Desert navigation class

Black Rock Desert, August 28, 2014

"Why, when the fun in a journey can be in understanding the world we move through, would we want to hand that all over to a GPS unit?" (Tristan Gooley: The Natural Navigator)
On Thursday 28th of August I will give a class on desert navigation techniques that can be applied in the Black Rock Desert, for a maximum of 10 persons. The playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada is a very special place: there are no nearby landmarks, not even contour lines. The staple of desert navigation is bearings on distant landmarks (David Seidman, Wilderness Navigator) and dead reckoning (Mark Johnson, The Ultimate Desert Handbook, chapter 9). It will be necessary to identify distant mountain tops from the map and use them as landmarks.
You will have to get out of your vehicle with your precision compass.
Subjects (as far as we can come in one day):
  • vehicle navigation
  • dead reckoning
  • identifying reference points, mountain profiles and finger prints
  • triangulation
  • your digital camera for enhancing perception, for remembering and measuring
  • navigation with limited visibility (dust storms, smoke)
  • vertical angles
Bring a precision compass, protractor,
Precision compasses
ruler with millimeters, pen and/or pencil, some paper, calculator perhaps for distance calculations. Bring your digital camera and a big dark cloth or poncho to look at the screen of your camera. A SLR-camera will be easier to take pictures in the bright sunlight, but even then you will have to look at the results and discuss them with other people while looking at the screen. Even inside your vehicle there is too much light, reflected from the white sand. Hi-tech people might bring their laptop to see their pictures on a larger screen. If you have binoculars with a compass and mils reticle (e.g. a Steiner Commander), bring them. Maps will be provided.
We start at 10 a.m., from the 12 mile playa access, (12 miles North of Gerlach that is). A fee of $90 per participant is due. If you want to participate in this class, you can register below, before 0 a.m. Tuesday 26th of August.
Although the world speed record on the ground is from the Black Rock desert (more than 700 mph), a safe speed will be below 30 mph. Don't read map while driving! You may come across deeply rutted and almost invisible "roads". A 4WD with good clearance (because of those ruts) will be necessary.
Carry enough gasoline, water and food for another day. Gas is available in Gerlach and Empire, food in Empire.
Carry extra clothing, nights can be very cold out in the desert.
A shovel might be useful if you get stuck in the mud - some places may be wet and muddy. A darker color of the ground should warn you: wet!
Once you're out, you're on your own!
Camping on the playa is free, but it is not permitted on the surrounding areas. You can also sleep at Bruno's motel in Gerlach or Soldier Meadows Ranch (a bit far perhaps).
Safety tips
At this time of the year a large part of the Black Rock Desert is fenced for Burning Man, but enough space is left for us to get lost. There is no cell phone coverage. Distances are enormous for walking out.


foto Walter Schuit

Walter Schuit, Dutch, as an instructional designer I was intrigued by the design of map-reading instruction, outdoors, no class rooms. I experimented with instruction methods, at first in the Low Countries, then in several summer camps in the mountains of Spain.

* Precision compasses. The same article in Spanish.
* "The difficulty of orienteering".
* In September 2011 in the Journal of Geography "A method for teaching topographic map interpretation".

* In two conferences of the National (i.e. American) Center for Geography Education: "Multiple-choice maps for field work" (2010) and "Contour lines, an experiential approach" (2012).
* "Observing, photographing, identifying mountains" in mountaineering clubs of Madrid. 

* I´ve been several times in the Black Rock desert, Nevada, USA. to practice distance navigation techniques. And in 2012 I gave a course on navigation in that desert. (opinion)
* I participated in orienteering events in Sweden, France, Scotland, England, Spain, Portugal and the USA.