El Centro Field Office

Desert Safety

There are numerous opportunities for recreation in the deserts of California. Travel on foot or in a vehicle can be an exciting and rewarding experience. No one plans on getting lost, breaking down, or experiencing other mishaps. Being prepared will keep you safe and make for a memorable trip.

Always be sure that someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return.Truck stuck in flooded wash.

Never travel alone on foot or by vehicle. Flash floods do occur. Avoid camping in washes when there is a threat of rain. Do not attempt to cross washes if there is water in them. It is probably deeper and faster than you think.

DEHYDRATION: The only way to avoid dehydration is to drink water. Don't rely on your thirst to determine when to drink. Make a habit of drinking water at frequent intervals. Don't ration your water.

One gallon of water or more per person per day is the minimum amount of water you should carry. In hot weather, two gallons or more is strongly recommended. The amount of water someone needs varies from person to person. Remember, it is better to carry too much water, than to run out.

Make sure to wear clothing that is light in color and loose fitting. A wide brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt, and long pants will hold perspiration rather than exposing it to the dry desert air. Conserve sweat, not water.

LOST/STRANDED: If you become stranded or lost in a vehicle, stay there. It is easier to find a vehicle than a person in the desert. Find or make shade. Ground temperatures can be up to 30 degrees hotter than the air 12" above. Signals will increase your chances of being found. Any type of flare, signal mirror or smoke signal will help make your location known. The universal distress signal is anything occurring in threes. An example would be three blasts of a whistle or a horn.

If you are on foot and must travel, do so when it is cool. Otherwise, seek shelter from the sun. Mark your path with stones, notes, etc. If you leave notes, include the date, time, and your direction of travel.

MINES: Abandoned mines exist throughout the deserts of California. Entering mines is dangerous. Poison air and cave ins can and do occur. Several species of wildlife make their homes in mines. Do not enter mines or disturb the wildlife inside.

Snake in sand - Coiled Sidewinder.ANIMALS: All animals, whether poisonous or not, should be respected. Respect their boundaries by enjoying them from a distance. If you are sleeping outdoors, use a cot. This will keep desert creatures from trying to move in with you at night.

BEES: Unfortunately, Africanized "killer" bees have established themselves in desert areas of Southern California. If you encounter a large number, swarm, or hive of bees, leave the area immediately.   


Here are a few essentials to bring with you when visiting the desert on foot:

__appropriate clothing
__food and water (bring extra)
__whistle and signal mirror
__sunglasses and sunscreen
__pocket knife or multiplier tool
__waterproof matches
__first aid kit (and the knowledge to use it)
__flashlight
__map
__compass
__gps unit
__cell phone


Along with the items listed to the left, if you are traveling by vehicle or off-highway vehicle (OHV), remember the following:

__tool kit (wrenches, screw drivers, etc.)
__extra parts (spark plugs, belts, hoses, etc.)
__extra fluids for vehicle (oil, coolant, gas, etc.)
__high lift jack
__sand boards/mats
__tow rope/strap/chain
__shovel
__spare tire or tire sealant and air pump
__signal devices (mirror, flares, etc.)
__duct and electrical tape
__baling wire
__radiator stop leak
__fifty feet of parachute cord
__$6.00-a $5.00 bill and change for a pay phone


Bureau of Land Management
El Centro Field Office
1661 S. 4th Street
El Centro CA 92243
Phone: (760) 337-4400
Fax: (760) 337-4490
Office Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., M-F
Contact us by Email