Crazy weather in Arizona. What does that have to do with me, you ask? Well, maybe nothing. I’ve been sharing Scouting blogs with you on a regular basis. In many of those blogs I have talked about Arizona and my growing-up days and years there. And since I have been in Arizona for so long, naturally many of my blogs made reference to my Arizona Scouting experience. So, I thought that you might like to know a bit more about Arizona. I’ll give it to you in three installments. This is part 1. You probably didn’t know that you need it, but here it is: Arizona: A Regional Guide – Part 1: The Weather Report.
Recently I wrote a blog post for The Boy Scout. In this article, I reminisced about some of the great hikes and trips taken with my Troop 155 in Mesa, Arizona as I was a Gnubie Scout. As I wrote that article, it occurred to me that many or most of my readers might not know a lot about Arizona and some of the things that I reference. I grew up in Arizona and though I have lived in eleven different states, I have always called Arizona home. I guess I have kind of taken it for granted. Since it is home, it has become second nature for me. But, since I refer to my Arizona experiences often in my blogs I decided that it might be helpful to my fans (if I have any) to know a bit more about the Great State of Arizona. So, here it is … Arizona: A Regional Guide to Hikes, weather, flora and fauna. I hope that it might be helpful to you – or that you might at least find it interesting. You might want to also check out the full article: We had Some Great Gnubie Hikes.
I guess the first thing that everyone wants to talk about when first meeting someone from Arizona is the weather. That seems to become the major topic of conversation.
So, about the weather … Yes, I’ll admit that it is generally a bit hot here. That might be why Arizona could be spelled “Arid-Zona”. Summer temperatures can soar to a cool 122 degrees – the hottest I’ve seen … and I won’t tell you what the winters are like. (That is a well-guarded secret!) In some camps where I have worked (In Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho), I learned by experience that there were basically two seasons there – and those were “Winter and July”. In Arizona, we also have two seasons – “Hot and Hotter!” In fact, we say that your summer sun spends the winter here. One report indicates that there are at least 296 days of sunshine in the Phoenix area per year. And that was probably in a cloudy year. I was going to say “a wet year” but we don’t get many of those. So, yes, it is probably more like 325 sunny days a year. Just sayin’ (as my daughter, Lana, would say)! It may be hot here, but as everyone says, “It’s a DRY HEAT!”
“Well, some folks don’t like the weather in Arizona, but I ain’t one of ’em. Why, the air in Arizona is so fine, tourists stop over the state line just to fill their tires with it. Course, Arizona does get rather hot. But since we started shippin’ in ice from California, our hens don’t lay hard boiled eggs no more.
“As for folks who hate rain, why Arizona is just the spot. We haven’t seen a drop of rain in Arizona since Noah illegally parked his ark at the top of Mount Ararat. It’s so dry, we have to take our frogs to the pool to teach ’em how to swim. And never you mind saving up for a rainy day, cause you’ll never get to spend yer money.
“So there it is in a nutshell. Why I like Arizona. Arizona is full of fine air and fine days. Makes it great fer all them tourists who get a hankering to drive to that Grand Canyon one of our old timers dug up while his wife wheeled the dirt away.” (Quoted from Arizona Weather by S.E. Schlosser – A great website … check it out!)
Well, that is all gospel truth. Yes, Sir, … it is all true! Now I would not lie to you. For, to quote one of my favorite people, “A disposition to commit such was never in my nature …” (JS Hist 28). But, now that I have established some credibility with you, let’s continue …
“It’s so hot in Arizona that…
- the birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
- the potatoes cook underground, and all you have to do to have lunch is to pull one out and add butter, salt & pepper.
- farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.
- the trees are whistling for the dogs.
- you eat hot chiles to cool your mouth off.
- the temperature drops below 95, you feel a bit chilly.
- you can attend any function in shorts and a tank top.
- you discover that in July, it takes only 2 fingers to drive your car.
- you discover that you can get a sunburn through your car window.
- you notice the best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance.
- you actually burn your hand opening the car door.
- you break a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m.
- you realize that asphalt has a liquid state.
A sad Arizonan once prayed, “I wish it would rain – not so much for me, cuz I’ve seen it — but for my 7-year-old.” (Quoted from James Reams at It’s so hot in Arizona that …)
Well, I admit that it really isn’t quite like that! We do sometimes get rain … mainly in January and August – our “rainy months”.
No one likes to do dishes – and particularly in the Arizona summer when it is hot. So, someone got smart and invented a new way to save on cooking pots and pans. This is to cook your breakfast eggs out on the sidewalk – using no pots or pans. My mother often got up early “before it got hot” and would fry up our breakfast eggs out on the sidewalk. And they tasted as good as any egg ever did. We can, in fact, fry and bake a lot of different foods out there. Northerners could warn others about “yellow snow”. We have yellow sidewalks – from the eggs!
Many folks in my part of the Arizona desert wear shorts and t-shirts every day of the year. My own experience taught me that wearing a long-sleeve shirt was the best way to go. The long sleeve provides protection from mosquitoes and other creatures, and especially protection from the hot sun. And the long sleeve makes one sweat a bit and then the breeze (when there is one) blows through and cools you down a bit. And if you are hiking the long pants protect you from the stickery cacti and bugs – that you are bound to encounter.
When I was a 12-year old gnubie we went on a troop hike to Havasupai Canyon. Mr. Nelson hammered on us long before the hike about not taking any extra weight. My friend, Scott Gunnell, took one of those mini cheap plastic raincoats on the hike. It was so small it wasn’t much bigger than a folded up plastic bag. Mr. Nelson discovered the gigantic rain coat while on the hike. And then for the next year as we planned the return trip back there, Mr. Nelson used this situation to impress upon our minds the need to leave home any unneeded weight. He assured us that Scott’s mother must have packed his bags and he didn’t let Scott forget it. He also said over and over again, “It NEVER rains in Havasu in June.” So, on our next trip down the canyon Scott wasn’t about to take that huge raincoat. And that lesson applied to the rest of us as well.
Well, we got down into the canyon and guess what? That first night, it rained cats and dogs – literally. It came down in torrents. Now I don’t have an affinity to either cats or dogs. So, them coming down was not a welcome thing for me. We were then wet dogs all of the rest of the week. We had no tents, no plastic sheets, no nothing. We just rolled out our bags on the sand. So, when our sleeping bags and everything else got drenched this made for real miserable nights the rest of the week. Those darn cats and dogs! (And the water even turned brown!)
I grew up in the desert but if we wanted to experience snow, we could drive about 75-100 miles north – up near the town of Payson (Arizona). This was “up in the pine trees” – a real beautiful area along the “Mongollon Rim” – a geographic rock cliff formation that extends for a hundred miles or more across the northern part of the state. And that is where the name originated for the famous “Mongollon Monster” that hangs out to haunt Scouts. (And that is a story for another day.) But even up by the villages of Payson, Pine and Strawberry, the snow is not always predictable. But, we had a tradition of taking one snow excursion each winter season. That was our big annual snow outing.
We’d pack up our stuff and would head up to the snow – as if we knew what we were doing. Of course none of us were prepared for the snow. We’d take our warmest coats – but these would be like light windbreakers. Real coats were just not known of in our neck of the woods. We desert rats – as we call ourselves – just don’t have the need for a cold-weather wardrobe. We wouldn’t even know what that might mean – so, we really were never prepared for the freezing weather.
It was always kind of a joke as we talked about these freezing winter experiences (with about a half inch of snow on the ground – not nearly enough to really dig in with snow caves, etc.) The adults were most of the joke. Some of the guys really showed their true colors! There was just enough snow to be obnoxious. But, for us desert rats, it was plenty cold. And it was still a challenge to start fires and to cook our freeze-dried hot dogs and burnt hot cakes. (That was before the introduction of Ramen as the Scout Camping meal staple.) Anyway, often the story went that the adults started freezing (as they were holed up in their truck cabs with the heater on) about 3 AM – and some of them actually made the whole camp pack up and head home at that hour.
Then after such an experience, we’d all go back home to brag about our winter excursion escapades. And then we’d bask again in our winter sunshine – never to think again of snow until the next year when the northern Arizona weather chilled off enough momentarily to indicate that there might possibly be enough snow for another outing to be planned. (But such planning had to happen fast since the snow would not last!)
