The barren hills in the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area create an interesting pattern across this desert landscape.
Desert cactus in bloom Dos Palmas Windmills at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains Firefighter working a prescribed burn Bighorn Sheep
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Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office

Desert Safety

When you visit the public lands within the jurisdiction of the Palm Springs / South Coast Field Office, you can enjoy some of the desert's most unique terrain, vistas of breathtaking natural beauty, and numerous opportunities for recreation.  The desert areas offers a broad range of outdoor activities, including hiking, photography, hunting, back-country byway touring, and camping.  Travel on foot or in a vehicle can be an exciting and rewarding experience.  Knowledge of the outdoor environment, along with proper planning and equipment, will ensure that your visit to public lands is a safe and enjoyable one.

No one plans on getting lost, breaking down, or experiencing other mishaps.  Be prepared, stay safe and make your trip memorable for all the right reasons.

Always be sure that someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return.

Never travel alone on foot or by vehicle.

To protect yourself, we offer a few safety reminders:

  • Be aware of the danger presented by the desert heat:  Heat-related injuries can be life-threatening situations.  Daytime summer temperatures routinely exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
    Users of the public lands should always have plenty of water available.  One gallon of water or more per person per day is the minimum amount of water you should carry, and 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.
  • Avoid dehydration:  The only way to avoid dehydration is to drink water.  Experts suggest drinking a minimum of one gallon of water per day.  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.  The right clothing can help you avoid dehydration:  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.
  • Protective Clothing:  The desert has plenty of sharp rocks and thorny or spiny vegetation.  Summer storms can chill upper elevations and drop large amounts of rain in a short period.  Wear the proper clothing and footwear for your experience.  Lyme Disease and Hantavirus are rare in this area but there have been documented cases in Southern California.  The best prevention for Lyme Disease is long pants, socks and boots covered with tick repellent.  The best prevention for the Hantavirus is to avoid rodents.
  • 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.  Bee hives are also found far out in the California Deserts, and bees of all kinds are important as pollinators for the desert wildflowers.  Since it is not possible to tell by looking whether bees are "Africanized", if you encounter a large number, swarm, or hive of bees, for your own safety leave the area immediately.
  • Drug Labs:  Methamphetamine drug lab waste is a growing hazard on the public lands.  Please stay clear of anything that looks like a drug lab or any garbage dumped in the desert.  If you suspect any type of crime or violation contact the Federal Interagency Communications Center (FICC) at 1-888-233-6518 or 911.  
  • Explosives:  Military explosives can be found most anywhere in the desert.  Large areas of the desert were used for bombing ranges and maneuvers by the US Armed Forces.  There may be unexploded devices or practice devices that could cause serious bodily injury if handled.  STAY AWAY AND REPORT any such devices to FICC at  1-888-233-6518 or call 911.  
  • Flash Floods:  Flash floods are a common and widespread disaster that can occur often in the desert.  No area is immune to flash floods.  Keep alert for signs of rain (thunder and lightning), both where you are and upstream.  Flash floods can occur with little or no warning, and can reach full peak within minutes.  Avoid camping in washes when there is a threat of rain.  Flash floods are the number one cause of weather-related deaths.  Do not attempt to cross washes if there is water in them.  The water is probably deeper and moving faster than you think it is.  The sheer force of just six inches of swiftly moving water can knock people off their feet.  Don't try to drive through flooded areas.  Cars are easily swept away in just two feet of water.  Know where high ground is and how to get there quickly.    
  • Abandoned Mines:  Abandoned mines exist throughout the deserts of California.  Entering mines is dangerous.  Poison air and cave-ins can and do occur.  Folks have fallen to their deaths; we’ve had reports of whole vehicles and their passengers falling into mine shafts.  Most people think of mines as being tunnels that you walk into; others think of mining pits.  Keep in mind, there are also mine shafts that go straight down and are nearly impossible to see until you are right at the edge of the shaft.  Several species of wildlife make their homes in mines.  Do not enter mines or disturb the wildlife inside.  The best advice we can give you is STAY OUT and STAY ALIVE!  
  • Travel Safety:  There are inherent risks and dangers when driving in the back-country.  The condition of these routes can deteriorate quickly and substantially at any time.  Therefore you may encounter conditions considerably worse than you expected.  Your best course of action is to be prepared.  Exercise caution and good judgment by making sure that you and your vehicle are in top condition, and that you have the proper training, safety equipment and supplies to deal with any problems you may encounter.  In addition, it is never wise to travel alone in the back country.  Should you meet with a mishap, help will almost always be far away and long in coming.  (Your cell phone may not work out here.)  It is also strongly suggested that you file a travel plan (and stick to it) with someone that can alert the authorities if you are overdue for your planned return time.  Contact FICC 1-888-233-6518.
  • Lost / Stranded: If you become stranded or lost while you are 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.


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)
__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
__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
__money in small bills for emergency supplies
__change for a pay phone

Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs - South Coast Field Office
1201 Bird Center Drive
Palm Springs, California 92262
Phone: (760) 833-7100
Fax: (760) 833-7199
Office Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., M-F
Contact us by Email
Location of Field Office