Monday, June 21, 2010

Bug Out Regions: The Southwest

Whitewater Canyon, Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

In my book, Bug Out, one of my favorites of the eight regions I've broken the lower 48 states into is the Southwest.  In Chapter Eleven, Deserts, Canyons & Mountains of the Southwest, I describe bug-out locations in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern Nevada, and Southern California.  This part of the country ranks high among my favorite places on earth.  I've returned time and time again to the Southwest region to explore the remote and wide open spaces found there.

In the early stages of writing the book, I planned on interweaving my personal narratives of my trips in many of the bug-out locations described, and had especially looked forward to writing about my experiences in such places as the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico.  As it turned out, there was not enough space to include the narratives in the book and still cover all the necessary details of bug out locations that might be helpful to readers.  So the narratives got left out, but in the future there will be unlimited room to write about them here.  Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the chapter on the Southwest Region:

Like the Rocky Mountains, North America’s Southwest is synonymous with wilderness and rugged independence. This region is the “West” of most people’s imagination and the setting for countless movies, television shows, and novels about the difficulties faced there by early explorers, prospectors, cowboys, and other settlers. In reality, it has not been all that long since the Southwest was still truly wild and untamed, and even today huge areas of this region are uninhabited and roadless. 

Some of the longest and most difficult Indian wars the U.S. Army ever fought during the settling of the West were waged here against the elusive Apaches, who were masters of survival in this tough environment. The Apaches and other Native American tribes in the region adapted to the conditions and were able find resources in places that seemed to European settlers to be unfit for human habitation. They knew where to find the isolated springs and water holes of their territories and moved between various “islands” of wooded mountains and canyons where living by hunting and gathering was possible. Even for people as resourceful and tough as them, the barren wastelands inbetween these islands could not sustain life for long.

Many parts of the Southwest are surprisingly well watered, however, and are teeming with wildlife and a diversity of plant and tree species. Most of these areas are in the various mountain ranges that are sub-ranges of the Rockies and the Sierra Madre, which extends north into this part of the U.S. from Mexico. Other areas that are lush oases of plant and animal life are found in the canyon country that this region is famous for. Several large rivers course through the Southwest, draining both to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Pacific Ocean at the Sea of Cortez. Among them are the Colorado and the Rio Grande, both of which flow through some of the most spectacular canyons on Earth. 

Just as in the Rocky Mountains region covered in the previous chapter, there are far more bug-out locations in this region than I can begin to cover in this limited space, but I’ve picked out a cross-section of some of the Southwest’s most outstanding wild areas to give you an idea of the possibilities. If you live in this region you are lucky to have so many great options to get far away from the crowds in times of trouble, as many of these places receive virtually no human traffic. But
if you plan to bug out in the Southwest, you certainly need to be aware of the region’s unique challenges and be prepared to deal with them.

Recommended Equipment

In the dry Southwest, an adequate supply of drinking water is a top survival priority. A reliable means to carry an adequate supply of water will be of utmost importance when choosing gear for bugging out in this region. As compared to other regions, you will need to carry more water at any given time while traveling in most of the bug-out locations described in this chapter, as resupply opportunities may be few and far between. I would suggest distributing your supply in several separate Nalgene bottles or other containers to decrease the risk of losing your entire supply if a single larger container is punctured or otherwise fails. When traveling in desert areas, you should also carry a means of collecting water from unconventional sources. One of the best such sources is early morning dew found on the blades of grasses and leaves of plants. Although this can be mopped up and squeezed out of a T-shirt or bandana, having a large sponge will make it an easier job. You should also carry some clear plastic and a tube for making a solar still, as well as a copy of a diagram and instructions on how to construct one if you are not familiar with the process. Equally important as your water supply is protection from the sun. A wide-brimmed hat, bandana, and long-sleeved shirt should always be in your bug-out bag here, and a tube of sunscreen is a good idea as well. It’s also important not to overlook clothing and shelter to protect you from the cold, especially at high elevations, where weather can be just as severe as in the Rockies or North Woods. 

In most parts of the Southwest, you will have more travel options than in any other region of the U.S. Wide-open deserts, often devoid of fences, make it possible to drive off-road even where there are no trails in sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicles or on ATVs or off-road motorcycles. Horses, mules, and donkeys are just as practical here today as they were 150 years ago, and mountain bikes can also serve well in many areas. In many parts of the mountains, though, foot travel may be the best option for truly getting to places where you will not easily be found. 

