Staying Safe at Joshua Tree National Park

A vast park situated in the Southern California Desert, Joshua Tree National Park comprises parts of both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. A popular destination for hikers, it’s imperative that park visitors take the necessary safety precautions before visiting this unique region.

Weather

The weather at Joshua Tree is the greatest safety threat you face when visiting the park. Desert temperatures can get scorching hot during the day then dramatically drop to freezing at night. It is essential to come prepared with plenty of water if you plan to visit Joshua Tree, and be sure to bring much more with you than you think you’ll need. 

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bring layers to adapt to changing weather. Inclement weather including frequent flash flooding is also common here, so be sure to find higher ground, seek shelter, and avoid canyons and washes in case of rain.

Wildlife

Venomous animals like rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders are prevalent throughout the park. Always watch where you step or climb and be particularly careful around rocky areas. You’ll want to avoid touching or feeding any wildlife you encounter, as doing so can have dangerous repercussions. Avoid touching cacti and other prickly or thorny flora you come across. 

Other Concerns

Abandoned mines are an important safety issue to take note of when visiting Joshua Tree. Though most of the park’s mines have been sealed, those that have been missed are over 100 years old and pose a dangerous threat. Do not enter any mine you encounter. 

Cell phone coverage is limited within the park, so if there’s an emergency, head to the ranger station in Indian Cove or the parking lot at Intersection Rock for emergency phones.

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WikiVoyage- Joshua Tree National Park

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Staying Safe at Grand Teton National Park

Be prepared to address safety concerns before your trip to Grand Teton National Park to ensure that your visit runs as smoothly and safely as possible! There are several potential dangers to watch out for in this park, ranging from wildlife concerns to severe weather, including intense bouts of lightning. 

Wildlife

You’re likely to encounter your fair share of wildlife at Grand Teton, from bears and wolves to bison and elk. The best ways to stay safe when you come across wildlife are as follows:

  • Keep your distance. It’s important to keep a safe distance from wild animals you encounter in the park. Be especially wary of animals with offspring as they’re likely to be more protective and aggressive.
  • Don’t feed the animals. It’s also important to adhere to Leave No Trace principles when visiting the park to avoid negative environmental impact.
  • Store food safely. Keep food and all scented items (deodorant, lotions, perfumes, toothpaste, empty food wrappers, etc.) stored safely in your car or tied up in a bear bag out of reach for bears and wild animals. This will prevent animals from being attracted to your campsite. 
  • Make noise while hiking. The last thing you want to do is sneak up on a bear or wild animal on the trails. Clap your hands, sing, and make plenty of noise to alert bears to your presence as you hike.

Weather

Be prepared for rapidly changing weather in Grand Teton National Park, and take special note of lightning precautions. The mountainous terrain makes for unpredictable weather, so wear plenty of layers to be ready for anything. 

In the summer storms are common in this area, so it’s essential to take shelter before a storm hits. Avoid lightning by keeping away from mountain tops, lone trees, and staying off the water.

Other Concerns

There are several other safety concerns to make note of before heading out on your trip to Grand Teton: 

  • Altitude: Be wary of the altitude as you hike, as this mountainous region has peaks reaching up to more than 13,000 feet. Prepare for altitude sickness; make sure to bring the necessary medications with you and remain hydrated during your trip.
  • Water: Do NOT drink water from lakes or streams unless you’ve purified it first, even if it looks clean! Waterborne diseases like Giardia are common when drinking untreated water.
  • Driving: Practice safe driving while in the area. Grand Teton can get quite crowded, especially during peak season, so it’s important to drive safely to avoid accidents. Keep an eye out for animals crossing the road, be wary of road conditions, and mind the local speed limits.
  • Stay on the trails. Stay on marked trails to avoid getting lost and damaging the environment. 

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How to Stay Safe When Visiting National Parks (General Guide)

A visit to any national park poses its own safety concerns, from unpredictable weather to the dangers of wildlife. Be prepared before you go by checking out these general safety tips and guidelines for visiting national parks.

Be mindful of signs regarding safety when visiting national parks

Wildlife

It should come as no surprise that every national park is filled with wildlife specific to its region! Be prepared to encounter your share of wild animals during your trip. It’s important to know what to do you if you have a run-in with a potentially dangerous creature. 

