It took me years to fully appreciate the desert. When I was eight, my family transferred from an air force base in rural Newbury, England to a posting in Tucson, Arizona. I loved the gentle green hills and rainy weather of England (probably why I ended up in the PNW as an adult).  The transition from a tiny school in a village full of thatched cottages from the 1600s, was a tough one as I navigated the hot and crowded concrete hallways of my new American life.

Sabino Creek. Tucson, AZ

So how did I get through the transition? My family spent countless summer days hiking in the desert foothills of the Catalina mountains. We traded oak trees for saguaro cactus and ended each scorching Sabino Canyon hike in the ice cold waters of Sabino creek.

Sabino Dam. Tucson, AZ

Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Tucson while helping a friend move, and decided to revisit my old stomping grounds.

Snowmelt from Mt Lemmon in Sabino Creek. Tucson, AZ

These days, I have a better appreciation for the unique beauty of the desert. The way the blue sky opens wide, and the clean lines of the granite foothills. There is a stark and wild beauty to this landscape, but there are dangers  here too.

Foothills of the Catalina mountains. Tucson, AZ

From snakes to sunscreen; here are a few tips to keep you safe while hiking in a desert environment:

  1. Always map your hike, and make sure that your emergency contacts know where you are going.
  2. Carry a backpack with the 10 essentials. REI has a great list here.
  3. Bring plenty of water and a way to filter water in case of an emergency.
  4. Wear a hat and bring a long sleeved shirt to provide additional protection from the sun.
  5. Wear good sunscreen and bring extra to reapply.
  6. Start in the cool of the morning and plan on being back before the hottest part of the day.
  7. Avoid hiking with headphones. Rattlesnakes will let you know if you are too close, but you have to be able to hear them.
  8. If you are climbing over flat rocks on a sunny day, tap the rock with a hard object and listen for rattlesnakes before moving forward.
  9. Keep your eyes on the trail and stay alert, especially if the trail has cactus on it.
  10. If possible, wear ankle high boots on your hike. Leather ones offer the best protection from snake bite. Trekking poles are a good idea as well, as they offer stability in rocky terrain and can be used to move aside small and feisty critters.
  11. Know your limits and the signs of heat exhaustion. Rest in the shade if you get overheated and stick your wrists in cold water to cool down.

The most important rule of the desert is to leave no trace. Trash takes longer to break down in a desert climate, so it’s important to pack out all that you pack in. 

Given the size of this Saguaro cactus, it might be over 100 years old! Tucson, AZ

Happy trails y’all! Have you ever hiked in the desert? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.


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