The Mojave Desert (moe-ha-vay) stretches over large parts of the Southwest, from California to Arizona and Nevada.
Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, is in the Mojave Desert in California.
In fact, huge areas of the western states are in one of 4 deserts, and that includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
Las Vegas, about 125 miles away from Death Valley, is also in the Mojave Desert in Nevada.
Elements and weather are more extreme in the desert. Whether it’s hot, cold, wet or dry, be prepared for the changing weather conditions when preparing for desert travel.
Traveling in the desert is best done in the spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler. Traveling in the early morning and evening hours is best to avoid hot weather.
Desert travel during July and August can be amazingly hot during the afternoons. Long lazy lunches in the shade and afternoon siestas are a must in desert adventures. There are really only a few places to get out of the intense sun and heat in Death Valley: Furnace Creek and Scotty’s Castle are two of them.
Try to schedule your desert journeys for the cooler times of day. Highway heat can be hard on cars – tires, batteries, cooling systems, belts and hoses – all work harder in the desert heat.
Temperatures get hotter through the day until they reach a peak somewhere between about 3pm and 5pm, and the highway retains heat for hours after the sun goes down.
Don’t take desert travel lightly… the desert can be brutal and unforgiving if you run out of a few basics such as water or gasoline. So even if you’re planning to just pass through a desert area, be prepared.
That being said, traveling in the desert is an incredibly rewarding experience. Interesting rock formations, stunning landscapes, refreshing oases, vibrant wildflowers, and solitude are a few of the remarkable benefits of desert travel.
With just a little planning, you can experience the magic and beauty of the desert, even in summer, in comfort and safety.
Tours From Las Vegas: Death Valley Travel Tips
Be Prepared for Desert Travel
Weather changes in desert environments are frequent and can be extreme. It can go from sunny to stormy in the blink of an eye.
Winds rip through the desert picking up surface sand that blasts against you and prevents you from opening your eyes, and making it hard to get a breath.
Torrential downpours, even for a short while, and a few miles away can cause tremendous flash floods.
It’s important to know your escape routes if you are hiking in a wash or narrow canyon.
Always be looking for changes in the wind or sky, and know how to access higher ground.
Water and Hydration
Simply being in the desert will dry you out, any time of year. Period.
That includes your skin, mouth, hair, nose, and eyes.
Summertime just makes it all happen more quickly.
Drink more water than you typically do in a normal day.
You can tell how hydrated you are by how clear your urine output is. If it’s yellow, drink more water.
And here’s something interesting… our troops in the desert are told… “if you don’t feel like you need to pee, you haven’t had enough water.”
So don’t worry about drinking too much water… there are plenty of loo’s and restrooms on The Strip for your comfort, and if you need to pee in the desert, the plants will appreciate your contribution.
Tours From Las Vegas: Mojave Desert Travel Tips
- Plan to drink at least four liters of water each day while in Las Vegas or traveling in the desert
- Carry extra water with you even if you are just walking down The Strip.
- Drink water even when you do not feel thirsty.
- This is especially true if you happen to enjoy a few lovely beverages from the bars while you are in Las Vegas – alcohol takes a little water out of you.
- When hiking, carry a couple of bottles of water with you for short hikes, a gallon or more for longer hikes, plus a little extra in case of an emergency.
- Store extra water in your car.
- Carry water with you even if you are only planning to explore a short distance from your car.
A final note: If you are hiking down one of the trails at the Grand Canyon South Rim, Park Rangers will stop you and ask you to show them how much water you are carrying; if it is not enough, they will turn you around and send you back up the trail.
Clothing for a Desert Adventure
Sunburns of a dangerous nature can develop quickly from the sun in the high desert.
A loose fitting, long-sleeved, lightweight shirt is best for hot desert hiking, climbing, or biking. It protects you from the sun and it can be wetted to keep your skin cool.
Tours From Las Vegas: Mojave Desert Travel Tips
- Tank tops expose too much skin.
- Shorts are fine as long as you wear appropriate sunscreen on your legs.
- Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is a great idea.
- Baseball caps are better than nothing – they cover the top of your head and give nice shade for your eyes, but they leave skin on your face, neck, and ears.
- Wear a hat with a brim (a cowboy hat would be a good idea)
- Wear light-colored, lightweight clothes. Long sleeves can be rolled up for comfort or down as needed for protection.
- Pack a light-weight jacket or windbreaker in the summer, something wind-proof that you can add as a layer in case the wind picks up or the weather cools.
- Wear sunglasses, and carry and use sunblock.
- Shoes. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Sandals and heels may be fashionable, but they really don’t work well in the desert.
Prepare Your Car For Desert Travel
Ensure that your car is in good working order – service stations are few and far between.
It would be a good idea to get towing insurance that covers distances of 100 miles or greater. Many insurance policies provide towing up to 15 or 25 miles, but these distances between towns in can be long.
For example, there is a stretch between Wells, Nevada and McGill, Nevada of 126 miles – a very beautiful, long, empty, lonely highway.
Also, there is a long stretch of Nevada Highway 318 that is closed every year for a famous auto race – The Silver State Classic – 90 miles of nothing.
Death Valley Tours From Las Vegas: Mojave Desert Travel Tips
- Check belts for cracks and damage and replace them if needed BEFORE you go.
- Same goes for radiator hoses and heater hoses. High summer temperatures can increase the pressure of your engine’s cooling system, and these pressures can be enough to cause that little ‘weakness’ in the hose wall to suddenly fail.
- Check that the coolant level is correct, with a proper mix of anti-freeze. Remember, ‘anti-freeze’ is also ‘anti-boil’; it allows your engine to operate with a coolant temperature higher than the boiling point of water.
- Check the charging system; a weak battery can fail under the stress of high summer heat. Most auto parts stores will check this for you at no charge, and it just takes a few minutes.
- Check the air pressure in your SPARE tire before you go!
Make sure your jack works BEFORE you leave.
- You should have flares and jumper cables, and a can of “Fix-a-Flat” can be a wonderful thing.
- If you should have a break-down in the middle of nowhere, STAY WITH YOUR CAR! It will provide shade for you when there is nothing else around.
- About Gasoline: When the highway sign says “Next Gas 50 Miles” – you better KNOW FOR SURE that you have enough to make it before you head out for that open road!
- And remember the unpredictable and the extremes.
For example, an unexpected flat tire could put you outside in the heat (or cold) for quite a while, and you may need to leave the engine running to keep your family cool (or warm) while you change the tire.
You’ll want to be cool (or warm) when YOU get back into the car, and you’ll want to have plenty of fuel to keep it running.
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Other Topics In This Series:
Desert Travel Tips: Death Valley Tours From Las Vegas
- Building Skywalk at Grand Canyon West: From a Las Vegas Tour Guide - December 8, 2019
- Boulder Dam Tour or Hoover Dam Tour - May 11, 2012
- A Visit To Hoover Dam and Hoover Dam Bridge - May 10, 2012