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Article Provided byFinding Water In the Desert
What to Look For When Parched

Finding water in the jungle is relatively easy--just wring out your shirt for starters. But in the desert, when mile after mile of sand and rock stretches in a shimmering sea before your eyes, the search for water can become somewhat tenuous. Here are a few ways to "divine" water from the earth:

  • Reflections can mean a mirage, or they can mean a possible water source of water. Evaluate the distance to be traveled and then head toward the potential water only if you are reasonably sure that it actually is water and that you will be able to travel that far.
  • Dry stream beds are possible sources for water. Just below the surface, you can sometimes find damp soil and even water which will pool in an excavated hole. Don't waste your time, however, if the hole you're digging looks unpromising. Move on and try somewhere else.
  • Any sign of wildlife, especially birds sitting in a tree, may mean nearby water, as most wild animals require a water source. A word of caution if your watering hole happens to be on the African Savannah? you could be viewed as just another competitor for a limited resource. In Rudyard Kipling's books the water hole was a place of truce among animals. But don't count on a lioness having read the same books you have.
  • If you see a storm coming, find catchment basins or lay out a tarp to trap as much rain as possible. Fill every available water-holding device as quickly as you can, for the shower might be brief.
  • Sometimes you'll find small pockets of dew in the wee hours of morning. Lap up as much as you can.

Treat It Before You Drink It!

Yes, you must treat your water even in the desert because even here, Giardia raises its ugly mug--along with a host of other potentially nasty microscopic vermin. If the water you are eyeing is full of silt, which is the case with most desert streams, ponds and rivers, you won't want to ingest too much without first letting the silt settle--a must anyway if you are looking to filter.

Drinking in large quantities of silt with your water can lead to a bad case of the squirts (projectile diarrhea that's every bit as unpleasant as it sounds)--an affliction just about every adventurer suffered during the 1995 Eco-Challenge Adventure Race across the high desert of Utah. The high mineral content of the water, coupled with the copious quantities of iodine tablets we were dropping into the water to ensure purity threw all of our internal digestive systems into disharmony. The squirts in the desert is not only unpleasant, it's dangerous as you are now losing body fluid at an alarming rate and at the same time losing the desire to eat or drink. Only by consuming pure, filtered water over a 24-hour period and flushing out our systems did the problem disappear.

Of course, you can't just filter the water either, since the silt will clog just about any filter on the market within minutes. The solution? Carry a collapsible plastic or nylon bucket which you can use to scoop up a gallon or so of heavily silted water. Let the silt settle to the bottom of the bucket--takes about 30 minutes--and then carefully filter the top three quarts, being certain not to stir up the silt or pump any of the sediment on the bottom of the bucket through the filter cartridge.

Contributed By: Michael Hodgson

Michael Hodgson is a an award-winning journalist and author of numerous books including Camping for Dummies, Compass and Map Navigator, and Facing the Extreme. He is a volunteer instructor for the American Red Cross, Nevada County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team and was a former mountain guide. Michael is well-known for his sense of humor and eagerness to try anything once in the pursuit of a really good story. His friends remain amazed that he can still walk. He has partnered with his journalist-wife, Therese Iknoian, on four web sites: his own, plus,, and

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