Dehydrated? Know What Color Your Pee Is

Yes, I know… Las Vegas has dry heat.  However, hot is hot, and with dry heat, you can dehydrate faster than you realize.  Dehydration can kill you… So, knowing what color your urine can save your life!


Its summer in Las Vegas. That means it’s going to be hot outside. Real Hot! If you plan to walk the Las Vegas Strip or take a hike in one of our National Parks in this heat, it’s important to know what color your pee is. Seriously.  I’m betting you are wondering why I said that.   Glad you asked…

The color of your urine will tell you (or the rescuers) just how dehydrated you are.  If you didn’t know, Las Vegas is located smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and in the summertime, it gets really hot, really fast.  Not only do we have high heat, but we also have very low humidity levels.  That can mean you can become dehydrated faster than you realize.  Knowing the color of your urine can help you determine your level of hydration.

In other words: Stay Hydrated!

Want to go for a hike?  Hike in the early hours of the day. Dress in layers and wear breathable (cotton) clothing. Take water. Lots of water with you.  Take more water than you think you will need in case you are delayed, trapped, or need to help a fellow hiker who did not prepare for the elements. As well, drink a sports drink to help balance out the electrolytes.  Plus, you need to carry a salty snack with you.

cooling towels for hiking in the desert

Keep Wet, Keep Cool

In the summer, in the canyons or on a tour, I am always carrying several Cooling Towels.  Keep them wet, wrap them around your neck.  As well, don’t be afraid to share with others who may not have been as prepared as you are.  Cooling towels will help keep your body temperature under control. They are cheap and so easy to carry with you.

Water, Water, and More Water

camelbak will keep you wet with water

Carry Water with you. I recommend you get a  Camelbaks/water bladders. It’s like a backpack but filled with water. If you need to use plastic bottles (eek!) don’t forget to carry them out with you when empty.  “Pack out what you pack in” . Take the trash you created with you.  Want some brownie points?? Be a good steward of the lands and pick up some of the trash left by others. It will make you feel good and help keep our parks a little cleaner.

National Park Water Stations

Bottle Filling Stations

On some of the more popular trails in the National Parks, they are installing refill stations.  If your trail or park has one, please use it!  This helps keep the amount of litter down.  I often travel with a refillable water bottle.  It’s become my best friend when riding around town or out walking the trails.  My Favorite Water Bottle is the Thermoflask

Pack Out What You Pack In!

Let me repeat myself.  If you are going to carry disposable bottles of water (and other packaged goods) into the National Parks with you, take them back out with you.  My absolute pet peeve when hiking is finding trash,  or watching others who empty a plastic water bottle and leave it on the trail or in a tree.  Why do that?  Why can’t you use it and take it back out with you??  You brought it in full. You can carry it out empty!

The best part is that now it’s not full, which means it will be smaller when you pack it out compared to when you packed it in. So take it out with you!!  When I see some idiot liter the trails, I just want to bury their lazy ass in the desert!! SO don’t do it!!

So What Color is Your Pee?

So now we get to the reason for this post.  The important part of safe hiking and hydration.  When outside in the heat for any reason;  you need to know your health status. Are you nearing the point of dehydration?  Are you past the safety point?  To know that answer, you need to check the color of your pee. It’s that simple!

How Hydrated Are You?

Image Courtesy of NPS

Health Tip:  If you are feeling the need to drink water, you are already dehydrated and need to stop, get into the shade and drink water. Drink a sports drink to help balance out the lost electrolytes. Enjoy a salty snack and just relax.

Don’t ruin a wonderful trip to the beautiful desert. Don’t make your next stop a trip to the emergency room.  Save a Park Ranger some time and not need to be rescued.  Stay aware, stay healthy, and stay focused.  Know what color your pee is and keep it bright and pure by drinking plenty of water!!

(Originally posted Jul 19, 2019)

Fire destroys Scotty’s Castle visitor center

fire at Scotty's castle death valley

National Park workers look over the remains of the garage at Scotty’s Castle (National Park Service)

We woke up Thursday morning to the tragic news that Death Valley lost another piece of its iconic history. The historic garage at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley was destroyed by fire and a second building was damaged.

