Desert Camping: Brave the Summer or Wait ’til Winter?

Mojave

With summer vacation at our doorstep, the time for booking travel is now. The American Southwest, as a treasure trove of natural wonders and awe-inspiring landscapes, is always a popular travel destination for adventurous spirits. Stumbling around the Mojave Desert may be a little more demanding than a trip to Disneyland (then again, maybe not), but participating in the breathtaking scenery and sublime isolation of the Southwest can be tremendously rewarding. If you’re worried about enduring the extreme heat of the summer months, congratulations, you’re thinking logically. Here we weigh the pros and cons of traversing the desert during the summer versus the winter.

Why suffer the summer heat?

The desert is hot. I mean, really hot. Visiting during the summer is a little masochistic. Most people, given the choice between spending July in Death Valley or the temperate hills of Big Sur, will choose the less painful option. Use that to your advantage! Desert destinations are far less popular during warmer weather, meaning parks and facilities will be less crowded. For many desert travelers, isolation is part of the allure. You’ll have the best odds of discovering profound quietude when the sun is at its hottest.

Less traffic also means lower rates. When demand is low, so are the prices at hotels, resorts and restaurants. By avoiding the crowds, you’ll avoid paying peak-season prices.

Remember, the heat won’t kill you. Well. It could. But if you’re smart, you’ll be a-okay. While not as developed as more populated parts of the country, the desert is equipped with enough modern conveniences to keep you reasonably comfortable. If you’re staying at a hotel, you can expect pools, air conditioning, ice machines and the like. Desert folk are well-practiced in the art of keeping cool.

The trick to surviving the heat is to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. Schedule hikes and excursions for the mornings and evenings. Use the afternoon to lounge, sleep, swim and hydrate. Following this schedule will greatly reduce the effects of the excruciating heat.

The final reason to go ahead and book that summer trip is purely philosophical. When’s the last time you were humbled by nature? To experience the desert in all its terrifying beauty, you need to place yourself in its most extreme conditions. Hiking the canyons and dunes of Death Valley in mid-July will give you a taste of the desert’s true power. It’s a good way to suffer a heat stroke, sure, but it’s also a good way to respect and comprehend the land in all its raw majesty.

Why wait ’til winter?

Simple. Cool weather. Some parts of the desert get downright cold, but many areas become newly habitable. Travelers from the north come seeking warmer weather, crowding popular attractions and driving up prices. But hey, some people prefer being part of a community of travelers to the sometimes stifling pressure of deep isolation.

The winter weather naturally allows travelers to be more active. Without the summer sun beating down and sapping your energy, more recreational activities open up. Hiking, biking and ATV riding become much more feasible when you’re not battling 110° heat. You should still keep well-hydrated, but the threat of dehydration is significantly lower in cooler weather.

Some of the top desert locations to visit in the winter include Death Valley, Big Bend and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If you’d like to see some snow, head to higher elevation. The Grand Canyon, for example, usually gets a good powdering.

The verdict

What time of year you visit the desert depends on your motivations for traveling. If you’re looking for a vacation characterized by comfort and relaxation, clearly the cooler months are for you. On the other hand, travelers seeking a more profound or even spiritual communion with nature may appreciate the extreme conditions that drive away the tourists. So in deciding when to explore the desert, simply ask yourself, “What kind of traveler am I?”

  • justpicky

    USAA Federal Saving Bank ……..good choice ……..
    Navy Federal Bank ……..
    Local Credit Union ……….
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Would never bank with Wells Fargo , Citibank , B of A , and there’s
    several others …Banks are the reason why credit cards went south .
    And why home mortgages fail . Banks felt they couldn’t fail , because
    they were to big ……The blame for this economy ….because of Greedy
    CEO’s , Mortgage Companies , realtors , and many others including polictians …
    What they didn’t tell the public …..we’re in a 13 year Recession …..2007 – 2020
    As far as credit cards they’re only good for Emergency , one card is enough
    not over $1,000 ….

  • Scott

    Dupont Community Credit Union (mydccu.com) offers Grow Green Checking at 2.75% APY

  • Matthew Felsted

    Hmm.. This seems to be an insanely bad idea as the national inflation rate is greater than the amount you can earn with the top rate listed on this page. You’d actually lose a ton of money at these rates.

    • Henry

      Yes, but unless your hiding money under your bed, you’re giving a brick and mortar bank your money while getting .001% or some pathetic return for it. To think you’ll get several times the rate of return w/ online banks, you don’t have to be Einstein to know its stupid to leave your $ with the traditional banks

  • SAVEA DOLLAR

    you can get 3,5% at MCI credit union free checking with 1 bill pay or direct deposit &10 debits also TEXAS FIRST BANK OFFERS 2% With same deal up to 10000$ at Texas First bank & 25000$ at MCI credit union

    • me

      there is no “mci credit union” according to google. did you mean mcu? if not, what is mci credit union website address?

  • SAVEA DOLLAR

    it is is MCT credit union for Port Neches,Nederland, Orange &Bridge city Texas Mid County Teacher;s credit union

  • SAVEA DOLLAR

    phone #800 846 1751 MCT credit union

  • SAVEA DOLLAR

    the checking account at MCT is called Kassasi It lowered its rate to 2.5%

    • me

      as of this month, they’ve lowered it to .75%. seems they did a bait and switch. get your money at the lure of a high rate, then steadily drop it off to match national averages.

