BE SAFE OUT THERE!
Many of our state parks and both of our national parks here in Texas are wild and rugged landscapes that demands your utmost attention in even the best of conditions. As is true any time you venture into the outdoors, your safety is your responsibility. Know your abilities and do not exceed them, pack appropriate clothing, food, water, and use common sense.
Temperatures can range from blistering hot to bitter cold. It’s not uncommon for temperatures in mountainous areas to be 20-30 degrees cooler than temperatures in lower elevations. Pay attention to the temperatures as well as how much exposure to the sun you’ll have — regularly apply and reapply sunscreen, especially in the spring and summer months. Familiarize yourself with the forecasted weather for your destination and pack/dress accordingly.
Dehydration is a common issue in our parks and even more so in desert environments. A general recommendation is 16 ounces (half liter) of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures, and increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of your activity rises. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your hike. Do not drink unfiltered water from streams, springs or rivers. This water appears safe to drink but it may contain bacteria with the potential to make you very ill. When hiking, do not rely on springs to supply water — always carry your own water supply. Eat proper snacks (salty) while hiking but don’t over-hydrate, to avoid a rare but dangerous condition known as hyponatremia.
Some wildlife in the parks may seem accustomed to human interaction but that does not mean they are tame. Do not approach or feed wild animals, even small “cute” ones. Some species like rattlesnakes, scorpions and spiders are not aggressive unless provoked and all prefer dark areas such as rock crevices. Don’t stick your hand anywhere you can’t see and if you hear a rattle, STOP, locate the snake and slowly back away from it.
Thunderstorms can develop quickly and often bring with them heavy rain and lightning. Do not enter canyons, washes or pour-offs when the forecast calls for rain — even moderate amounts of rain (including distant rain) can cause flash flooding, and never camp in these areas. If there’s lightning and you’re outdoors, stay low, try to get indoors or in your car, and stay off of hills, ridges and away from trees.
Do not climb up anything unless you are absolutely certain you can climb back down. Falls are somewhat common and may result in serious injury or even death. Some trails may contain areas of great exposure and leave no room for error.
Rockfall can occur at any time in steep, rocky areas, especially within the parks of west Texas. Rockfalls occur when rock detaches from a slope or edge that has been eroded to the point of instability. On trails, be aware that you may dislodge a rock, sending it tumbling down — be careful with your footing.
When hiking in the mountains, stay on trails and do not short-cut switchbacks — this weakens the slopes and promotes rapid erosion. When hiking in the desert, you are welcome to go off-trail in many places, so long as you practice low-impact hiking. While most of the trails in our state parks are marked and well-traveled, some trails in the desert are faint or unmarked and require some route-finding — only experienced hikers should attempt these hikes.
Obey speed limits and the rules of our park roads. With hundreds of miles of park roads across Texas (many of those remote), it’s important that everyone be safe and observant on the road. Wildlife frequently crosses the road, especially at dusk and during the night. Many visitors sightsee from their vehicles, and will stop frequently or park on the side of the road — be cautious as you pass.
Situational awareness is the perception of the elements in your environment, understanding your situation, and understanding how your situation will evolve in the immediate future. Why is this important? Being well aware of your surroundings when hiking and identifying potential dangers will help keep you safe. This is more of a mindset than a skill, and can extend to simply enjoying nature and the sights and sounds it offers. So tune in and pay attention!
SHARE YOUR PLANS
We all like to disconnect from our devices and immerse ourselves in nature, but keep your phone with you in case you need it. If you are venturing into areas with poor cell signal, make sure someone knows where you’ll be and for how long. If you often hike in wilderness areas, we highly recommend a satellite messenger as the best option for staying in touch or sending a distress signal if necessary.