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Life in Arizona: An Environment Trying to Kill You

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For six months out of the year, we have almost picture perfect weather. Temps in the 70s to 80s. Lows drop to the 40s. We average over 300 days of sunshine each year. Our storms are apocalyptic in nature, but their hand to god nature remind us that something bigger than ourselves exist.

The Sonoran desert is so hauntingly beautiful in the spring, you want to weep as you walk through the fields of wildflowers. Water is rare, yes, but when you see it flow over a once-dry riverbed, or deep red sandstone, you just want to sit in the middle of the river and forget about life.

I’ve spent many a night under the clear night skies watching a billion stars twinkle as I fall asleep, with nothing but a sleeping bag and my dogs to keep me warm. I’ve hiked many miles in the Superstition mountains – starting at a trail-head surrounded by jumping cholla and saguaros – and have fallen asleep that evening in an apple orchard near the base of a waterfall hidden a few miles away.

All of the wildlife in our region understands strength. If you want to survive a grizzly bear attack In Montana, you play dead. But, if you want to survive a bear or mountain lion attack in Arizona, you make yourself bigger than life and never turn your back. That cat will back down.

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[On that same note, if you run into a horde of africanized bees, well just run in a straight line as far as you can. Don’t jump in the pool (they’ll wait for hours for you to surface) and don’t turn around. Just get to shelter as quickly as possible.]

The snakes and other pests are also easily managed. We snake-train our dogs, our cats kill scorpions, and if you can get your pets to a water hose in time, they’ll probably survive mouthing a toad. Yes, our pets are so tough they can handle a water-boarding (but it’s best if you make sure they avoid the toads).

Protect your pets paws by making your dogs wear boots in summer. If you want your horses to survive, be sure they are carefully shod to manage the sharp shale and tricky footing of mountains. Hydration and shade is a must – you shouldn’t be outdoors (nor should your pets) when it’s 100+ degrees outside.

Arizona has some of the most diverse scenery in the world. It’s home to the Grand Canyon, the White Mountains, the Mogollon Rim and hundreds of slot canyons like Antelope Canyon.

We can travel from the scorching heat of the desert to the sandy beach of the Pacific ocean in less than five hours. We can go skiing on snow-covered peaks in less than two. We can be in another country in fewer than three hours.

 

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Travel north and be very observant to see the Mexican Black Wolf in its native environment. Head east to the river and watch wild mustangs play in the Salt and Verde Rivers. Take a drive down south towards Mexico and you just may catch a glimpse of the last Jaguar.

What appears on the surface to be a vast emptiness changes dramatically the second you step foot on a trail. The desert opens up to a vast network of ravines and willow trees lining a narrow creek. The land can transform before your eyes if you enter the desert after a rainstorm; with 600 foot waterfalls suddenly appearing over the cliffs like some sort of magical enchantment.

 

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Our sunsets and sunrises are so magnificent and ever changing, it’s impossible to take in their beauty during a few brief moments. It’s necessary to sit through thousands of them just to get an idea of how complex they are. They are like God’s own reward for suffering through summer.

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Is it hot? Oh yeah… Summers are so hot that it will take your breath away and kill you in a matter of hours if you don’t know how to deal with it. And sure – the temperatures regularly hit 110+ (I remember the summer of 128+!). But, let’s be honest. After 100 degrees, it really doesn’t matter much…

Is the wildlife really trying to kill you? Sure, but they are opportunistic, not mean-spirited. Somehow our ancestors and the wildlife have brokered a fragile peace in order to survive. Mutual respect assures safety. Abandon that respect and you will likely die alone in the desert. To live in Arizona, you must have a deep appreciation of nature and be able to embrace the wildness that goes along with it. The dangers of the desert are a constant reminder of the fragility of life.

Arizona is a land of extremities and to live here, you have to be half-wild yourself to really appreciate it…

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