The historic landmark in Death Valley National Park has been closed for ongoing repair work after extensive flood damage in 2015.  The main building (the “castle”) was not damaged by the fire.  Ironically, the garage that was lost, which had been used as a visitor center, was the building most heavily damaged by the October 2015 flash flood.


Scotty's Castle Garage

The Garage/Visitor Center from a 2013 Tour

For anyone who knows me or follows this blog, you know what Death Valley means to me. I love the Park and everything in it.   As for Scotty’s Castle, we have been anxiously awaiting news on when the Castle would finally be restored and tours would resume. This fire will certainly be a setback on the recovery process not to mention the loss of it as a part of the story of the castle for future visitors.

On the last recovery update tour earlier this year, the guides were very ecstatic, as well as us guests, that the National Park Service had listened to all the voices from around the world that wanted to see the castle reopen and for the tours to come back.  The highlight of the tours is that the guides are dressed as if it were the 1930’s, the last year The Johnsons and Scotty had been there together.

Not only did they agree to restore the castle property and open the tours, but the National Park Service had also agreed to restore the property to the way it looked in that time period. Removing almost anything that had been added to the property after 1936.  Sadly, this was one of those outer structures they focused on preserving. Now lost for good.


What is Scotty’s Castle?

Scotty’s Castle was constructed in the 1920s as a vacation home for Albert and Bessie Johnson, millionaires from Chicago. Since its construction, Scotty’s Castle has drawn visitors seeking the truth behind the legend that it was built on a gold mine owned by the Johnsons’ friend, Walter “Scotty” Scott.

Death Valley Claims Another One


Earlier this week, the news headlines gave us another grim reminder that Death Valley National Park is a beautiful place to visit, but it can also be a dangerous place to visit. Even for those who are experienced.

“DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — An Arizona tourist died and his wife was rescued Friday after their vehicle got two flat tires and they went missing in Death Valley National Park in California.”

Normally when we see this, it is followed by a story of unsuspecting tourists out for a joyful day trip. Unprepared and unaware of what Death Valley is.  But in this case, or at least from what is being stated, this couple were “experienced campers”  and they came prepared as much as what can be expected from people used to being outdoors.  However, Death Valley is not your normal outback experience.

“Alexander Lofgren, 32, and Emily Henkel, 27, were found on a steep ledge near Willow Creek in the desert park, but Lofgren was dead, according to a statement from the Inyo Creek Sheriff’s Office. Henkel was flown to Lemoore Naval Air Station for treatment, and there was no immediate word on her condition.”

The couple was from Tucson, Arizona, so we can suspect they knew what it was like to camp in the dry desert.  Reading the various news reports, we get an idea that they were ready for the unexpected.  They carried extra supplies, they left a note that was dated and gave would-be searchers an indication of their intended direction of travel.  Best of all, they Had Plenty of Water!!
(Link to a news article)


Deadly Decisions

What may have doomed them is the “experienced” part. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere without any cellphone signal and like most tourists, they were not equipped with a satellite phone. (who is?)

Sadly, I am liking that the new media is keeping them listed as tourists and experienced campers. Not labeling them as hikers or expert desert dwellers. They knew the basics of desert camping and preparing for the unexpected.  That’s more prepared than a majority of people who visit Death Valley.  As well as they knew how to help anyone who may need to know where they were going if they were to be reported lost or went missing.

Their car was stranded 23 miles off of a paved road.  They were at the end of a long, dusty, lonely dirt road. Dirt is not the exact word for the road, but it’s the best way to explain it for the average reader.  And they had two flat tires.

This is the part that the Internet Trolls are jumping on.  “But they could drive on the rims. I’ve done it,” or worse, “They could have saved themselves by just driving out on the flat tires.”   Maybe you can do that in suburbia, you can. This is Death Valley.  Most of the roads here are mere trails. The surface of the dirt roads is often shifting sand or busted-up caliche rock.