Some basic tips for wildlife safety are as follows:

  • Avoid bears and other animals attacking your tent or campsite by
    • either storing any food, cooking materials, or scented items (including deodorant, lotions, toothpaste, food wrappers, trash, etc.) in a certified bear bag or storage container.
    • or if you’re traveling with a car, locking your food and anything aromatic inside, especially at night.
  • Know what to do if you see a bear, mountain lion, or other potentially threatening animal. Some of these things include:
    • making yourself look as large as possible by spreading your arms wide and yelling
    • throwing objects to scare it away
    • backing away slowly
    • avoiding making eye contact
  • Make plenty of noise while hiking. This will alert animals to your presence so you don’t sneak up and scare them. Keep a safe distance from any and all wildlife when you do encounter it. 
  • Do your research before heading to a national park to know what types of wildlife you may encounter there so you can prepare accordingly.

Weather

It’s important to be prepared for ever-changing weather when visiting any national park. The nature of high altitude or rugged destinations is often characterized by frequent and unpredictable changes in weather. If it’s sunny one minute, don’t be surprised if it becomes windy and rainy the next! Come prepared by wearing plenty of layers and be ready for rain and snow as well as heat and humidity.

Depending on which national park you’re visiting, your region could be prone to wildfires, landslides, earthquakes, or avalanches. Pay attention to notices of hiking trails that are closed for the season or have been impacted by flooding, snow, or any other natural hazard. Make note of any guidelines in place before you arrive and be sure to follow them to keep out of harm’s way.

On the Trails

It is essential that hikers remain on the designated trails in all national parks. This is both for your safety and for the preservation of the natural lands you’re visiting. Be sure to heed park guidelines regarding trail closures as they relate to the time of year and weather conditions during your visit.

If there are restrictions in place regarding swimming in rapids or waterfalls, avoid swimming at all costs! These precautions are put in place for the safety of park visitors and are best observed to avoid any accidents.

Don’t forget to live by the principle “Leave No Trace” when visiting any national park or natural area. This means avoiding littering, disposing of waste properly, and not causing any harm to the fragile ecosystem you are visiting.

Finally, remember to “pack it in, pack it out”, meaning that if you brought it with you to the park, be sure to take it with you when you leave! This includes all trash, food remnants, wrappers, empty containers, etc.

Law Enforcement

US national parks follow US Federal Law, and you’ll need to check ahead for each park’s rules on fishing, camping, etc. It’s also useful to note that every national park has its own rules and regulations when it comes to drugs and alcohol in the park and on campgrounds, so look into that before you go to avoid hefty fines!

Being Prepared

The best thing you can do for yourself before visiting a national park is to do your research ahead of time and be as prepared as possible before you go.

Here are some useful things to bring and look into to prepare for your trip:

  • Bring these items to help your trip run smoothly:
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
    • First aid kit
    • Bug spray
    • Sunscreen and sun hat
    • Proper hiking shoes or boots
    • Emergency whistle
  • Bring plenty of water and sufficient food to last the duration of your trip and a bit longer, just to be safe.
  • Research your route before you leave and have a physical map of the area with you in case your technology gets lost, broken, or isn’t working
  • If you plan to go camping, make sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time and familiarize yourself with your route. Plan to arrive at your campsite during daylight hours so you’ll have time to set up safely.
  • If you’re not planning to stay the night in the park, be sure to set a turn-around time for your hike so you don’t get stuck after dark without proper lodging and provisions.

Other Concerns

If you plan to visit the more popular US national parks during peak season, you’re likely to encounter tons of other visitors which can pose significant safety risks. Watch out for petty theft and remember to secure your belongings and always lock your car doors. 

Be cognizant of the altitude at your national park and take proper precautions against altitude sickness. Take time to acclimate to rising altitudes and don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Hydration is key for avoiding and treating altitude sickness, so remember to bring plenty of water, electrolytes, and altitude sickness medication. Do not rely on water you find along your way for drinking water; always boil or purify even fresh-looking water from streams, rivers, and lakes to avoid waterborne illnesses.

Lastly, avoid hiking solo whenever possible. If it can’t be prevented, make sure to tell someone of your plans and share your itinerary with them before you leave. If you do plan to head out alone, be sure to keep an emergency whistle on you and consider bringing a satellite phone for communication, just in case.

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Wildlife Safety Tips

The 7 Principles

Staying Safe at Yosemite National Park

Bear trap. Follow park rules regarding food in cars as bears will break into vehicles if they smell something interesting inside.

For any emergency in Yosemite National Park, dial 911 from most phones (hotel and retail phones may require 9+911). Yosemite NPS runs its own dedicated emergency dispatch. If you dial from a cell phone, first mention that you are in Yosemite as many cell phones route to a call center in your number’s area code.

Though increasingly harder to find, there are payphones scattered throughout Yosemite similar to the phone pictured above at Glacier Point.

