You survival and preparedness-oriented readers might find something you didn’t already know in here to be useful. The Introduction section to the book Desert Emergency Survival Basics explains my purposes for writing it better than I can today:
The potential range of human experience includes finding ourselves in unanticipated dangerous situations. Most of those situations have been examined minutely and described in print in the form of survival manuals. Desert survival is not an exception. Excellent books are available to explain primitive survival in the desert southwest duplicating lifestyles of Native Americans a thousand years ago. That is not the intent of this book.
A few decades ago I had an acquaintance with a man named Walter Yates. Walter had the distinction of surviving a helicopter crash in the far north woods by jumping into a snowdrift before the impact. He managed to survive winter months with almost nothing except the clothes on his back when he jumped.
Walter’s experience was a worthy test of human potential for emergency survival in extreme conditions. The margin for error was microscopic. The reason he survived rested on his ability to quickly detach his mind from how things had been in the past, how he wished they were, and accept completely the situation he was in. He wouldn’t have made it out of those woods if he couldn’t rapidly assess his new needs and examine every possibility of fulfilling them. “It’s all in the mind,” he once told me.
The margin for error in the desert is also narrow. That margin is dehydration. Extremes of temperature are also a factor, but they are more easily managed than the needs of the human body for water. Anyone who survives an unanticipated week in desert country did so by either having water, by carrying it in, or finding it.
Over the years I’ve followed a number of search and rescue accounts and discussed the issue with searchers. The general thinking among those workers is that a person missing in the desert southwest should be found or walk out within three to five days. After three days the chances for live return spiral downward. Returns after five days are lottery winners. When a missing person isn’t found within a week, it’s usually because he’s been dead for five days.
This book is to assist in avoiding situations that lead to the need to survive those crucial three days, and to provide the basics of how to walk out and how to find water in the desert southwest. If you need the emergency information here it will be because you became lost, stranded by mechanical failure, or physically incapacitated. I won’t address the bugs and plants you might find to eat. If you have water you’ll survive without eating until rescue.
When this book was written I had a close association with New Mexico State Search and Rescue (SAR). I was also writing a book about a lost gold mine at the time. The State Search and Rescue Coordinator (SARC) knew about the book. I had a special arrangement with him because I was spending a lot of time in remote canyons searching. If something delayed me there I didn’t want them to send out the SAR guys to look for me.
One day in the coffee-room SARC asked me about my progress in the search and the gold mine book. I explained the lost gold mine search to him and how the information available in the past was sketchy.
“So you’re writing a book that’s likely to cause flatlanders to go out into the desert searching for this thing?”
I thought about it a moment before I answered. “It might. A lot of people would have tried anyway, but this book might bring in some who wouldn’t have come otherwise.”
SARC glared at me. His whole world revolved around flat-landers getting lost in the mountains or desert. Several times every month they’d scramble the forces to try to locate someone misplaced. Sometimes it’s a brain surgeon from Houston who got himself mis-located mountain climbing on the east face of Sandia Mountain within sight of Albuquerque . Other times a physicist from California gets off the pavement in the desert and loses his bearings. Sometimes SAR arrived in time to save their lives. New Mexico back country can be unforgiving.
“If you’re going to publish a book that will take a lot of idiots out where they can get into trouble you’d damned well better include some warnings on desert survival and how they can stay out of trouble! I don’t want to spend the next five years dragging the bodies of your readers out of the arroyos in body bags.”
That conversation ultimately resulted in this tome.
Over time it’s been expanded and rewritten numerous times to eventually become what’s posted here. Here’s the link, but there’s a new page for it on the navigation bar at the top of the page.
Desert Emergency Survival Basics