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Health and Safety


Desert Institute

Spring 2019 Catalog

Desert tortoise walking in the Pinto Basin

Desert tortoise walking in the Pinto Basin | Photo by NPS/Brad Sutton | Public Domain | Source

Fitness Levels

The fitness levels of each class are as varied as the topics we offer. Most of our courses require some hiking during field trips in the park which may be hot, dry, windy, and sometimes cold. In rating the difficulty of each class we consider elevation gain and loss, distance, time of year, pace, and terrain. Please review and select a class that matches your fitness level. We want to ensure that your skills and abilities match those of your fellow participants. Note that the ratings are guidelines. For a person who is very active a class rated ‘strenuous’ might not pose a challenge or a ‘moderate’ rated hike could be very difficult for someone not used to walking outside in the desert environment at moderate elevation.

Difficulty Level Expectations
Easy Fitness Leisurely to moderate pace up to 3 miles (≈ 4.8 kilometers) per day through relatively flat terrain with frequent stops.
Moderate Fitness Fitness Moderate steady pace up to 6 miles (≈ 9.7 kilometers) per day with some elevation gain and loss through some rocky or uneven terrain.
Strenuous Fitness Fitness Fitness Longer rigorous hikes at a moderate to brisk pace up to 12 miles (≈ 19.3 kilometers) per day with significant elevation gain and loss up to 3,000 feet (≈ 914.4 meters) through rough steep terrain, with possible rock scrambling.
Extreme Fitness Fitness Fitness Fitness Course includes rock scrambling throughout a significant portion of route, good balance, full range of motion, and three points of contact while scrambling are necessary.

How Fit Do You Need to Be?

If you take part in a guided hike in Joshua Tree National Park, you will need to carry a backpack — with food, clothing, water and other essentials — that generally weighs up to 15 pounds. You will be exercising with either heat or cold, typical of California deserts and elevation gain, and you may need to scramble over large boulders along the route. To help you decide on which course is best for you, please take into account the “Hike Level” ratings. For the most precise information about each activity or the effects of the desert environment, please contact us at (760) 367-5539(760) 367-5539 or desertinstitute@joshuatree.org

Safety, Insurance, and Physical Fitness

Every effort is made to ensure safety on Desert Institute courses. However, participants are responsible for their own safety and accident insurance. Joshua Tree National Park Association does not accept responsibility for lost, stolen, or damaged property or any bodily injury incurred during the course. You must sign a liability waiver in order to participate in the course. Participants must be in good physical condition for courses/activities in a desert that may be hot, dry, windy, and sometimes surprisingly cold.

Stay Hydrated

The desert area is a very dry location and requires proper hydration at all times. This is especially the case during the extremely hot months in the late spring to early fall. The general rule to follow is that if you're sweating, you should be drinking at least 1 to 2 gallons (≈ 3.8 to 7.6 liters) of water per day. So bring an ample supply.

Eat a Proper Meal and Bring Snacks

Some of the hikes and climbs require a lot of calories to burn. This is especially the case with hikes that involve rock scrambling. Bring snacks with you just in case. To help the body retain water and replace the body's electrolytes lost through sweating, salty snacks are recommended.

The Blistering Sun

UV levels in the national park can cause skin damage if proper protection is not applied. A wide-brimmed hat, light colored clothing, sunglasses, and clothes that fully cover arms and legs are a good way to avoid the damaging effects of the sun.

Keep the Wild Animals Wild

Do not feed the animals. Do not touch the animals. Leave any animal you find alone. Human interaction with the wildlife can cause the animals to become aggressive. There are several venomous animals in the park such as rattlesnakes and scorpions. Some animals carry diseases that can be dangerous to humans. The park is also home to creatures such as mountain lions. Most animals just want to be left alone. Be sure to educate yourself on the proper ways to avoid getting bit, stung, or sick.

Flash Floods Are Dangerous

If it is raining, be prepared to avoid flooded roads. The water flow might seem tame, but a wave of fast-flowing water carrying debris might be just around the bend. If you see water flowing in a wash on the road, turn around and get to safety. This is true even if it doesn't seem like it is raining anymore. It might be raining in the distance. It is safer to wait it out.

It Can Get Cold

One unexpected danger to be cautious of is that the weather can drop below freezing during the winter months in the desert. This can cause hypothermia if you are not properly prepared for it. Bring extra layers just in case.