However, they had a plan to do a shortcut that could get them to civilization faster.  A 4-mile route over some rugged terrain to Mormon road. A stone’s throw from the popular Badwater Basin where people are always there and the Park Rangers visit regularly.

This is where I think their “experience” did them wrong.  Under the stress of the situation as well as the heat, knowing that a 23-mile walk in the Death Valley sun could be deadly even if you had plenty of water (they did)… The short, but dangerous 4-mile hike over some rocky mountains would be the best option in their mind.  After all, they were experienced.


Dante's View Death Valley

Dante’s View overlooking Death Valley

Death Valley Delusions

On my tours as well as on my solo travels through Death Valley, I can not count the number of times I had come across people who were in somewhat similar circumstances.  Even at the popular overlooks surrounded by hundreds of people. The heat got them.

They thought a day trip out of Las Vegas to this wonderous place called Death Valley may make for some exciting and interesting stories for when they return to their homeland.  The problem is that they are unprepared for the heat and desolation.  What most people don’t know is what dry heat can do to your body as well as your mind.  You start to make some bad decisions based on heat-induced logic. Now, in this case, add stress to the thought process.

Even from what I know of Death Valley, being in their situation, I may have made the exact same decision.  Based on personal experience, which one looks better?  A four-mile hike over some old volcanic rocks to the popular highway or a 23-mile walk out to a paved highway that doesn’t see much traffic?  For the average tourist, not ever hiking in the desert, the 23-mile route works for them.  But you have experience in the desert,. So you think “How bad can a 4-mile hike over some volcanic rock be?  The 4-mile hike is the best bet….” and off you go.

Just how extreme could this be?  Well, when they were finally discovered, even the search and rescue teams had a difficult time getting to them.  These people are really some of the best in the business and they say the terrain the couple was found in, was extreme. Ouch!

There have been times when I have had people we found at an overlook, heat exhausted. I put them in my tour vehicle, get them shade and water.  Make contact with the Visitor Center where the Park Rangers take over.  They usually protest on all the fuss. “It’s not that bad”. Then when they are cooled off and the brain starts to work normally again, they realize what just happened and how serious it was and how serious it could have been and they are very thankful for the help.

As others have said online, I can only imagine how that woman felt, with her husband dead on a cliff beside her. As she sat there, watching the would-be rescuers, try to do their job.  What is going through her mind?  The regrets and second-guessing she was thinking and what she will be thinking as she recovers from this ordeal.   To know they were only 2 miles from Bad Water Road and from help.


Death Valley Tour Tips

I love Death Valley and I encourage others who want to experience a place unlike anything else on earth, to go see it.
But if you do.  Be smart.

  1. Carry Extra Bottles of Water.  You may need them or you may need to rescue others who may need them.
  2. Have sweat towels or if not available, carry a towel that can be used to shade or remove sweat from the body.
  3. As a tourist, stay on the main roads.  Go where others are going.
  4. If going alone, leave markers. And I don’t mean leaving rocks piled on top of each other. I mean cellphone pings.
  5. Going alone or with others, tell people not going with you, where you plan to go and when to expect a return
  6. Dress for the desert. Hat, body parts covered, sunblock, sunglasses.
  7. Go early as possible.  Less heat in the morning hours.


Finally, Our Sincere condolences to all those involved…and a big “Thank You” to the Search and Rescue people!


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Scotty’s Castle Update

Scotty’s Castle, that mysterious structure out in Death Valley National Park, was almost wiped out of existence in a 2015 Flash Flood. Where this part of Death Valley would normally get maybe four inches of rain per year, it had 2.7 inches of rain in less than five hours!


In February, I was able to be part of a small group of people to go out and visit the castle.  To get an update on the recovery and the restoration of the Castle.  This is a short report on what I learned on the tour of the historic landmark.

Scotty’s Castle is Still Here

Scotty's Castle Pool empty

Shortly after the flash floods of 2015 devastated Death Valley and almost ended the existence of this landmark, the National Park Service teamed up with Death Valley Natural History Museum and together, they have worked diligently to clean up, protect, and restore the castle, its belongings, and its surroundings.  This is not a normal project for the National Park Service. But then again, Scotty’s Castle is not your typical attraction for a National park!