Medical

  • 4 Yosemite Medical Clinic, 9000 Ahwahnee Dr (Yosemite Valley), ☏ +1 209 372-4637. Drop-in and urgent care May-Sep: daily 9AM-7PM; Oct-Apr: M-F 9AM-5PM. Routine and emergency medical care, 24-hour paramedic/ambulance services, lab, and Mountain Crisis Services for victims of domestic violence. (updated Apr 2015 | )

Wildlife

Over the years the park’s bears have become accustomed to scavenging trash and food left out by humans, and will even break into cars and tents to get it. While not the larger grizzly bears that once roamed California, black bears are strong enough to tear a door off of a car with ease. Luckily they usually prefer to avoid humans, so they’ll most likely do their work on vehicles left at trailheads or in parking lots. Prevention is remarkably simple: never leave food or scented items (deodorant, air fresheners) in your car or bring them into your tent. Heed this advice! Leaving even just a tube of toothpaste or empty food wrappers in a car may result in thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle should a bear choose to investigate the smell! Bear-resistant storage units are provided at park campgrounds and overnight parking areas: use them.

To avoid bear encounters while hiking, make noise so that the animal knows you are coming. This approach will also help to avoid encounters with mountain lions, which also inhabit the park. Other animals, such as the herds of deer which can be found in the park’s meadows, can be equally dangerous; a young boy was killed by a deer in Yosemite Valley several years ago. Give all animals their space, and never feed any park wildlife.

Light

Yosemite Valley Lodge (and possibly other accommodation areas) has no outside lighting. This is to reduce light pollution and allow the stars to shine down. If moving about the area at night (even to go to the reception office or restaurant) ensure that you have a flashlight (torch), as walking in the dark can be quite hazardous. In general, avoid long hikes after dark.

Weather

Other natural dangers in the park come from the weather. Hypothermia can be a concern at higher elevations where temperatures can drop below freezing throughout the year. Dress in layers, and be prepared for storms and rapid changes in temperature. When storms are approaching avoid open areas such as the summits of the park’s many granite domes; lightning strikes these areas regularly. If a storm does approach, get off of high, open ground. When hiking wear sturdy footwear and drink plenty of water – if you are thirsty that is an early sign of dehydration. Be aware that the sun can be intense at higher elevations and when reflected off of snow, so sunscreen is important. In the winter, take the weather term “Winter Storm Warning” very seriously as it means a significant storm is definitely coming.

Being prepared

Every year, visitors to Yosemite will require medical care because they didn’t have the supplies and information they needed. While the park has amenities to aid tourists, Yosemite is huge and you can easily find yourself miles away from potable water and information you need. Always do your homework before any hike. Figure these things out:

  • Understand not just the length of your excursion, but also the elevation gain (how steep will it be?), the exposure (will there be shade?), and the availability of potable water (where can I fill my water bottle safely?).
  • Bring water and food with you––never rely solely on park amenities, which are sparse and sometimes hours away from you. At the high season, you might wait 30 minutes or more for gas or food. The same hike can require different amounts of water depending on the time of day, so a hike that might require a liter of water at 8AM might need 3 L and a long rest if you start at 4PM. Few trailheads, especially outside of the valley, will have running water.
  • If you camp in the backcountry, do your homework; you can seriously endanger yourself without proper knowledge.
  • Always set a turn-around time (if you’re not at the top of a hike by a certain time, you will turn around to get back to your transportation by sunset) and tell someone where you are going/what time to expect you back. It’s easy to forget that there’s not much of a paper trail for where you are hiking, which means you are harder to find if you are in distress.

On the trails

Hikers should follow all posted signs – if a trail is closed due to ice, landslide, or some other reason do not ignore the closure as doing so endangers both the hiker and any area that must be traversed to go around the closure. On the Half Dome trail, hikers should always remain inside the cables for their ascent and descent. Hikers died on this section of trail in Summer 2009.

The park’s waterfalls pose another potential hazard. Do not attempt to get close to the waterfalls, especially in the spring. This includes swimming above the waterfalls at a distance of less than 1 mile (about 1.6 km) The force of the water will easily sweep a person off their feet and over the falls. Being swept over any of Yosemite’s waterfalls is invariably fatal.

Other concerns

The greatest danger in the park comes from the thousands of park visitors. Petty thieves and traffic accidents are two issues to be aware of. Follow park speed limits, lock your vehicle, and be aware of your belongings, especially in Yosemite Valley. Violent crime is extremely rare in Yosemite, but given the numbers of people that visit you should expect that a few unsavory characters will be visiting too.

The National Park Service provides the primary law enforcement and fire protection in the park. NPS is supplemented by Aramark Security, who handle a number of calls for service on Aramark land assignments. Aramark Fire is paged out along with NPS Fire, and handles a large number of calls in Yosemite Valley.

