WHERE TO FIND WATER?
One is always learning from nature. Several principles serve to aid; water flows downhill. So we are not surprised to find water near the tops of mountains indicated by a lush area or a thread of green "verdancy" coming down a slope.
Water is also prone to lie near the base of hills where it can often be recognized by the density of vegetation. When country is flat and open, long meandering tangles of such brush and shrubs as alder and willow will tell us their tale.
WHEN TO FOLLOW GAME TRAIL
Those trails often indicate water presence. A usually reliable indication is a marked increase in the deepening and widening of the trail. So do follow these trails. If traveling in the North America, you will come to recognize that such trails commonly mean a muskeg (bog) lies ahead and that the easiest procedure will be the following an animal’s path around it.
Water seeks the lowest level available and in the desert, these may be underground. If you see hills, head toward them, for the likeliest place to find water is at their base.
Perhaps you have come across the thin shallow bed of a stream. Even though it is dry, water may lie beneath the surface. Hunt for a low place in the bed and dig. The same procedure applies in the case of dry lake bottoms. The presence of any water will soon be indicated by damp sand.
Game trails in desert country usually lead to water. Follow them downhill if the land so slopes. Otherwise scout around till you can make sure which direction the paths have become more frequented; this will be the way to go.
If you happen upon a palm, you can depend on water being at hand generally within several feet of the base of the tree. Reed grass is also a sound sign that moisture is near.
However, in general, it is futile to search for water near desert plants, for this one has already taken it. Instead, use the plant roots which you dig, pull and section off.
For cactus, cut off the head and avoid the milk.
In the Arizona desert, there is a bottle shaped cactus which contains near 7 quarts of water, but only in Arizona. With a good knife it will take nearly 40 minutes of hard work to cut the very tough and prickly skin.
The water is in the plant, not in the soil. The only danger comes from milky sap as seen from cactus in African desert.
The Barrel Cactus is the milky exception.
One may not find Barrel Cactus if in the wrong region of the desert. If you find one, to get the juice, cut off sections of that cactus and be wary of spines. Mash them in a container.
You can drink any resulting fluid on the spot or pour it into a second container as often as needed. If you have no utensils, you can mash segments of the cactus one by one and suck the pulp.
Don't attach too much importance about stories of contaminated wells. The acid taste of certain salty or alkaline waters rich in magnesium are the cause.
Desert waters by the nature of their surge are generally better filtered and clearer than your city water. Yet, better boil that water or add Iodine or Halazone pills especially in native villages or near inhabited places.
DESERT SURVIVAL - WALKING
In the Desert, adapt yourself to it, rather than try fighting it.
Desert natives refuse to do any violent effort during the hottest hours of the day and as the animals do; they drink and drink as soon as possible.
It has been registered desert walking of 140 to 350 miles (225 to 563 km) between 10 to 20 days, while walking only at night and with only a little water from plane crashed survivors.
Here is another illustration to prove the point. An American called Rodger Jones, in August 1953 was stranded on a road in the Great Salt Lake Desert, when an axle of his car broke down.
As a former Marine, he had taken a short survival course and he did the right thing. He lay down in the shadow of his car (outside) and slept through the hottest part of the day.
Around 6pm when the sun had lost its full impact, though the temperature was still around 95ºF (35ºC); he set off along the road. He knew there were steel water tanks for tourist at regular intervals.
Twice that evening he came to one of those tanks painted bright red and drank as much as he could, also filling up his water bottle. Wherever he found any shade he stopped for a rest.
Every so often he collected large stones and laid them out on the road to spell the word HELP with an arrow showing the direction he was walking in.
The next day a car driver who saw one of those signs, at once followed the arrow and caught up with Jones after a 4 hour drive.
He was resting in the shade of a rock and his condition was excellent despite a midday heat of 110ºF (43ºC).
Another family who also got stranded did survive by laying close to the car shadow, applying lipstick to the blisters and swollen lips of the husband and children and covering everyone cheeks and arms with rouge.
Discovering that the ground was cooler a few inches below the surface, she and her husband buried the children up to the neck in sand and applied sand to the children's faces, then they did the same for themselves.
In most deserts, the temperature a foot below the surface is less than 72ºF (22ºC) and on hot summer day, it may be 18 degrees cooler than at the surface directly above.
Using urine collected earlier during the day, they dipped some bit of clothing in the can and press them on children's face, the smell was unpleasant, but the moisture was refreshingly cool.
They were later rescued in good health, but if they had decide to walk off in bright day, they would have been either dead or in very bad conditions. It pays to learn the tricks of survival.
DESERT TRAVEL HINTS
Travel at night as much as possible.
Sluggishness of the digestive system is a natural consequence of going without normal amounts of water and nourishment.
This condition need not cause concern and will re-adjust itself when normal conditions resume. So don't take any laxative under such conditions for it depletes the body of further fluid.
Dew which settles after cold nights in many stretches of deserts has also been a life saver. Survivors have mopped it from the metal of their wrecked plane or collected it in tarpaulins.
Dew must be collected before the sunrise, for it evaporates quickly. An abundant dew can give a little more than 1 litre of water/hour. Thirsty Bedouins sometimes dig up cool stones just before sunrise and wait till dew settles on them, then lick the stones dry.
