Filler Hot Summer Reading

Here's A Real Sizzler Of A Story For Desert Dwellers.
By Kevin Franklin

PABLO VALENCIA WAS either one of the luckiest men in the history of the Sonoran Desert or one of the most ill-fated.

Out There In either case, he certainly ranks as one of the most durable.

In 1905 he wandered for six-and-a-half summer days through the desert southeast of Yuma with no water and virtually no hope. Most people, even desert dwellers, would die without fluids after two days in that kind of heat. But Valencia survived.

His legendary trial makes a useful case study for modern-day desert rats.

The account of Valencia's adventure comes from W.J. McGee, a turn-of-the-century scientist and explorer. McGee was encamped at Tinajas Altas, a collection of small pools serving as the only reliable source of water for the next 35 miles (as the crow flies) to Yuma. McGee planned to study the summer meteorology and biology of the area, but due to Valencia's ill-fortune, McGee ended up conducting an analysis of severe dehydration on the human body. Valencia's personal account and McGee's ministrations to save his life became the basis of a paper, "Desert Thirst as Disease," which McGee presented to a group of St. Louis physicians.

Valencia and his friend Jesús Rios were prospecting near the Mexican border just west of the present-day Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.

They were heading to a mining claim of Valencia's when they encountered McGee. After mutual greetings and rewatering of animals and men, Valencia and Rios were off to the claim site.

Valencia's first and most lethal mistake was his plan. He and Rios had six gallons of water between them for three days. After their first day of travel, Valencia quickly realized an active man in the summer desert needs at least two gallons of water a day. He sent Rios back to Tinajas Altas for more water, planning to rendezvous with him on the far side of the Sierra Hornaday.

Of course, they never met up. With no specific point to wait, Rios looked for Valencia for a while. Failing to find him, Rios went back to camp, demonstrating a remarkable lack of concern.

Now Valencia's situation was grave. He lacked enough water to go back the way he came, yet there were no certain water sources near him.

He spent the next four-and-a-half days hiking to Tule Tanks, another set of tinajas, but failed to find water there. He had now gone 38 miles with virtually no water. There was another 20 miles between him and Tinajas Altas. He began stumbling in that direction.

Two days later, in the middle of the night, McGee believed he heard a cow bellowing in the distance. Realizing it might be Valencia, he rushed out to look. What he found was a man who should have died days before, but had refused. McGee writes:

"Pablo was stark naked; his formerly full-muscled legs and arms were shrunken and scrawny...his lips had disappeared as if amputated, leaving low edges of blackened tissue; his teeth and gums projected like those of a skinned animal, but the flesh was black and dry as a hank of jerky; his nose was withered and shrunken to half its length...the freshest cuts were as so many scratches in dry leather, without trace of blood or scrum...We found him deaf to all but loud sounds, and so blind as to distinguish nothing save light and dark."

McGee replenished Valencia's fluids and sugars and within two months he was able to ride once more, though one suspects he never went far from adequate water again.

Obviously, desert travelers should plan to have more than enough water and to let someone know exactly where they are going and when they will be back. But barring that sensible scenario, Meslin provides some advice for the heat tortured.

First of all, keep your clothes on. A thin layer of breathable, light-colored fabric between you and the sun will do a lot to keep down water loss and heat while simultaneously protecting the skin. This includes your head. Move as little as possible in the heat of the day and keep to the shade.

If you find someone suffering heat exhaustion, or the often-fatal heat stroke, you need to hydrate them and cool them down. Ice or water in the neck, groin and armpits cools victims well; but don't get them shivering, as this generates more heat and wastes valuable energy.

Drinking water is all sufferers of moderate heat exhaustion need. More severe cases will need to replace critical elements like potassium. Specialty products like Gatorade or 10K work very well, but anything from soda to coffee will work in a pinch. Avoid alcohol, which dilates blood vessels and works against you.

The bottom line: Get them cooled down, hydrated and, for serious cases, to a hospital as soon as possible.


The best place to find McGee's account and some excellent analysis by Bill Broyles and others is in the Journal of The Southwest, 1988, Vol. 30, p. 222, call No. F806 A69. Broyles' first-rate story about his attempt to retrace Valencia's trail, nearly ending in Broyles repeating Valencia's hideous experience, is in the Journal of Arizona History, 1982, Vol. 23, p. 357, call No. F806 A762. TW

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