Canyoneering and the desert

The Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin and Chihuahuan Deserts make up the vast Southwest region of the United States. The desert is both a harsh and a fragile environment that requires visitors to travel and camp lightly on the land. Some of the Leave No Trace considerations for the desert can be different from other areas. Water is limited for both visitors and animals in the desert, which requires people to be more conscious of their campsite location. Another consideration is the fragile Cryptobiotic crust or living soil that covers large areas and is necessary for plants to grow from, but can be destroyed by a boot or tire track. A popular activity that involves hiking, rappelling, and climbing in the Southwest is canyoneering. Here are some tips on how you can follow the Leave No Trace seven principles while canyoneering.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Pack along a map and compass to avoid building rock cairns. Rock cairns can be another sign that people have been here.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local ethic and land management regulations before placing anchors.
  • Travel in small groups to lessen your impact. 
  • Prepare for the harsh climate and be ready for flash floods. Flash floods can come very quickly, so know the weather and be ready to move to higher ground.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Hike on established trails, slick rock, and canyon washes whenever possible. Be able to identify what cryptobiotic crust looks like to minimize your impact.
  • If placing anchors into the rock, locate them so they will not cause rope grooves. Sandstone can be very fragile and after several parties have rappelled from an area, the pulled ropes can groove the stone.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack out your human waste and toilet paper in approved human waste disposal bags. Finding an area to dig a cathole far from water, camp, or the trail can be difficult and some canyons can be primarily rock with no dirt to dig in.
  • Do not leave fixed ropes or webbing in the canyons.



Leave What You Find

  • Leave ruins, rock art, and artifacts where you find them and undisturbed.
  • Clean your gear and clothing after each trip to ensure that you are not spreading invasive species to other areas.

Minimize Camp Fire Impacts

  • Pack along lightweight camping stoves so you will not need a fire. Wood will be limited to drift wood and is not a viable resource for starting a fire.

Respect Wildlife

  • Know when there are area closures due to wildlife nesting.

Be Considerate to other Visitors

  • Yield to faster parties to allow them to pass.
  • Use webbing or bolts that match the color of the rock you are traveling on.

Thanks for reading and remember to be like Bigfoot and Leave No Trace!

Pat and TJ

Leave No Trace’s Patrick and Theresa Beezley are part of the 2014 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.