In many desert regions according to Israeli scientist Shmuel Duvdevani, dew falls in a quantity which would amount to 25 inches (63.5cm) in a year.
During the war, one of the strangest sources of water were the wreck of burned out or shot up jeeps and tanks and trucks. Airmen, after crashed, walked 20 miles (32 km) a day filling up their water bottles regularly from the radiator of such vehicles. (This is a good idea unless the radiator contains glycol ether which is anti-freeze, a toxic substance.)
BEDOUINS WATER EXPERTS
Survival experts have taken great interest in the methods of Bedouins with their amazing sixth sense which again and again leads them to sources of water.
Morning and evenings, for instance, they listen to the twittering of birds to locate where the birds get their drink. They also find water holes by watching the direction in which birds are flying or by following animals trails. Flocks of birds circling over one spot, excepting vultures, usually indicate a drinking place in the desert.
Of course the water there is not always pure said a survivor who found such a water hole. There was such a stench of sh** that he was almost sick. But his thirst was greater than his disgust. He had no iodine to disinfect water nor anything to make a fire with and boil it, so he drank it and was none the worse. I should point out, that he should have dug a hole nearby (9 feet) and let the water seep through thus safer in some ways. 9 feet would also get rid of water contaminated by radiation.
Dense clouds of flies swarming over a place in the desert show Bedouins where there was water only a short while before and they almost always find it worth digging there.
Bedouins also have discovered fairly large supplies of water either on the edge of a desert very near salt lakes or in the middle of deep dune valleys. Rain water collects there, seeps into the ground and settles between different layers of soil.
If, while digging, they hit upon wet sand with a dry layer underneath it, it is a sign that the water has already drained off farther downhill or evaporated in which case they start digging again in a lower lying spot.
Almost every desert has wadis, where sometimes water is still found only a few feet under a surface which is apparently bone dry. Of course, there is often no more than a layer of mud left, but thirsty people have pressed it into a cloth and drunk the water unharmed. Those who died from it never told their stories.
They dig a small hole in the mud, stick a suction pipe into it, then suck the moisture out of the ground drop by drop. A grass filter stops any sand getting into the bottom of the pipe. Water not needed at once is stored in blown-out ostrich eggs in which quite a large amount of liquid can be carried.
If water tastes very soapy or salty, it may be poisonous. In the Gobi Desert for instance, there are springs which contain alkali. In Arizona several springs contain arsenic and a spring in the Sahara contains so much chlorine that it corrodes clothes.
WHERE TO FIND WATER IN ROCKY SOILS
Water easily disintegrates limestone and digs caverns which is where you will find springs and water sweating.
Because of its porosity, lava retains much water, so you will find springs along valleys which crosses old lava flows.
When a dry canyon cuts across a sandstone or gritstone layer, there is water which sweats on its walls.
In a region rich in granite, dig a hole in the green grass and you will discover water coming up.
IN SOFT SOILS
Water is ordinarily more abundant and easier to discover in soft than in rocky soils. The phreatic sheets often come to surface in valleys and slopes.
The springs and sweating are found in the high level line of the river waters after those have retracted away.
Before digging to find water, try to discover the signs which indicates its presence. The bottom of a valley, at the foot of a sharp slope, a corner of vegetation which has sheltered a spring during rainy season, a low forest and sea shores, are among many places where the hydrostatic level lies under the surface.
There is no need to dig deeply in order to find water. Above the level of the phreatic sheet, there are small streams and ponds. However, those waters are contaminated and dangerous even when far away from any civilization. Example: Springs below towns.
Dig in dry spring beds; water often hides under the gravel. Mountain slopes usually hide springs at their feet.
OTHER SOURCES OF SUPPLY
Creosote plants, Willows, Elder Berry, Salted Herbs grow only where water is near the surface.
By a starry night, one can with a handkerchief mop up and gather up to 1 quart of water per hour from damp soils where you see flies.
INSECTS, BIRDS AND ANIMALS INDICATORS OF WATER
Bees in an area are a certain sign of water. Rarely will you find a hive of wild bees more than 3 or 4 miles from fresh water. A bee flies a mile in 12 minutes.
So you can be sure if you see bees that you are not far from fresh water, but you will probably have to look for further indications before you find the water supply.
Many ants need water, so if you see a steady column of small black ants climbing a tree trunk and disappearing into a hole in a crotch, it is highly probable that you fill find a hidden reservoir of fresh water stored away there. This can be proved by dipping a long straw or thin stick down the hole into which the ants are going.
If wet, then water is there. To get the water, do not on any account chop into the tree. If the hole is very small, enlarge it with your knife-point at the top. Make a mop by tying grass or a rag to a stick. Dip the mop into the water and squeeze into a container.
Another method is to take a long hollow straw and suck the water you need from the reservoir. These natural tree reservoirs are very common in dry areas, and are often kept full by the dew which condensing on the upper branches of the tree, trickles down into the crotch and into the reservoir inside the tree.
Water reservoirs are very common in the She-Oaks (casuarinas) and many species of Wattle.