When snowbirding in the southwestern deserts this winter, be careful not to allow yourself to be lulled into complacency when you take off for a day of exploration and the desert is calm with nary a breeze. Desert winds (also called chubascos, Santa Anas, and dust devils) can come up quickly and unexpectedly--and blow strongly for both a brief period and for hours.
Take some time before you leave to set up some precautionary measures that may prevent you coming back to a wind-caused disaster:
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- Secure your awning arms with anchored stakes, tie downs, and deflappers before you leave your rig for any length of time. The stakes should be burried securely into the ground, though in some desert terrain the loose sand and gravel soil will not provide a secure hold or the hardpan may prevent digging into it. You may need to put heavy sandbags or rocks on the anchors to prevent them pulling out or you may return to find the the canvas flapping in the wind. Otherwise you will have to roll up your awning every time you leave.
- If you are boondocking in an area with non-designated campsites, try to position your rig so that one side faces into the prevailing wind, leaving the other side in the lee. When you leave, make sure all windows on the windy side are closed tightly--I repeat, tightly--since any openings to windward will allow blowing sand to enter and you will end up with a fine layer of sand over everything. Open louvered windows on the lee side for air circulation and to help reduce the inside temperature.
- Towels hung out to dry, unanchored carpets or mats, aluminum camp chairs, and any other lightweight items, if not secured, may end up snagged in a mesquite tree or blown several dozen yards across the desert from a sudden wind.
- Listen regularly to the weather reports for any unusual wind predictions--wind speeds over about 30 or 35 mph. This should signal your early return to secure your rig.