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The Many Ways New Mexico Can Kill You (or at least make you very uncomfortable)
SNAKES If you encounter a snake, assume it’s poisonous.   If you hear a rattling or whirring noise, it might be a rattlesnake warning you.  Not all of our poisonous snakes rattle. If you hear or see a snake: stop, signal your group, breathe, take a slow, careful step backwards, repeat. Don’t panic.  A bite will hurt, but it most likely will not kill you. If you are bitten, stay calm, look at the snake’s features for identification later, if possible sit in the shade, and send someone for help.  If you must walk, walk slowly and steadily to the closest aid.  If you have cell coverage, call 911, if not proceed to the nearest town.  OTHER WILDLIFE Do not approach or feed wildlife.  Do not handle insects or small animals.  Many insects can and will bite!  Local wild animals may be carriers of diseases such as rabies, bubonic plague and hanta virus.  WILD PLANTS Cacti are pretty but very painful if touched.  Even if you cannot see thorns, a cactus may have tiny, hair-like stickers that can irritate your skin.  Do not pick or damage any wild plants. WATCH WHERE YOU STEP! The lovely scenery of New Mexico may distract you as you are walking.  Remember: look at your feet as you walk.  Stop, look up, take your pictures, admire the scenery…then, look at your feet when you start to walk again. The dangers of walking without looking at your feet are real.  Unlike many places, New Mexico is still the wild and woolly west!  Watching where you step will protect you from snakes, cactus, cliffs, mine shafts, loose footing, animal burrows, barbed wire and many other things you don’t want to step on. If you are hiking off road with children, have them follow single-file behind an adult…stepping in the adult’s footsteps.  Do not let them run off unsupervised. ALTITUDE Most of the state of New Mexico is above 3000 feet (900m) above sea level.  Many of the most scenic and historic places to visit are over a mile in elevation (1600m.) High elevation can affect your body in a number of ways…shortness of breath, fatigue, and lightheadedness.  Do not overexert yourself.  Rest as often as needed.  If you have a heart condition or breathing issues, you should be especially careful of your well- being at high altitude.  THE SUN The sun is extremely intense in New Mexico in every season, but the health risks of sun exposure are, of course, worse in the summer months.  This is due to the high altitude which means there is less atmosphere blocking the sun’s rays, and the low humidity which means there is less water in the air to block the sun’s rays. It is important to drink more than you think you need.  In this climate, you cannot feel yourself sweat and it is easy to become overheated, or even suffer from heat stroke, without adequate hydration.  Carry plenty of water or other uncaffeinated drinks with you, and drink frequently even if you don’t feel thirsty. Sunscreen and protective clothing are essential.  You will burn very fast in the direct sun.  A hat with a brim is important to shield your entire head and neck from the sun.  A lightweight, long sleeved shirt can also be useful to prevent burning.  Your best protection is a high SPF, waterproof sunscreen lotion that won’t come off when you sweat. Sunglasses are a must.  Aside from protecting your corneas from harmful UV sun rays, they make driving and hiking safer and more comfortable. THE COLD Like most deserts and areas of high elevation, most parts of New Mexico have a large difference in temperature between summer and winter, AND between night and day.  A days that starts off as a sunny and pleasant 55F can turn into a windy 25F by the middle of the night.  This can kill you if you are not prepared.  Even if you do not expect to be out late at night, the unexpected can happen.  Bring extra layers of clothing as a precaution.  Even our remote roads are patrolled regularly by law enforcement.  Unless you are snowed into a very remote area, you probably will not be stranded for more than a few hours or overnight. If you are having car trouble, try to pull off onto firm dirt or gravel.  If you have car trouble when it is cold out, do not run your engine continuously for heat.  You might run out of gas and you might fill up the cabin of your car with dangerous fumes.  Also, the heat of the catalytic converter on the bottom of your car might ignite dry grass and cause a fire.  Run your engine and heater for no more than10 minutes per hour.  Make sure the exhaust pipe is free from any snow or other obstruction. Block off unused space. Use anything at your disposal to block off any space in your vehicle that’s not being used. Blankets, leaves, and any materials that you can find, should be shoved into any spaces where heat can be lost. Use all the clothes you have with you by wearing them.  That will keep you warmer than just laying them over you. Huddle together. Huddling together in a small space can increase the amount of heat in that area. Don’t forget to move – Move your arms, hands legs, feet and toes to improve your circulation and to keep warm. FLOODING Flash flooding is a result of heavy localized rainfall from slow moving intense thunderstorms. These floods often become raging torrents of water which rip through city streets, dry river beds, arroyos, and valleys--sweeping everything with them. In hilly terrain, flash floods can strike with little or no advance warning. Within minutes, distant rain may be channeled low lying areas, turning a quiet stream into a rampaging torrent. Don't drive through flooded areas - even if it looks shallow enough to cross. Water only a foot deep can displace a 1500 lb. vehicle. Two feet of water can easily carry most automobiles. Roadways concealed by water may be completely washed away. Do not cross flowing stream on foot where water is above your ankles. Do not allow children to play around dry river beds, arroyos, drainage ditches, storm drains, or other flooded areas! Be careful AND vigilant! Even when drainage ditches, river beds and arroyos are dry, they can flood very quickly If caught in the flowing water, float on your back, feet downstream.  Stay calm.  Yell for help.  Avoid bridge supports and debris by using your feet to push off.  Stay floating on your back until the water slows down.  Do not try to swim or stand up until the water slows.  Reach for a rope or other object when one is near you. Never attempt a rescue, you may become the next victim.
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