Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Visitor's View – Summer Heat


Last updated 6/21/2023 at 9:19am

Ernie Cowan

The Milky Way silhouetting the serpent sculpture in Borrego Springs.

Summer can be a special time in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

It can also be deadly.

The lack of crowds, comfortable nighttime temperatures, spectacular summer night sky with a glittering Milky Way or dazzling meteor shower can all be strong attractions to California's largest and some say, most spectacular state park.

There is something quite magical about watching the full moon rise over Font's Point on a summer night or experiencing the silence and beauty of a remote desert palm oasis silhouetted against a star-filled night sky.

But as temperatures climb into the triple digits, very few people are well equipped to deal with those temperatures, especially if they are hiking or active outdoors for extended periods of time.

When it's too hot to touch your steering wheel without gloves on, it's time to make some adjustments that could save your life.

In those extreme conditions, even the most experienced outdoor enthusiast is walking the fine line of personal safety. And it's not just about you.

Firefighters, law enforcement personnel and park rangers who may be called to assist you also face the same dangers.

It's easy to quickly get into trouble.

What began as a short hike might turn into something longer when you spot a bighorn sheep in the distance and want a closer look.

A vehicle breakdown in extreme summer heat can quickly turn into a serious emergency if you are miles from help and without water, cell service is a means of communication.

Wandering through the desert at night might result in an unpleasant encounter with a rattlesnake.

Not paying attention to developing weather could mean disaster if trapped by a sudden flash flood. Even worse could be the loss of your vehicle if swept away by rushing waters.

In an instant, the mindless fun you were enjoying can become a life-threatening situation.

A little planning and some common sense can prevent a minor incident from becoming critical.

Recreationally, there are very few reasons to be out midday in summer heat. The temperature can be brutal, most of the wildlife is hunkered down in cooler places, and photographers will tell you it's even a lousy time to take landscape photos because of the harsh, flat light.

If you are planning a desert trip, consider early mornings and evenings. Temperatures are lower then and the lower angle sunlight is not as punishing as midday.

Morning and evening light is also more dramatic for landscape photography as shadows create relief and bring life to your images.

No matter what time you are venturing out into the summer desert, bring water, lots of water. You might not be the only one who needs it, and you may be out longer than planned.

The smart desert traveler always has several gallons of water in their vehicle in summer months.

If you do break down, stay with your vehicle. It provides some shade and is easier to track that you are on foot.

Avoid traveling alone.

Getting stuck, injured or breaking down can be a disaster if you are by yourself. Another vehicle or companion hiker is a one more life saving tool.

Let others know where you are going and stick to that plan. Tragic ends to searches for missing people are often the result of victims not being where they said they would be.

Have a means of communication.

Cell phones work in many places within the park, but not everywhere. Even places close to Borrego Springs can be dead zones for cell coverage.

For summer travel, consider one of the location tools such as a Garmin InReach or Spot Device that allow you to summon help through satellite communications.

Licensed ham radio operators have access to several mountaintop repeaters accessible from just about anywhere in the desert, and small, handheld radios weigh only a few ounces.

I once got stuck while working in the Carrizo Impact area on a 119-degree July day. I was able to contact a friend in Oceanside via ham radio who called a predetermined contact in Borrego to assist me.

Know your limits and don't test them.

The added stress of summer heat can be withering and suddenly slap you down when engaged in an activity that you might normally enjoy for hours.

Heat illness can be mild initially. A headache, cramps, nausea, or a feeling of fatigue is a sign to watch for.

If not addressed, dehydration can quickly turn into a potentially fatal emergency known as heat stroke.

If you begin to feel the effects of the heat, stop activity, drink liquids, find a way to cool down, and get medical help if there is no relief.

There is a magic to summer in the desert. For some, it offers an intimate connection with this very special place.

For others who are not prepared, it can end with unpleasant or tragic results, but with a little planning and preparation, there is no reason you can't enjoy the unique beauty of Anza-Borrego in summer months.

You can reach the author at Ernie at