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Hiking safety tips to keep in mind while exploring Arizona trails

If you’re planning to go explore the Arizona wilderness, be sure to stay aware of your surroundings and keep these items handy.

PHOENIX — As November rolls toward December, the temperatures begin to fall across Arizona. The dip in temperatures provides the perfect opportunity to get outside and explore the Grand Canyon State.

From towering saguaros in the southern deserts to beautiful red rocks in Sedona, Arizona has plenty of nature to experience. But with all of the wonder, there are a few things you should not wander too close to.

Massimo Boscolo is a horticulturist with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and he offered a few tips and suggestions for hikers to help keep them safe while out on the trail.

“People actually come from all over the world just to come and see and admire our cacti,” Boscolo said. “So we are very lucky that we can go out and hike and admire and study these beautiful plants.”

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And while beautiful, Boscolo added you still should keep your distance from a few desert plants and cacti. 

Keep a comb handy

No, this isn’t to help you keep your hair perfect for those desert selfies. Boscolo said a comb will come in handy if you get a little too close to a cactus, like the “Jumping Cholla” or “Teddy Bear” cactus. The cholla cacti develop stems with small, white or yellow spines that can easily detach from the stem and stick to anything that brushes next to them. 

If you get cholla stems stuck to your body, the teeth on a comb are effective to help remove the spine’s grip on your clothes or skin. Boscolo added to try and avoid using your hands to pull the stems off of you, they are more likely to attach to a different part of your body.

Don’t forget layers and long sleeves

Yes, it may be difficult to wear long sleeves in a state known for triple-digit temperatures and dry, sunny deserts, but the appropriate attire can save you from unwanted scratches and irritations. Trees and shrubs like the acacia have small thorns on its branches that could scratch and cut skin if someone brushes by them.

Another cactus to keep your distance from would be the Agave cactus. The cactus has spines on their leaves which could be painful if you were to fall into one. 

“Some have spines on the tip, but some also have spines along the side,” Boscolo said about the Agave. “So those can be painful for sure.”

Along with the long sleeves, Boscolo said to make sure you stick to the trails whenever possible to avoid damaging the plants and fragile soil nearby. 

Tweezers are a must-have 

Water, check. Sunglasses, check. Tweezers? Yup, Boscolo said tweezers are another handy tool for hikers. He added that tweezers are especially helpful for encounters with the Prickly Pear Cactus. 

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Close-up of a prickly pear cactus ( Opuntia ficus-indica )

According to Boscolo, these cacti have tiny, barbed hairs and bristles called glochids. If these spines become lodged in your arm or leg, they are difficult to see and even harder to remove. Again, Boscolo insists not to try and pull them out with your hands. Instead, use the tweezers to remove them.

Admiration with appropriate awareness

Boscolo has lived in Arizona for more than 10 years, but is a native of Italy. He said Arizona is full of amazing plants and environments that entice people to visit from across the world. So while you are out hiking, make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and don’t forget to take it all in.

“Think how lucky you are just to be able to see plants that other people across the world can only dream of,” Boscolo said. “Cacti are some of the most coveted and collected plants and people from Europe and Asia come to see them in their natural habitat.”

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