Marty McUber’s

“Secrets of an Area 51 Tour Guide”

MOJAVE DESERT TRAVEL TIPS

The Mojave Desert (moe-ha-vay) stretches over large parts of the Southwest, from California to Arizona and Nevada.

  • Death Valley, California, is in the Mojave Desert.
  • Las Vegas, about 125 miles away from Death Valley, is also in the Mojave Desert.
  • Rachel, Nevada, about 155 miles from Death Valley, (if you could drive through Area 51, which you can’t), is in the Mojave Desert.

death_valley_through_area_51_to_Rachel-a_no-go_map

Elevation Makes A Difference

  • Death Valley: -282ft below sea level – and the Sahara Desert, both have recorded temperatures high enough to rate as “Hottest Places On Earth”.
  • Las Vegas: 2,000ft – cooler than Death Valley, hotter than Rachel
  • Rachel: 4,840ft – cooler than Las Vegas, hotter than Tonopah
  • Tonopah: 6,047ft – cooler than Rachel, can be very cold at night

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.
  • Try to schedule your desert journeys for the cooler times of day – early morning and evening hours is best to avoid hot weather.
  • 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.
  • Highway heat can be hard on cars – tires, batteries, cooling systems, belts and hoses – all work harder in the desert heat.

Desert travel during the summer and early autumn can be amazingly hot during the afternoons.

There are only a few places to get out of the intense sun and heat in and around Rachel.

crystal-springs-rest-area-near-rachel-area-51

  • One is a rest area at Crystal Springs, 6 miles north of Ash Springs, at the junction of Hwy 93 and 318, where Hwy 375 begins – this is where the ‘ET Highway sign is. There are a few trees there.
  • Another place to get out of the sun is about a mile west, toward Rachel, the Area 51 Research Center (if it is open).
  • The next is the Little A’Le’Inn, 40 miles farther west at Rachel; then there is nothing until Tonopah, another 110 miles west of Rachel.
  • Take an umbrella, you may need to create your own shade.

Don’t take desert travel lightly… 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.

With just a little planning, you can experience the magic and beauty of the desert, even in summer, in comfort and safety.

With just a little planning, you can experience the magic and beauty of the desert, even in summer, in comfort and safety.

With just a little planning, you can experience the magic and beauty of the desert, even in summer, in comfort and safety.

tour-area-51-see-the-whole-town-of-Rachel-nv The Whole Town of Rachel, NV

Temperature, Humidity, Rainfall, and You

  • Average precipitation per year in the Mojave Desert is less than 12 centimeters (5 inches) total, including both rain and snow.
  • Average daytime relative humidity ranges from 10 percent to 30 percent. Nighttime humidity can be as high as 50 percent.

 

Simply being in the desert will dry you out.
Day or night, any time of year. Period.

  • That includes your skin, mouth, hair, nose, and eyes.
  • Every time you exhale a normal breath, water leaves your body.
  • 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 this: “if you don’t feel like you need to pee, you haven’t had enough water.”

tour-area-51-desert-need-to-pee

So don’t worry about drinking too much water… there are plenty of loo’s and restrooms on The Las Vegas Strip for your comfort, and if you need to pee in the desert, the plants will appreciate your contribution.

  • Plan to drink at least four liters of water each day while in Las Vegas or traveling anywhere in the desert. At LEAST four liters of water each day – a gallon or more.
  • And don’t just sip it – your body benefits more if the water is inside you than if it remains in the bottle. Take three or four good swallows at a time.
  • 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 adult beverages from the bars while you are in Las Vegas – alcohol takes water out of you.

Heat and Dehydration:

  • If you feel dizzy, nauseous or get a headache, get out of the sun immediately and drink plenty of water.
  • Dampen clothing to lower your body temperature.
  • Heat and dehydration can kill.
  • 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.

The National Park Rangers Take This Very Seriously:
For example, if you are hiking down one of the trails at the Grand Canyon South Rim, you will find Park Rangers waiting for you about 1/4 mile down the trail. They will 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.

Plan your visit:

  • Do you have the appropriate vehicle, tires, tools, camping gear, maps, and skills for your intended route?
  • Toilet paper for that emergency road-side stop to water the cactus? Think about it, there are not many places to stop out here.
  • Do you have enough fuel and water?
  • If you are at a National Park such as Death Valley or Grand Canyon, ask a ranger.
  • If you are at Rachel or Area 51, ask an alien.
  • But you know what they would say, don’t you? Fill the gas tank and take more water.

tour-area-51-rachel-et-highway-375

Hiking:

  • Do not hike in the low elevations when temperatures are hot.
  • Take extra water.
  • Carry an umbrella for shade.

Dangerous Creatures:

mojave desert death valley area 51 rattlesnake warning

  • Never place your hands or feet where you cannot see first.
  • Rattlesnakes, scorpions or black widow spiders may be sheltered there.

Mine Hazards:

  • Do not enter mine tunnels or shafts.
  • Mines may be unstable, have hidden shafts, pockets of bad air and poisonous gas.
  • Old mines are risky: Stay Out – Stay Alive.

area-51-mojave-desert-cellphone-may-not-work

In Case of Emergency: Dial 911 from any telephone or cell phone.
However, Don’t Rely On Technology!

