the desert while still knowing all you have to do is turn around and follow the trail backward to get to your car.

But what happens when you leave the beaten path and go out into the real desert? No paths, no trails, no people and no water. Just the dirt, the plants, the poisonous animals and the sun ah yes, the sun. What happens? Let me tell you what happens.

After passing the sign that reads, "All travel in 'trail closed' areas is prohibited," my companion and I jumped over a few prickly pear cacti and began wandering away from the trail, away from the security of our vehicle, away from places where rangers would easily find our bodies if we happen to die.

I wandered through spaces I thought I'd never get through. I soon learned, through trial and error, to hold back mesquite tree branches, duck through the small openings and brush off the spider webs and insects in one motion.

It was a beautiful and spiritual experience, compared with the view from the trail. In the middle of the untouched desert, there was less dead vegetation and no horse crap to step over. Now this was the way to get in touch with nature.

Making my way through amazing sights, like a prickly pear cactus growing on the branch of a massive saguaro and giant lizards crawling along the ground, I said to myself, "This is fun .but where are we going?"

I searched for a place to go, the brush getting thicker and more imprisoning, until finally, could it be? Yes! It is a trail!

Oh, nevermind. It's just a dried out creek bed that reminds me of how little little liquid I brought with me.

Walking through bushes and trees, I suddenly heard a voice in the distance. Could I be close to human contact? I listen, but it's only the low-pitched buzz of a massive fly. After an hour in the middle of nowhere, the sun is already playing games with my mind.

At this point, I was getting kind of worried. There was no real way to tell where I was. There were no landmarks, no signposts, nothing in sight to signal the right way. All that could be seen for what seemed like hundreds of miles was cacti and mountains and more cacti.

Soon, the first sign of civilization showed itself a plane buzzing overhead. I realized that all was not lost, and I continued to walk, walk, walk through what seemed like the same terrain I had just gone through an hour ago.

Sweat started pouring down my brow as the clock crept toward the noon hour. I was really getting sick of this "adventure" now. I was getting tired of walking over rotting cacti and through swarms of ants.

I was also getting rather peeved at the third fly I had to wrestle out of my ear with my index finger. I want to go home, back to civilization, back to my car! I want to go home where cans of bug spray lined the shelves of my favorite hardware store! I want to go home where my air conditioning is so cold I need two blankets at night!

Then, after almost two hours wandering around the desert in the midday sun (exactly the thing experts tell you NEVER to do), I found the road. I was thrilled.

Now, the only thing left to do was find where I parked. And let me tell you, remembering where you parked in the desert is a lot tougher than at the mall. There isn't a Dillard's that can serve as your reference point. After walking about a mile, I found the oasis I found . my car!

Pulling out my keys, I opened the door, started the engine, and turned on the air.

As I drove home down Broadway Boulevard, I thought about how nice it is to live in a bustling metropolis like Tucson rather than a settlement in the middle of the desert. Then I saw the bug that had been pestering me all morning trying to escape through my windshield. "Tell you what, Mr. Bug. I'll stay out of your desert if you stay out of my car." SPLAT!

Wildcat reporter Joe Altman wants the environmentalists out there to know that all reference to the killing of insects is purely fictitious.

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