Scotty’s Castle was built out in the remote parts of Death Valley in the 1920s and early 1930s. It was never fully completed.  But it had been occupied in one form or another until the 1980’s when it was sold to the National Park Service. The National Park Service took over the tours of the house and grounds and have done so up until the floods.

Working with Death Valley Natural History Association, the National Park Service has been able to go into the castle and see what is all in of the buildings. To see what damage was done by the floodwaters.  To get crews in to clean up some of the outer buildings that had up to four feet of mud inside them and to assess what was salvageable and what was not.

Using public feedback on what else to do with the castle, it was decided to restore the grounds in order to restart the tours inside the castle.  That meant making the grounds look as close to the original settings as they could.  Like in the tours, the year 1936 is the destination. To make the castle look as it did the last time Mr & Mrs. Johson and Death Valley Scotty was there together. Almost anything else that was added to the castle after that has been removed.


Mr. Johnson’s Castle

Unlike my last update tour of the castle, this tour we were not allowed to enter the actual castle. We were kept to the outside. This gave our National Park Ranger/Guide an opportunity to do a different type of tour.  One I had never experienced before in all the Death Valley and Scotty’s Castle tours I have done. And I have done a lot of them!!

She gave us the tour focusing on Mr. Albert Johnson. The wealthy businessman who Death Valley Scotty befriended and who was the actual man who designed and built the castle.   Mr. Johnson had a degree in civil engineering and had placed the castle in a spot that would protect the structure from flooding.  Yes, he planned for a flood to hit Death Valley!

To look at the castle, its structures surrounding the castle, and the recovery and restoration of the castle through the lens of Mr. Johnson, gave the tour a different feel and focus.  It was still entertaining for those who were not really Death valley geeks while giving a couple of the Death Valley geeks like yours truly, on the tour, some well-placed niblets of unique information.

Scottys Castle tour guide

So Why is it Not open?

They originally thought it would be opened back up by 2020. However, that was never set in stone. There were a lot of unknowns.  After acquiring the property, the National Park never was able to get a solid assessment of what was all inside the castle or the other buildings and exactly what was needed to preserve and protect it all. So now that the castle was closed, even the road going to the castle was washed away,  the National Park Service had a rare opportunity to go inside the castle and see exactly what was there and to do an inventory.

When they were first building the castle, the Johnson’s went all over the world to collect pieces of furniture, artwork, and even craftsman to work on the castle.  So now with it closed, the Park Service has been able to go in and actually see what all was there. To see what eighty years of Death Valley weather could do to priceless artifacts. They inventoried everything as they removed them to be stored in a secured, climate-controlled facility.

As they were removing flood debris that included up to four feet of mud in some of the offices and outer buildings, they also knew they had this rare opportunity to get other maintenance issues fixed.  Including problems that existed even before the Park Service took over. A chance to inspect and repair as much as they could without interruption of crowds.


It’s Being Done Right

This is not an easy process or a cheap one.  But it needed to be done.  It also had to be done in the proper way as to not alter too much the historic structures or the landmark itself.

Besides removing the tons of mud, removing all the debris, rebuilding the road, and stabilizing the buildings, they also started to work on making a complete inventory of the castle’s belongings.  Since the castle was without any utilities to protect the inside of the buildings from the Death Valley weather extremes, they need to act fast to catalog all the precious and historic artifacts inside as they were moved to a secure climate-controlled off-site storage location.

With everything else going on, they also had to start to make plans for how to prevent this from happening in the future. Again, without making significant changes to the historical integrity of the grounds.  Not an easy task!

They did and they are continuing to do it. But they are getting closer to the day where they can open it all back up to the public, including the tours!

Welcome to 1936!

