Until I moved to Phoenix, I hated summer.
Yes, you read that right. I found summer comfort in the Valley of the Sun.
Let me explain.
I’ve spent all my adult life in sweltering heat and humidity, mainly in Florida and Atlanta, but also in Chicago and Washington D.C. These are places where the mercury would routinely rise to 90 or more degrees, with humidity to match—for months at a time. I lived in Atlanta for 25 years, and I remember many, many years turning on my AC in March and still running it at Thanksgiving. Really. I have the electric bills to prove it.
Southern summers are an oppressively damp misery, the kind that requires multiple showers a day and a copious gin-and-tonics to cope. Everyone in the Southeast bellyaches—and bonds—over the summer swelter. But, frankly, I think folks in the Valley complain waaaay too much about the heat.
Not everybody thinks our summers are debilitating. When volunteering at the Cave Creek Information Center, I meet hoards of German and British visitors who holiday here in the summer. They love our sun-drenched days. (And our bargain-priced resorts, too.)
Sure, come June, you can head back to your Midwestern home state or Canadian province, as many snowbirds do. Or you can flee to the beaches of San Diego, as many Phoenicans do. But I’ve never quite understood why anyone would want to drive six hours to share a scrap of brown sand in front of too-cold water with tens of thousands of other ’Zonies. Not me. I stay here and embrace the heat.
Why do I revel in our hottest season? I’m happy to share some of my reasons:
June is hot and dry, perhaps the cruelest month. But by late July and continuing sporadically thorough mid-September, there are monsoons to look forward to—it’s actually our fifth season. Monsoons are spectacular, not only because they bring cooling, life-sustaining rain to the desert, but because the rain releases the distinctive smell of the creosote bush.
I abhor chemical fragrance, but the natural smell of the desert is intoxicating. I stand in the rain, letting it wash over me. I put small towels out to soak up the scent and I carry one with me when I travel to combat homesickness. And the lightning storms that often accompany our rains are, literally, electrifying. My neighbors and I love to sit outside, sipping some cool adult beverages, and watch the show.
Many residents give up outdoor exercise during the summer; that’s a shame. I’m not by nature an early riser, but with the sun rising at 4:30 a.m., cooler temperatures dominate until about 10 a.m.
I prefer hiking at twilight. I know just when to hit the (often blissfully empty) trails to maximize shade and wildlife spotting. Deer, javelinas, coyotes, roadrunners, jackrabbits, bobcats and owls are among the wild things I’ve communed with during the summer.
Phoenix residents are lucky—we don’t have to wait for Memorial Day to take a dip. And we are still splashing in the pool well after Labor Day. Hot days yield to soft, balmy nights. While many folks like to sunbathe, I’d rather moonbathe under starry skies—and often in complete solitude. REM’s “Night Swimming” used to just be a song to me; now it’s my summer anthem.
When temperatures hit triple digits, “desert rats” (the proud moniker applied to those of us who love this place) slow down. Which is as nature intended. Just as animals—and Northeasterners—hibernate in winter, we desert dwellers (human and animal) estivate in summer. Workplaces have abbreviated schedules, businesses open early, reverse happy hours are in full swing, book groups take a hiatus. Napping is practically de riegeur. This makes for a surprisingly livable couple of months.
All summer long you’ll still see patrons of restaurants, bars and shops sitting outside. That’s because thoughtful merchants have installed misters, which emit a fine spray over sun-heated shoulders. Misters run day and night and are often the factor that tips the scale in favor of one venue or another. God bless the inventor of misters.
I’ve lived in Arizona for four years, and I have probably shot a thousand sunset photos. I take them from my car, from my backyard, from a trail, from a rooftop lounge. Our sunsets are renowned the world over—something about our clear, dry air, I think—and they will stop you in your tracks year round. But they are especially brilliant during the late summer. I don’t know why; I just know they are. If you haven’t been here to see them, I can promise you, you are missing an awe- and aaah-inspiring mango-papaya-scarlet-fuchsia sky spectacle.
These are a few of the things that make me a tad defensive about the quality of Phoenix’s summers. I tire of apologizing for them. If our much-ballyhooed heat, dry or otherwise, scares away some visitors, that’s fine by me; it only means I’ve got more of metropolitan Phoenix’s pools and mountains and restaurant patios to myself.
The Sonoran Desert is my soul home, and I’ll thrive this summer, just as I thrived last summer and the one before. This confounds some friends, colleagues and family. But I just don’t think you can call yourself a Phoenician if you don’t embrace your inner Icarus and fly a little too close to the sun.
About the author: Suzanne Wright
Suzanne Wright first stepped into the Sonoran Desert some 30 years ago and was immediately smitten. She has written for national publications such as National Geographic Traveler, USA Today and American Way, but she’s happiest exploring and writing about Arizona for regional outlets like AAA Arizona Highroads, Arizona Highways and the Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix.