Minimizing risks that may result in being stranded is the best way to avoid a disastrous end to a venture in remote areas of the west. Dust storms are an ever present danger in the Desert Southwest during the spring season and these blinding hazards often occur in western New Mexico. U.S. Highway 491 and State Road 371 are both tourism corridors that run north and south in western New Mexico and these two roads are plagued by high winds during the spring season. Along with the high winds comes dust storms, especially in the silty dry riverbed or dry lakebed areas. There are areas along these two roads where dust storms are common. It is best to heed the warning signs and be wary when passing through, because zero visibility will be likely and the motor can end up being choked up with dirt.
While traveling through the western end of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness on New Mexico SR 371 last week on the way into Chaco, I ran into a little dust storm situation while crossing a bridge over a dry river bed. I could see the dust storm developing as I approached and by the time I got there it was like being lost in the Sahara Desert! The visibility was just about zero on the bridge, which is a scary thought in itself. The blinding dust storm only affected about 200 yards of the road, but it was indeed a dangerous situation, so slowing down to a crawl was the only option.
Taking it slow is the way to go and if a dust storm is really intense, pulling off on the side of the road with the hazard lights on and shutting the engine off is the best thing to do. A heavy dust storm can damage a motor beyond repair and getting stranded out in the middle of nowhere is not a good option. This is why it is best to shut the automobile down and just ride out the dust storm if things get real bad.
Travel advisories concerning dust storms are good to be aware of when traveling in the wide open spaces of the Desert Southwest. This is especially true in western New Mexico, because this region can be likened to having a powerful air tunnel effect, which can be strong on any given spring season day. It does get windy during the spring season out this way, so for safety’s sake, be sure to slow down for the dust storms when passing through!
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