  • Heronva

    Hi NW,

    There’s a bank in my area not showing up for my zip code with great local rates. The bank is: Cardinal Bank, zip 22401, 1.01% for a First Choice Checking account. Website: http://www.cardinalbank.com. How do I make it display. I found it several years ago. It has went from 2.01, 1.21, and now 1.01.

    • NWjohn

      Thanks for the tip! We’ve made sure to add the account.

  • topcommenter

    Bank X? What kind of people are opening accounts with these cartoon sounding places??

  • laviatrix

    Looks like the 1.25% APY 2Y CD offer from SalemFiveDirect is no longer valid. Their site is offering 1.15%.

    • NWjohn

      Thanks for the heads up. We’ve made the appropriate corrections!

  • chris1010

    Login troubles with Bank5Connect did not instill confidence.

  • Charles Gable

    Your missing Penfed I dont know how long it will last but as of today they are offering 3 year Rates at a whopping 2.00 apr 2.02 apy with only 1,000 minimum

    • Saida Shamim

      They are now paying 3.04 for 5-Years CDs

  • Drafter31

    The best Rewards Checking account without question is “Bank of Internet USA” …A Federal Bank out of San Diego, CA. FDIC Insured…
    You earn up to 1.25% APY* on all balances $150,000 or less and it only takes $100 to open…
    * You have to have $1,000 direct deposit once per month
    * You need to have a minimum of 2 On-line Bill Payments per month
    * You need to have a minimum of 6 debit card purchases per month
    This is easy, I just live my life and I naturally jump through the bank’s hoops to get the 1.25% interest rate on my money…

    • Bill Fold

      So you jump through hoops for twelve months to make $12 bucks. Even the banks pay poorly for labor.

    • Julia

      I’m getting 2.75% through University of Iowa Community Credit Union. No minimum balance (I think the max is $25,000), just have to have 1 direct deposit and make 12 credit card purchases with my debit card a month.

  • Jon Vawter

    WHY don’t you have Credit Unions on your list?? LMCU pays 3%, Fort Sill CU pays 2.5%, SW Air CU pays 4%, Consumers CU :3.01%; etc.
    With Credit Unions you own the institution that is holding your $$$! Not some billionaire!

    • NWjohn

      Hi Jon – We do have many credit unions listed in this comparison tool. Just enter your zip code and choose “Include credit unions” to see them.

      However, I believe the specific accounts you’re referencing are rewards checking accounts, which we don’t currently include here because they require meeting a few qualifications to earn the high rate, and then that rate is usually capped at a certain balance. They can be great accounts though. We feature many of them in our checking account comparison tool here: http://www.nerdwallet.com/checking-accounts/

      • Jon Vawter

        I clicked the link you gave and was still unable to find any of the credit unions that have more than 1% on their checking accounts. Also, I did choose “include credit unions” in my first search. Yes, they are generally called “rewards checking account” and yes, they typically require a direct deposit and or monthly payment to a creditor, and 10 to 12 credit transactions/month with a maximum balance of $10,000 to $15,000 which the 2.5%+ interest rate would apply. All checking accounts have some requirements and while this type of account is not for everyone, there is a percentage of consumers that would appreciate the information. At $10,000 balance w/ 3%,I receive approximately $300/year. CDs don’t pay that these days; also my $ is readily available in case of emergencies!

    • steve

      are credit unions fdic insured?

      • NWjohn

        Most credit unions are federally insured just like banks, but by the NCUA rather than the FDIC.

  • lighterthanyouthink

    Residents of Mass and Rhode Island are INELIGIBLE for accounts at Bank5 Connect. Which is really a shame since it has great rates for both savings and checking accounts. Hoping you can make it disappear from your chart when people enter a zip code from one of these states. Would have saved me a lot of wasted time, since their website doesn’t seem to indicate this until you begin the application process. :(

  • MichaelRC

    At least one of your rates for Lake Michigan Credit Union are incorrect. e.g. Money Market account with $50K deposit earns 0.4%, not 0.35% as listed.

  • MarkyD

    My bank in Denison, Texas, Independent bank, pays 2% if you meet the qualification of auto deposit a check and use debit card, not including ATM, 12 times and receive e-statements…

    • Heronva

      Your bank can afford to pay you 2%, if you are racing to make 12 debit charges per month and have a direct deposit with them too. They make money off your debit charges and your deposits. I prefer using an online money market account (e.g. Amex or Sallie Mae) were there are no such stipulations or min/max deposits required. This way I can then use my reward credit cards (Fidelity Amex or Cap One) to earn $400 or $500 per year in rewards, but this is the logic I use… I am others have better ones.

      • MarkyD

        Don’t care how they get paid, with the money I keep in a balance in my checking, it is free money to me every month. All I have to do is buy 3 bananas a week and charge them each separate and that is 12 debits, and most people with social security have to do auto deposit anyway, so I get a couple hundred interest off that too. I have the cards and get my money that way too. It is all free money to me. I pay off at end of month every month, no matter what the amount is and I get $400 to $500 on top of that.

  • jalo12

    why would any body waste their dinero on these chump change rates its all abut mutual funds baby

  • NJacobs61

    For 2-year CDs, Lake Michigan Credit Union currently has a base APY of 0.9% (or 1.15% for the VIP rate), not 0.5% as listed in your table.