The Desert Feral Woodsman

Why anyone would pick any of the American deserts to get into the Feral Woodsman lifestyle is a bit beyond me, but plenty have done so, including me. Lets take a look at a typical desert. Like any wilderness, we need to save it from the army of bad government decisions. The American Southwest is one of he few wild places still worth saving, in my opinion. Deserts are spare, wild and rough. You are dealing with a wasteland of heat, cactus, snakes, rocks and thorny plants; all want a piece of you. Why would you want to be where the sun beats you like a stepchild, and monster diamond backs with a special brew just for you are waiting, and where scorpions wait for the chance to hide in your boots, while the wind blows sand in your food? And, in the arroyos where water might be found is tepid and uninviting, but supports poison oak waiting in ambush to give you an itch like you have never known? Well, it is just a fun place. Skeletons bake in the sun where they have given up the ghost. The trails at best are easy to lose and are always in a period of adjustment daring you to make a wrong turn. These are just part of the reasons the deserts are the least inhabited wilderness left to us. One of the reasons I like it. Who is going to go there anyway, except some semi nutcase? Sunstroke , heatstroke and dehydration are waiting for the unprepared, but you are out of the city and its special demons. the trade off is worth it.

You see in all the old photos the men all covered up, long sleeves and broad brimmed hats are the norm. In the polluted city, you can get cancer but the desert sun can offer that up also… exposed skin is a no no. The deserts of Utah offer a change with all the canyons of slick rock, easy to get lost and at the same time stay lost if that is your desire. All of the desert regions offer this in spades. The learning curve is fast and can be brutal, so you must prepare yourself for all the adversity the desert will throw at you. Learn the area you plan to be in. Learn the trails on an intimate basis. Take it slow and mark your way with cairns if need be. Keep them subtle, so some overzealous ranger doesn’t destroy them.. Soon, however, you wont need them anymore.

Please be respectful to your new home. I try not to leave any trace I was there.. Don’t bury any garbage, critters will dig it up. Instead, burn it and pack out the rest. Toilet paper should be burned. When you are fortunate enough to stumble on a desert pool, please don’t bath in it. If you must bathe, take a canteen away from the source and use it like a shower, away from the water source. It is a lot more important that the desert critters get to use this life giving water—bees to big horn sheep and all the critters in between.

You will also come upon artifacts , leave them alone. Light up a cigar, or a pipe and offer the smoke to the directions, as a homage to the ancient ones. Scatter the tobacco as a further offering. As you tramp along, you will find the best of places such as rock overhangs to make camp. Check those over hangs as they have claimed many lives by not staying where they should. Huge boulders make some interesting resting places and can shield you from wind and blowing sand. They also provide a safe hard to see camp place. Beware of rat droppings and move on to another location. Also be aware of some critter like a mountain lion is using it as a den…leave it alone. move on.

During the right time of year, you can find a lot of food if you know your desert plants. Learn how to prepare those plants and how to ID them 100%. Just the other day we found some chia ready to harvest— Chia is packed with protein and many other nutrients and is a great source of energy. and easy to ID.

As you learn your AO, you will make mental notes of plants so when the the time is ripe you can make your harvest. By learning to make storage holds, you can stock up for the non productive seasons. By planning ahead, you can cache store bought foods through out the area for your use.

The desert offers no room for mistakes. It is a hard and distant mother protecting only the chosen few who take the time to learn her whims and those who don’t break her rules.

I think the deserts are a fine refuge for the Feral Woodsman or desert rat, a place that offers true solitude and an unending panorama of life. The sunrise and the sunsets are unmatched. The light playing on distant rock mountains offer an ever changing glory of color.

I highly recommend reading Edward Abbeys “Desert Solitaire”. He gives you a look that I cannot even remotely match.

So if I haven’t scared you off by now, you have a lot of work ahead of you. It will be fun and a great experience, unmatched by almost any terrain.

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