Orient Yourself with the Desert Institute By Delphine Lucas
11/09/2012 12:39PM ● Published by Denise Brown
One of the joys of living in the desert is having the opportunity to take Desert Institute classes. I recently enrolled in “Basic Map & Compass” because my husband and I love to explore Joshua Tree National Park and other places across the desert. We hiked in the park using a National Geographic map, only to find that the reality around us bore no resemblance to what was on the map.
DI decided to take the Desert Institute class to learn how to orient myself in the wilderness. I was not disappointed.
Starting on a Friday evening, Theresa Walsh, the instructor, went over how to read an elevation map explaining what every line and symbol meant. (I had to spend $40 to buy a park elevation map and a compass, since I didn’t have either one). She talked about declination and how to set a compass in order to use it with the map.
The purpose of the class was to get a basic understanding of how to use only a compass to find your way, how to use only an elevation map, and how to use the map and compass together. The class had seven students, the instructor and three volunteers, who gave personalized help when needed.
We arrived in the Hidden Valley campground early Saturday morning to learn how to use our compasses to find flags that were scattered around the area. The idea was to focus on a significant and mark ahead of you, set your compass on a given point in the direction list, and move in that direction. Once you see the orange flag, you reorient yourself with another landmark. One of the volunteers and myself were moving from point to point, when we just could not find one of the flags. Someone had taken it!
After a leisurely lunch in the Hidden Valley picnic area, we set out on a hike, matching the real life land features with what was on the map. This was for me the most exciting part of the class, because I could see the options available to us for our hike. This area is a microcosm of the Wonderland of Rocks, a rugged and difficult area to navigate. It was a great place to practice using the map.
I plan on returning at least twice with my husband so we can hone our skills, and plan to take the advanced class in the spring.
The Desert Institute offers a variety of adult educational courses that include field classes in cultural history, natural science, survival skills, desert naturalist studies, citizen science, and the arts. Enrollment is open to all and some courses may be taken for optional university credit. Classes are offered in the fall and spring, and custom educational programs are available.
For information on the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park, as well as the Joshua Tree National Park Association, visit www.joshuatree.org.