One of your biggest concerns when camping in the desert will be limiting your exposure to the sun's harmful rays, and because there aren't many naturally shaded places, you should pack a hat with a large brim, and a well-ventilated temporary structure. The desert's powerful sun won't just leave you with a nasty sunburn, it can also permanently damage your eyes, so high SPF-sunscreen and UV-filtering sunglasses are a must.
The heat and sun aren't the only things you'll have to worry about when camping in the desert, though; because the air is very dry and the skies are often clear, it can also get very cold at night. Temperature swings of as much as 40 degrees within a single day aren't uncommon in the desert, so you'll want to take a lot of layers for warm and cool weather when packing for your desert camping trip [source: NPS.gov].
It's pretty counterintuitive, but the desert can be one of the most dangerous places for you and your tent to be washed away by a flash flood if you camp in the wrong place. Washes are dry beds of intermittent streams that are typically located in the bottoms of canyons. When there is no threat of rain, a wash might look like a pretty inviting place to set up camp, because the flow of water can flatten the soil, creating a relatively level plane on which to set up a tent. However, if there's even a hint of rain in the forecast, a wash is the absolute last place you want to find yourself. Because desert storms can be so powerful and unexpected, drowning and fatal injuries caused by flash floods are among the leading causes of death in the desert [sources: Johnson; NPS.gov].
You'll also want to make sure that your car is equipped for desert travel before taking it out into the harsh environment. Car failure in the desert can leave you stranded and vulnerable, so it's a good idea to have a mechanic give your car a thorough inspection before heading out for a desert camping trip. And if you're going to a place that will require you to drive on off-pavement trails, you'll want to drive a car that has high clearance and four-wheel drive.