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4 Things Everyone Should Know Before Heading into the Phoenix Desert

If you’ve lived in the Phoenix area for any amount of time, you likely know it’s a camper’s dream. The Maricopa County desert hosts beautiful natural treasures – including ravines, canyons and bluffs – and is an ideal setting to enjoy the great outdoors. I’m not alone – according to Maricopa County statistics, an impressive 2.1 million people visited the 10-park regional system in 2011 to spend time in the desert air.

However, Phoenix camping can pose safety challenges that every explorer needs to be aware of. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Know the area: Phoenix has been named one of National Geographic’s best hiking cities. But cliffs and bluffs that lead to spectacular views are also a risk for falls and injury if you aren’t aware of your surroundings. Before your trip, check out the City of Phoenix’s local trail maps, and always stay on a designated trail (Phoenix city ordinances prohibit “trailblazing”). When hiking, use common sense and watch where you’re stepping. If you’re unfamiliar with the area yourself, bring an expert friend or speak to someone with experience.

Play by the rules: Just after Memorial Day, the Maricopa Parks & Recreation Department initiated a fire ban, which includes campfires, fire pits and charcoal grills. While gas/propane grills are allowed in designated areas, such as the ramada (picnic) areas and developed camping sites, it’s important to follow the fire restrictions and take safety precautions to minimize the risk of man-made wildfires. For extra precaution, I recommend keeping a portable fire extinguishing spray on hand with your camping gear.

Watch for weather: Now that we’re in monsoon season, the weather can change at a moment’s notice. Finding shelter can prove difficult if you’re caught in the high winds, heavy lightning and downpours that accompany these storms. The best way to avoid dangerous conditions? Not be there in the first place, says Monsoonsafety.org, which advises listening to weather forecasts and signing up for weather alerts before you plan a trip. The site also says to avoid camping along streams and washes (the normally dry bed of a steep canyon) during threatening conditions; more deaths occur each year from flooding over any other thunderstorm-related hazard because campers underestimate the force and power of water.

Know your limits: The desert terrain is not for the faint of heart or body, especially if you’ll be camping more than a day or two. Prepare yourself physically and mentally for the rocky and rough setting. Watch your footing near cliffs, and never trust a tree or shrub to hold you. Phoenix officials warn that, even if you’re well hydrated, you can still suffer from heat-related illness. On the hottest summer days, consider hiking in the early morning or early evening when there’s more shade – or consider whether it’s safe to hike at all.

Guest blogger Debbie Hanson is director of external affairs for First Alert, a trusted brand in home safety products.

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