The one thing we were told to observe was what wasn’t there.  When they were doing the tours, the tour guides were dressed and they talked as if it were 1936. That was the last year all the principal characters of the castle were there.  Anything added to the castle after that year was ignored by the guide as if it didn’t exist. Well, now the plan is to make it look like it did in 1936 by removing as much as they can of anything added to the grounds after that date.  Making it more realistic.

A Sincere Thank You

For all the grief I give the National Park Services for all the bonehead decisions they make. I need to pause here and give my sincere gratitude and my thankfulness that in this instance, the National Park Service, working with the Death Valley Natural History Association, Is Doing The Right Thing!  They are taking their time and getting it all done and doing it the proper way so that it will serve and preserve the castle for tourists for decades to come.



Look for the new opening dates of the castle to be somewhere between late 2022 or early 2023.


Leaving Las Vegas – For Death Valley!

What had been planned as a day trip with a group of photographers experiencing Death Valley National Park turned into a much-needed day of solitude for me as a winter snowstorm hit Las Vegas and everyone else canceled. Yes. Las Vegas gets snow occasionally!


They Cancelled the Tour

Really? Did they cancel? Awe Shucks!! I smiled to myself when told of the changes.  It had been a while since I last visited Death Valley and I already knew that I could really use some time alone in my favorite place of peace and tranquility!  So I just decided that I was going it alone.  Come snowstorm or high water, I am going to go to Death Valley as planned!!

Normally I would head up through Pahrump, Nevada, home to the closest legal brothels to Las Vegas.  But I knew the mountain pass was going to be chancy with snow and ice. So I took the back route. Up to Amargosa Valley. Over to Death Valley Junction and into my favorite place, Death Valley National Park!

Once I got past JackAss Flats, the snow cleared out and the roads opened up as the sunshine led the way.  Yes, I know. I grew up in Minnesota, the land of snow and ice. But it doesn’t mean that I liked driving in it. So I avoid it as much as possible in the mountains around here!   Jeep or no Jeep, I don’t need to deal with that white stuff today!

Death Valley has always been my favorite place for peace. I don’t even remember the last time I was there and that tells me it has been way too long.  So I was really looking forward to this trip, even if the others had canceled.  A silly little blizzard was not going to stop me!

Once I found myself on the other side of the snowstorm,  the sunshine brought a smile to my face and the peace of the valley started to really hit me. I was there.  In the land of absolute peace, quiet and some of the most amazing views on earth. Death Valley never disappoints.

Furnace Creek Death Valley

Not in the Las Vegas Snow Storm of 2021!

Not What I Was Expecting

With California under a more severe lockdown than Nevada, I was actually expecting something worse than what I found.  First, no people.  That’s not what I was expecting. I was actually expecting a overran cluster (you know). Like the last time the government shut everything down.  Secondly, the park was very clean, even with all the openness.  As with number one, the last time the State had mandated closures, the National Parks were overrun with people violating the rules and making the parks into a first-rate dump. Not this time!

This time I think I saw maybe three cars at each overlook and the overlooks were clean and tidy. Nothing running over or litter spread everywhere.  It was actually a clean park! And I was there, all alone in my own solitude. It was heaven!

The downside to this was that I was wanting to avoid any chance of having to deal with the snow and ice on the return trip, in the dark.  So I made quick stops where I wanted to then headed out the other side, towards Beatty. And you can’t leave Death Valley that way without stopping to visit the ghost town of Rhyolite.  Or at least I can’t.  But before I got to the turn-off, there was a small family of wild burros on the side of the road, watching traffic go by.  Photo Stop!

Wild Burro

The Locals Are Disappearing

Every year, the chances of seeing these beautiful creatures get smaller and smaller.  So I take advantage of seeing them when I can! This family was a little camera shy and kept moving further away from me the more I stood my ground.  But it was still a nice thing to see.

A quick stop in Rhyolite, then off to Eddie World for fuel, food, and candy. Especially candy. Eddie World has candy from my childhood. Even the candy cigarettes!  I always stop there for a standing order of licorice sticks and a few bags of Good-n-Plenty (pound bags!).  Then straight home before it started to get dark and the roads iced over again…

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