Lost and found

There are two major Lost and Found operations in Yosemite. One is run by the National Park Service. It can be reached at ☏ +1 209-379-1001. The other is run by Aramark, and can be reached at ☏ +1 209-372-4357. They coordinate as best as possible, considering they are a half-hour away from each other. They process thousands of items each year and surprisingly get a number of items back to the rightful owner. Because of the thousands of items lost or found, generally, you will not get a return call unless your item has been found and turned in correctly.

Items that are found that cannot be returned to the owner are generally turned over to recognized charities. So, if you don’t get your item back, and if it is turned in by the finder, at least you can rest easy that it will eventually go to a good cause.

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Stay Safe at Yellowstone National Park

Fragile sinter crusts and ledges can give way, plunging a careless tourist into the boiling waters below

Yellowstone has some hazards related to volcanic activity. There are also hazards from dangerous animals.

Wildlife

Though many of the animals in the park are used to seeing humans, the wildlife is nonetheless wild and should not be fed or disturbed. According to park authorities, stay at least 100 yards/meters away from bears and wolves and 25 yards/meters from all other wild animals! No matter how docile they may look, bison, elk, moose, bears, and nearly all large animals can attack. Each year, dozens of visitors are injured because they didn’t keep a proper distance. These animals are large, wild, and potentially dangerous, so give them their space.

In addition, be aware that odors attract bears and other wildlife, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods and keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears. Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes. Animals which obtain human food often become aggressive and dependent on human foods, and many can suffer ill health or death from eating a non-native diet. A short film about food safety is now mandatory before a back country permit will be issued.

Thermal areas

Fragile sinter crusts and ledges can give way, plunging a careless tourist into the boiling waters below

Always stay on boardwalks in thermal areas. Scalding water lies under thin, breakable crusts; pools are near or above boiling temperatures. Every year visitors traveling off trail are seriously burned, and people have died from the scalding water. Park rangers can also issue $130 fines for being out of bounds, or much more if there is any geological damage. It’s common to get sprayed with fine mist from the geysers, though. You don’t need to worry about being burned, as the water has traveled sufficient distance to cool down, provided you’re within the designated areas. However, glass lenses (such as eyeglasses and camera lenses) may be permanently damaged by the high mineral content of the water in the mist. For cameras, clear glass filters can provide inexpensive protection for high-priced lenses (be sure to have some replacements). If water from a thermal feature gets on a vulnerable lens, it must be washed off immediately (if no clean water is available, you can try – no, this is not a joke – licking the lens); if you try to wipe off the geyser water with a cleaning cloth (without rinsing the lens first), you risk grinding the suspended minerals into the glass of the lens and scratching it.

It is illegal to swim or bathe in thermal pools. There is a designated swimming area along the Firehole River near Madison Junction.

Yellowstone Lake

This is one of the largest, high-altitude bodies of fresh water on the planet. The Lake is large enough to have its own weather effects, and conditions can change rapidly. More than a few fatalities have occurred on the lake, when boaters fell victim to weather conditions that went from calm and sunny to violent storm in a matter of minutes. East of West Thumb Geyser Basin, near Lake Village, there is a marina where boats are available for rental from a Park concessionaire.

Hiking

Know your 10 essentials when going on a hike, cell phones won’t work in most areas of the park, and may not be depended on in an emergency situation. 1. Navigation 2. Hydration & Nutrition 3. Pocket Knife 4. Sun Protection 5. Insulation 6. Ability to make fire 7. Lighting 8. First Aid 9. Shelter 10. Whistle

Weather

The weather can change rapidly and with little warning. A sunny, warm day can quickly become a cold, rainy or even snowy experience even in summer. Hypothermia can be a concern. Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions by bringing along appropriate clothing. Lightning can and does injure and kill people in the park, so watch the sky and take shelter in a building if you hear thunder. If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes; it’ll probably change.

Other concerns

When camping, either filter, boil, or otherwise purify drinking water. Assume that even crystal clear waters may be polluted by animal and/or human wastes, and intestinal infections from drinking untreated water are increasingly common. Iodine tablets are not as effective as other methods but are readily available at local stores and easy to bring on a hike.

Finally, with so many people visiting the park each year petty crimes are something to be vigilant against. Lock your car doors and exercise sensible precautions with valuables, especially when leaving cars near trail heads or other areas where you might be away from your car for any length of time.

Law Enforcement

As a US National Park, Yellowstone is subject to US Federal Law. Generally, permits (such as for fishing) issued by surrounding States are not valid in the Park. If a visitor is cited for an offense while in the Park (such as speeding, feeding wildlife, failing to secure food in a campsite, etc), the fine must be paid immediately. The visitor is then free to make their case to the court at the Park Headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs.

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