One of those snow outings brings back some interesting memories. Scoutmaster Jim Johnson was the Scoutmaster and he and I planned the trip. Up on the mountain, we survived the chilly night – somehow. Then the next day, we were out playing in the snow – with a stomach full of those burnt pancakes (burned because we generally put the hot cake pan right onto the giant fire that we’d built trying to get or keep warm. There was actually a bit more snow than usual on that outing. We were out in the snow playing “snow hockey” with a blown up car tire inner tube – and were having a great time. Scoutmaster Jim was out there with us. He backed up and planned a giant kick to the inner tube. But, the kick kind of back-fired on him and both feet went out from under him. He was a rather tall guy so he had a lot of beef to be flailing around. Anyway, he went down fast
This kind of put us all into a panic. (And that left me – at age 16 or so – in charge of the whole scenario. (That was in the day before the required two-deep leadership – or cell phones. So, that incident alone made a believer out of me for two-deep leadership.) Anyway, Scoutmaster Jim was kind of “out of it” for a while. Then finally he came back to life. He looked around – still in a daze – and tried to figure things out. He said several times, “What I can’t figure out is what we are doing up here in the snow.” (Actually, we were all kind of wondering that.)
When I was a teenager I worked in a floral shop. [We were not related when I started working there, but later the son of the boss married my younger sister.] In our area we had a lot of folks who were “winter residents” (and I’ll talk more of them later) who lived elsewhere but spent a few months in Arizona. A real popular item that we often sold to these folks was small boxed cactus gardens. They were a real hit. l Everyone wanted to take home a piece of Arizona. And in their minds, that was a cactus garden. (Notice that I didn’t say “cacti”.)
One question that they all had as they contemplated a possible purchase – and that they all would ask, was “How often do you water the cactus?” I would kind of chuckle as they asked the question as I knew what my answer would be. I would always say, “That is easy … you just watch the evening news and when it rains in Arizona, you give your cactus a few drops of water.” They would initially think that I was pulling their leg but then after thinking about it a minute, they’d realize that it made perfect sense.
And if you ever hear of a 12″ rain in our part of Arizona, then you should know that these storms mean that we get 12 drops of rain 12 inches apart. But occasionally, the weather surprises us and we get an August or January cloudburst that really dumps on us. So, that is why I should warn you about “Flash floods”. When we do get a terrific storm (usually preceded by magnificent thunder and lightning), the water can run down our normally dry desert washes and sand in torrents. The problem is that with little water, our sand (of which there is plenty) gets kind of hard and packed down. So, when the rain does come, it just runs down these washes in giant walls of water. They remind one of those we read about when Moses parted the Red Sea and then later it swept down over the Egyptians.
Anyway, these flash floods wipe out everything in their path. I had heard about these “flash floods” but never paid much attention to reports of them. Then my own brother, Kyle, nearly got caught in one – and he made believers out of all of us.
And snow … I think it did snow rather heavily back about 1933 (on the desert floor). But occasionally in a very rare year we can see snow up on the mountains that surround us. And the Superstition Mountains look beautiful in snow. The cacti seem to have a special glow about them on such occasions!
After my wife, Lou, and I had lived in Utah for a few years we moved to California and then finally to my home of Arizona. She had grown up in Utah – so she had plenty of “the white stuff” and loved it. So, she was concerned about upcoming Christmas in the desert. She voiced her concerns to me: She asked, “How do you have Christmas without SNOW?” I quickly replied, “You just love every minute of it.”
At first, Lou thought (as most newcomers) that the desert was dry and dusty – and all cacti. But, now she has become a believer. She thinks that she could never return to a cold white climate – even if it was Christmas. And she can almost see the desert as beautiful – when it is green after a rare rain storm – as I always have seen it. The desert is always so beautiful after even a bit of rain. (But, the grass and flowers on the desert floor don’t stick around long, unfortunately. At the first sign of hot sun, they wither up and die and are then gone with the wind. So, in Arizona you just enjoy the moment as it is there in its glory … and then passes. But, the memory lingers and keeps the desert beautiful forever.
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … In Arizona … and elsewhere Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership” and others at Scoutingtrails. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
Facebook: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs Facebook Page