So here's the scenario: You have been sent to investigate reports of an unknown object crashing in the desert, in a spot that is very inaccessible, by any other means then by on foot. You have printed out your topographical maps, and have driven to within a mile of the crash site, but uneven ground and rough terrain force you to park and hike the rest of the way in. Your evidence kit is packed in your backpack, and you are cautiously moving towards the scene and taking readings with your Geiger counter and TriField meter. You can see something approximately one hundred feet ahead of you and you raise your camera to try and take a picture when all of a sudden the battery dies. Frustrated, you pull out your cell phone because you know that you can at least get a quick picture with it, and to your amazement it too has quit working...In fact, a quick check reveals that all of your equipment has failed. All of a sudden there is a blinding flash, and whatever was there before has disappeared, and you are left out in the middle of the desert with nothing to guide you.
Not all Field Investigators have the benefit of military training, or for that matter even Boy Scout training. Fortunately for me I have both, which has helped me on numerous occasions to make the most out of challenging situations. Even though some might have had extensive training, a little review here will only reinforce lifesaving knowledge.
Here I am going to split this exercise into two parts; day and night. In daylight hours determining your cardinal directions (N, S, E, and W) is very simple and can be done in just a few minutes. The first thing that you want to do is find a stick or branch (a pencil will do if you can't find a stick) and stick it in the ground. At the tip of its shadow, place a rock or other marker, then wait ten to fifteen minutes. Place another rock where the tip of the shadow is now, then draw a straight line in between the two markers. This is your east-west line. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so the first shadow mark is always west, and your second is always the east end. Draw a line at a right angle to your east-west line. This is your north-south line. You have now just determined your directions and thanks to the fact that you downloaded your topographical map, you will now be able to find your way back to your car.
During night hours, obviously the above method will not work. Hopefully though, the sky is clear enough for you to see the stars. Man has navigated by the celestial heavens for thousands of years, and it's fairly simple to at least get your relative bearings without too much effort. In the northern hemisphere we navigate by using Polaris, or the North Star, while in the southern hemisphere the Southern Cross is used. For this demonstration we will assume that we are in the northern hemisphere. First locate the Big Dipper. The last two stars in the "cup" point directly at Polaris, which is about five times as far out as the stars in the "cup". Facing Polaris you are facing north with the east on your right and west on your left.
Remembering these simple yet effective methods can at least keep you from becoming hopelessly lost, and might even help to save your life.