  • There are many areas in the desert where your cell phone won’t work.
  • Emergency locator beacons have a high failure rate.
  • GPS devices often tell visitors to turn off well-traveled roads, and take “shortcuts” over the desert and into isolated canyons.
  • A good paper map can help you be sure.
  • Common sense and good judgment are far more reliable.

Death Valley, Las Vegas, Rachel, Area 51, Mojave Desert Weather

  • Weather changes in desert A dust storm can come up suddenly. I tried to outrun one of these once, it was 50 miles south of Las Vegas. Had to stop, could not see the road beside the car; storm passed in about 20 minutes.environments can be quick and 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.

mojave-desert-dust-storm

  • Wind can bring storm fronts quickly, and black clouds in the distance can become thunderstorms over your head as you watch.

Flash Floods:

area-51-tour-flash-flood-warning-mojave-desert-rain

  • Avoid canyons during rain storms and be prepared to move to higher ground.
  • While driving, be alert for water running in washes and across the road.
  • Water can carry rocks and debris with it and may suddenly appear around the next curve in the roadway.
  • It’s important to know your escape routes if you are hiking in a wash or narrow canyon.

flash-flood-area-near-tonopah-mojave-desert-area-51

  • Always be looking for changes in the wind or sky, and know how to access higher ground.
  • Torrential downpours, even for a short while, and a even few miles away can cause tremendous flash floods.

Prepare Your Car For Desert Travel

  • Check your rental car contract to see if you are covered should something happen to your car on an unpaved road.
  • Have the necessary tools (rental cars often lack the proper tire changing tools!) and know how to use them.
  • Also many of the new cars including rental cars do not have a spare tire – they come with a tire repair kit. No spare tire, not even the small ‘donut’ spare.

tour-area-51-et hwy-rachel-nv-tow-truck-roadside-service

  • If you do not have a spare tire, make sure you have roadside service and towing insurance.
  • And remember, the ‘Roadside Service’ truck may take an hour or more to get to you.
  • Ensure that your car is in good working order – service stations are few and far between in the Mojave desert. You really don’t want to break down on your trip.
  • It would be a good idea to have towing insurance that covers distances of 100 miles or greater.
  • Many insurance policies provide towing up to 15 or 25 miles, but the distance between towns in Nevada 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.
  • There are many long, empty highways through the Mojave desert and Death Valley.

silver-state-challenge-ely-to-las-vegas
One particular stretch of Nevada Highway 318 has collected a couple of world records for speed.

Highway 318 is closed every year for a famous auto race – The Silver State Classic – 90 miles of nothing – great for really fast cars.

  • Check air conditioner, alternator, water pump drive 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 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.

area-51-et-highway-emergency-breakdown-kit

  • 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 94 Miles” – you had better KNOW FOR SURE that you have enough to make it before you head out for that open road!

tour-area-51-desert-safety-next-gas-nearly-100-miles-south-of-Tonopah

  • The closest gas and groceries to Rachel are about 50 miles east / south of Rachel on Highway 93 at Ash Springs; Alamo is another 8 miles or so south.
  • Next closest that is open 24 hours is the other direction. Tonopah is 110 miles north and west of Rachel. Turn left onto Highway 375 out of the parking lot at Little A’Le’Inn at Rachel, then turn left on Highway 6 at Warm Springs to Tonopah.

Warm Springs NV, Junction of Hwy 6 and Extraterrestrial Hwy 375.

warm-springs-nv-hwy-6-at-ET-hwy-375  warm_springs-pool_at_et_hwy_6-375-junction

  • There are two abandoned buildings at Warm Springs – no services.
  • The warm-springs pool is there.
  • Tonopah is another 50 miles west.
  • Careful here: If you go north/east on Highway 6 at Warm Springs, the next services are another 120 miles away at Ely, Nevada. That is a long, lonely road.
  • Also consider time of day: There is Preston Truck Center on highway 318 about 105 miles north of the gas station at Ash Springs; it is a couple of miles north of Lund, a little farming community, and they open at 7am and close at 9pm.
  • “Lane’s Ranch Motel” is right there as well, about 18 rooms. (No website for either of these).

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.

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.
    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 exposed to the sun.
  • Wear a hat with a brim (a cowboy hat would be a good idea)
  • Strongly recommend you bring an umbrella with you, light-colored is best. Bring your own or buy one at the first opportunity – umbrellas are not easy to find in desert areas.
  • 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.

 

Martin McUber, Las Vegas Tour Guide

Martin McUber, Las Vegas Tour Guide

Author (active), Tour Guide (retired) at Best Las Vegas Detours
Desert Rat, Tour Guide Since 2008. I've helped happy, adventurous people from around the world see the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Skywalk, Area 51, Hollywood, Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Yellowstone, and more; with helicopters, boats, day trips, private family multi-day tours through 5 western states. I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere! - more...
Martin McUber, Las Vegas Tour Guide

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