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For many travelers, deserts are a place to avoid. Typically hot, dry, and barren, deserts have often marked the limits of human habitation. At the same time, however, deserts have long been prized for their solitude, sweeping vistas, and rugged beauty.

If you're drawn to the desert, early spring is a great time to consider RVing through the American Southwest. Although southwestern states such as Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are among the fastest growing in the country, there are still plenty of open spaces to explore.

Nature defines deserts, and natural attractions are what bring people into the wilderness. But there's much more to enjoy than treeless desert landscapes. In early spring, wildflowers bring an explosion of color to many desert areas. Each region has its own distinct varieties, so be sure to do a little research before your trip.

While the beauty of wildflowers is fleeting, cactus forests are a permanent feature of the desert. Again, each region boasts its own varieties. If you're in Quartzsite, Arizona, ask the locals about the 300-year-old saguaro cactus with 47 arms. It's worth the detour. (Quartzsite, of course, has special meaning for RVers. It's home to the world's biggest RV show, usually held in late January. Visit www.quartzsitervshow.com to get the details.)

The southwest desert's lack of vegetation, high mountains, fierce winds, and occasional cloudbursts have also created some of the world's most spectacular scenery. The Grand Canyon is the most extraordinary example of nature's sculpting talents, but there are many other sites that are exceptionally striking -- and much less crowded.

Once you've drunk your fill of the desert's natural beauty, you can begin enjoying the many unique activities a desert vacation offers.

Rock hounding, treasure hunting, and prospecting for precious minerals are among the most popular desert activities. The dry climate of the desert has helped preserve both natural and man-made artifacts. Moreover, the barren terrain of the desert means that they're relatively easy to find. If you're especially eager to dig up the past, you can buy or rent a metal detector.

Desert hiking also holds special appeal for visitors. Many are eager to explore canyons and gullies that cut through the desert landscape. Desert caves are particularly fascinating. Many still show signs of past human habitation.

Of course, the desert also presents its own set of dangers. Dehydration and heat stroke are the main concerns. If you find yourself overcome by desert heat, find shade quickly, drink plenty of water, limit your movements, and cover up to minimize perspiration. By all means, take safety measures sooner rather than later.

Flash floods are often overlooked as a threat in a dry climate. If you're hiking in a canyon or gully, always leave yourself an escape route. A sudden cloudburst, even if rain is falling miles away, can send a wall of water in your direction in minutes. Finally, beware of the desert's poisonous reptiles, such as rattlesnakes and gila monsters. Once the sun goes down, reptiles seek warm surfaces, such as pavement and rocks, that have soaked up the heat of the day. Make sure you don't cross their path.

Had enough of the great outdoors? Fortunately, the American southwest is also home to a vibrant mix of peoples and cultures. You can easily build your vacation around exploring the history of the Old West, the art and accomplishments of Native Americans, and the pervasive Hispanic influence.

With so much to see and do, start planning your desert sojourn now. Below are a few web sites geared toward visitors.

www.desertusa.com
www.americansouthwest.net
www.arizonaguide.com

Also, check out our state-by-state guide to RV campgrounds.


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