Essential Safety Tips for Exploring the Great Outdoors - SantaFe.com
Hikers at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico.

If the mountains, rivers, and lakes of New Mexico are calling you, the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) wants to help make sure you’re safe while enjoying the Land of Enchantment. This nonprofit organization encourages people to explore our public lands safely and with respect for nature and culture.

PLIA is developing a series of short videos to help educate the public about river, fire, and wildlife safety, Leave No Trace Principles, and cultural respect. While these videos are being developed specifically for the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, the principles explained apply to any outdoor adventures. Another video in the series will be a tour of the monument.

Here’s an overview of some of the topics that will be included in the video series, which will be available to view on the BLM and PLIA websites, and at the Wild Rivers and Río Grande Gorge visitor centers. They will also go hand in hand with the Junior Ranger booklet, which is available at the same visitor centers. 

River Safety

In the north part of the state, especially when waters are running high, the Río Grande is a big attraction for rafting and kayaking. But enjoying white water up north is nothing like floating down the lazy Río Grande in the southern part of New Mexico. 

For anyone on the water, life jackets are required. They can save your life even if you’re a great swimmer. Cold water shock can cause a gasp reflex that causes you to inhale water and wearing a properly fitting life jacket can make the difference between survival and death. If you’re attempting rapids, a helmet should be on your list. Plus, follow the 120 degree rule: If the sum of the air and water temperature is equal to or less than 120 degrees, wear a wet or dry suit. 

Do not attempt a river run that is beyond your capabilities, launch from a safe place, and make sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back. If the waters are unfamiliar, consider working with an experienced guide. 

Safety on the water includes wearing a helmet, like this kayaker. Photo courtesy BLM.
Safety on the water includes wearing a helmet, like this kayaker. Photo courtesy BLM.

Fire Safety

Wildfires are a serious concern in Northern New Mexico. It just takes a spark to destroy a centuries-old forest habitat and kill the animals who live there. Fires often spread to nearby communities, endangering homes and human lives. So, in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure.

First, comply with any fire bans or restrictions. For example, at the  Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde Recreation Area campsites in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, campfires are only allowed in grills or fire pans. Some places you visit may not allow fires at all, especially during the dry season. Do not light a fire on a windy day as sparks can be blown great distances and start fires. Have a bucket of water available before you light the fire.

If the kids are with you, be sure they understand the danger of fire and keep a close eye to avoid accidents while running or playing around a fire ring. Sure, make s’mores, which is a great opportunity to talk about fire safety.

Don’t let your fire get too big, and never leave the fire unattended until you ensure it is completely out and the ash is cool enough to touch. When you’re drowning the fire, don’t just sprinkle water and leave. Dump water over the entire fire (watch out for the steam!), then stir it to be sure water is getting to all the embers. Repeat this process and monitor the fire until it is cold. You can also use sand or dirt if water is not available.

Wildlife Safety

The “great outdoors” to us is “home” to wildlife. When you visit the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, you may come across animals that are using the area as a corridor between two mountain ranges. The key to being safe around wild animals is to respect their space. They’d prefer to avoid you if given the opportunity, so never make an animal feel cornered. 

Rattlesnakes can be found when the weather is warm, perhaps sunning themselves on a trail. Give them a wide berth and avoid sticking your hands into rocky areas where they may be hiding.

Safety is important around all wild animals, like this bighorn sheep at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.
Safety is important around all wild animals, like this bighorn sheep at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.

Leave No Trace 

Too many people who spend time outdoors leave the remains of their adventure behind: food wrappers, water bottles, soda cans, dirty diapers, cigarette butts, and even forgotten or discarded clothing. Trash not only harms the environment but can sicken or kill animals. Plus, the trash mars the view and enjoyment for anyone who encounters it. The bottom line here is if you bring it in, take it out. Leave no trace of your visit other than footprints.

Cultural Respect

Some of the land you will visit is sacred to Indigenous people and you may come across artifacts left by their ancestors, such as petroglyphs carved into rock or the remains of their homes from centuries ago. Do not disturb or deface anything you find. If someplace is marked as out of bounds due to its sacred nature, be respectful and do not visit. 

Petroglyphs at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.
Petroglyphs at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.

About Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Managed by the BLM, the Río Grande del Norte National Monument is an area of high plains and volcanic cones that has been home to people since prehistoric times. Today, this protected area is available for many forms of recreation, including camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, mountain biking, viewing wildlife, and enjoying the river for which it is named. The Río Grande forms a dramatic gorge up to 800 feet below the plains. 

Learn more about this PLIA adventure safety project here.

Story by Cheryl Fallstead. Photos courtesy BLM.

 

Story sponsored by PUBLIC LANDS INTERPRETIVE ASSOCIATION

 

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This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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