What are safety concerns and precautions when experiencing nature in North America?

This is the fifth post in our series of the “Top Road Trip Tips” mentioned in Trip Advisor’s travel forums.
This is a very interesting question, because America is such a large country and it has boundless outdoors, from the forests in the Rockies and the Appalachians to the prairies in the Midwest and the Southwestern deserts, all across America you can encounter raw nature, with wild animals and relentless weather. Be prepared and use your common sense:

What are safety concerns and precautions when experiencing nature in North America?

1. Wild animals

Bears

Black bears can be found across the U.S. from California, Arizona, New Mexico to Oklahoma and Missouri on Route 66 (mostly in the forested areas). Grizzlies are restricted to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho (you can see them in Yellowstone park if you are lucky).
Black bears are good climbers and weigh around 300 pounds (140 kg). Bears eat anything and our food and garbage attracts them. They can hurt you seriously so follow these tips in bear-country:

  • Make a noise to avoid surprising a bear.
  • Don’t hike in the dark.
  • Carry a bear spray and know how to use it (pepper spray).
  • Leave no trace of garbage of food dispose of them in bear-proof containers.
  • If you spot a bear, keep a 100 yard distance from it, pack food and trash and leave the spot immediately.
  • If the bear approaches, things can get ugly so try to scare it away by shouting, banging pans together or throwing rocks or sticks at it.
  • Never run away from an approaching bear, walk away slowly -back away, facing it.
  • If attacked by a bear, fight back and act aggressively, wave your arms try to look bigger, don’t play dead.
Bear and human in national Park
A bear approaches a visitor along a road at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
NPS Photo / Jake Bortscheller

Snakes

Snakes live all across America, in swamps, forests, deserts and grasslands. They are active during warm weather and hibernate during winter and avoid the hot summer weather. They can be active day and night.

  • Don’t bother snakes. Steer clear from them. Avoid surprising them, they will strike if taken by surprise.
  • Stay on trails. Wear long pants and boots.
  • Watch out where you place your hands or feet when climbing rocks, large logs, gathering firewood or crossing fences.

If bitten call 911 and get immediate medical attention. Keep victim still with bitten part motionless. Don’t feed or give drinks to the injured person; keep the victim warm and calm.

Ticks

They don’t only live in the thick forests, you can even find them in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, clinging to bushes, waiting to latch on to a host and feed on its blood.
They carry many diseases like Lime or the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

  • Use repellents like those containing DEET (and reapply frequently).
  • Stay on the trail, avoid tall grass and bushes.
  • Check hair and body for ticks, remove any ticks and if there is redness or swelling (the Lyme disease rash appears 3 to 30 days after being bitten and looks like a red┬ábull’s eye) go to the doctor immediately (with the tick in a plastic bag).

Squirrels and other critters

Even cute animals that look tame, like deer or squirrels, can be deadly, they are wild animals, not pets and can become aggressive without warning.
A squirrel can bite and it can carry plague and rabies. Always keep your distance: at least 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards from other large animals. Don’t feed any wild animals.

2. Outdoors

Nature is amazing in America, visit its national and state parks, hike the trails, walk the outdoors, drive to scenic outlooks but be prepared for the unexpected.

General Tips

  • Always tell someone where you are going (driving, walking or hiking) tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return.
  • Wear appropriate clothing (even in the desert it gets cold at night) dress for the expected weather.
  • Always take water and food with you, in sufficient quantity to cover your needs for one full day. Carry energy-packed food: nuts, protein bars, chocolates, fruit.
  • Your cell phone may not have signal in the outdoors so don’t rely on it as a GPS. Take a paper map with you.
    Stick to the marked trails. Don’t hike alone.
  • Pack insect repellent (mosquitoes and ticks can be bothersome).
    Wear proper footwear for hiking with good ankle support and socks (you’d hate to get blisters).
  • Keep clear of gullies and dry riverbeds in unknown territory during storms -flash floods are deadly.
Colored rock formations  in the Arizona Desert
The Tepees, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. A .Whittall

 

In the Desert

If you get lost or stranded in the desert:

  • Keep hydrated and in the shade.
  • Stay with your car, it is easier to spot than a stranded person in the wilderness.
  • Sleep, conserve your body’s energy

In a snowstorm

  • Clear snow from the exhaust to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Stay in the car (unless you see a building nearby).
  • Turn the engine off and turn it on periodically to run the heater to keep warm. Save gas.
  • Do some exercise to warm up.
  • Stay hydrated it will keep you warm.
  • Buckle up and put on the hazard lights, you might be hit by another car.

That more or less covers it. Any suggestions that you may have are welcome!

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