Weapons here should include a .22 rifle for small game as well as a rifle for taking larger game at longer distances. Any caliber sufficient for black bears and mountain lions will suffice for protection. Be aware that some parts of this region, especially close to the Mexican border, have become extremely dangerous due to illegal human and drug trafficking, and you should use extreme caution to avoid being seen by the people carrying out these activities.

Over the years I've made many long combination road trips/backpacking excursions throughout the Southwest.  I would have moved there long ago if not for my addiction to sea kayaking and sailing on the Gulf, which has kept me in the South.  I would like nothing better than to load-up my camping gear on my KLR 650 dual-sport motorcycle right now and leave tomorrow for New Mexico.  But, as it is, I'm in the middle of the manuscript for my next book, which has to be completed by Septermber 1.   After that, there's a possibility....


  1. Very good comments about recent illegal alien traffic here along the border lands - more and more problems (or at least perception of problems) is occuring.

  2. It continues to amaze me that this is allowed to go on like it has been, despite the fact that most Americans want it stopped.

  3. I've wondered of what the most inexpensive / trouble free way to build a BO shelter in a locale of my choosing. One gentleman has a pretty decent idea - junked out van. With motor and tranny removed, no need for tags.

    Go to a junkyard and buy out an otherwise sound bodied box van - shouldn't be that expensive. One with manually operated windows. Tow this out to your location, siting it in a location with morning sun, afternoon shade. Be great if you had a nearby water source, something with a short hauling distance. Great for animal attractant, you can Dry Gulch your protein. But not too close - standing water attracts insects.

    Put it on blocks and / or remove the wheels if you like. Build a cover over it to keep the van interior cooler. Fix up that interior to your liking, there are plenty of van camping ideas out there to maximize your space.

    Just daydreaming, but with a setup like this, it would not be too bad, at least as shelter goes.

    1. Just buy an old travel trailer of short length. It is already set up for living. Buy some spray paint and camo the trailer. You can even bury some of it to help with insulation for summer or winter. Put up a couple of solar panels and a couple of 6volt batteries to power your lights, heater, fans ect.. and you can run the Air Conditioner with a little Honda 2000 generator that runs on gas and is so quite no one will hear it beyond 100 yards. You can store your survival supplies in an old mine tunnel or cave that you have camoflaged real good. If your area is over run by bad guys leave the trailer and hide in your secret mine tunnel. In summer the tunnel will be cool. Do all this by yourself tell no one about your Bug Out Location or even your plans. When the SHTF grab your wife and boogie to this safe location with her Ruger Mini-14 ranch carbine, 38 spl snub nosed revolver on her ankle and a Glock 17 on her hip. You have a M1A1 a 38spl in your ankle holster and a Glock 17 9mm on your hip too. A Mossberg model 500 12 gauge pump is nice to bring along too. A AR-7 will do for hunting small game. Stay off the skyline, stay hidden. Drones will be looking for people just like you. Stay hidden trust no one. If you must venture outside and away from you secret trailer, use night vision goggles and never use a flashlight.

  4. You might want to add to the Drug-trafficker reference that traveling in the desolate areas in southern California and other boarder states, it is only natural to find a worn path and follow it for convenience. However, especially if they go north-south, these are often drug or people-trafficking routes. Unless you know that the route is on a map or in a well-traveled area, these should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. You now know their hidden trails, and they will not think twice about killing a lone hiker or rider.

  5. You also get a lot of attention on those backroads if your vehicle looks at all like a one used by drug mules. One of my coworker's husbands came by this morning with some stories about this. Owns an upscale black colored SUV (Armada I think) and is an oil field worker in south Texas.

    He says he is ALWAYS getting pulled over by Texas Department of Public Service and other LEOs, who claim his vehicle fits the description of a drug running vehicle. He has also came across illegal aliens who lay across the road to attempt to stop him. Others lay by, likely to hijack his truck - he just drives around them.

    There have been quite a few truck hijackings in the past with oil field workers. 1st off, company policy often dictates no weapons allowed. 2nd, they make pretty good wages and have no place to spend it, so they are carrying quite a wad of dough - a tempting target.

  6. I have been following Scott B. Williams excellent blog and read all of his writings. I can without reservation say his information is spot-on accurate, and his books are top notch!. Bug Out Surv is the ONLY place to go for up to date, accurate information. In fact we have added Bug Out Survival as a link on our sustainability forum. "Bark" The Squirrel

  7. Things are heating up along the border, at least in south Texas. Mainstream media (KRGV-TV - Weslaco) had a new story of local ranchers which land close to U.S. Mexico border carrying high capacity firearms like AK-47s (even pictured it - heavens to Betsy, you mean they serve a purpose! 8^)). Google the story for 1st hand view if you like.


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