Summer Solstice 2017

Today is summer solstice at 9:24 PM (MST); summer’s official start. Temperatures in Phoenix are forecast to reach near 120°, making it the hottest day of the year (so far). The Queen and I are celebrating the end of spring like a couple of mushrooms hiding in the dark while hoping the air conditioner doesn’t fail.

To cope with the increased temperature, we’ve changed our daily routines. We go on our morning walk at 6:30 to take advantage of the cooler morning temperature; although this morning’s low was still 83°. With 20% humidity, eighty degrees should be comfortable and it is in the shade, but this being desert, there’s little shade. There’s something about an oppressive high barometric pressure that intensifies the Sun’s radiant heat, so along our route, we divert to every patch of shade we find like lizards darting between rocks.

I limit my time out in the shop now. Instead of waiting most of the morning for the garage to warm up, I only work the hour before breakfast and I break my chores into chunks to fit the time. At least with that schedule, I get more computer work done in the afternoons.

There are other clues that our exceptional spring is being pushed aside. The roadside flowers I featured in earlier posts, have withered into dried grasses. The stately saguaro, one gluttonously plump with winter rain are undergoing transition to their impression of The Thin Man with their accordion folds compressing together. I wonder if the birds living in the giant cactus’ apartments notice their shrinking floor space.

Prickly Pear and Bagdad Hills
The setting sun shines on a prickly pear cactus and hills near Bagdad, Arizona.

Even the creosote is changing. A month ago they were full of yellow buds and the open spaces between washes were fields of light green resembling dense crops. Their flowers have turned into tiny gray fuzz-balls and the bush begins shedding leaves. They’re conserving water so they can survive out in the summer sun.

Kirkland Valley Sky
The setting sun lights up a line of clouds over Kirkland Valley.

I see out of my window that clouds are gathering above the Weaver Mountain Range. There will be no welcome rain from them today. There isn’t enough moisture in the air for them to swell into magnificent thunderheads. That will come in a couple of weeks when the winds change and bring humid air from the south, and that will be the real monsoon season start. Today’s clouds are just a promise of things to come.

Till then . . . jw

Season of Cactus Flowers

Now, I’m not what you’d normally call a ‘flower guy’. That is, I don’t specialize in flower photography. There are already plenty of people who have mastered that genre. But with the rains we’ve had in the Sonoran Desert, the landscape is almost littered with color. The brittlebush have turned the hillsides yellow and blue lupine line the roads. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take my camera along on this morning’s walk. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

In March, Poppies, African Daisies and Lupine covered the fields. This month, the cacti have started blooming. The succulents have no respect for decorum. When they bloom, it looks like someone picked out the gaudiest plastic flowers from Michael’s and pinned them on. The colors are bright; the petals are waxy and almost garish. It’s wonderful.

Coral Cactus Blossoms
Coral blossoms on a columnar cactus in Congress.

I put up four new images on my Web Site from this morning’s walk. I swear to you that the colors are not over-saturated, especially the Cholla. You should treat yourself, grab your camera or phone and get out on a trail  near you. Take caution however, this lovely weather has stirred the rattlers. Hurry though, the Highway department has already mowed down the roadside wildflowers near us.

Till then . . . jw

Rain; Sweet Rain

We’re saved! I complained in an earlier post about the onslaught of a premature summer. Well, a low pressure front came through a couple of days ago and brought strong winds, thunder storms, some rain, and cooler weather. I had to break out the sweaters again.

It looks as if we will be back to normal for the foreseeable future. Next week’s forecasts show pleasant days broken by intermittent rain days. That means a continued wildflower season.

Lichen and Brittlebush
Blooming brittlebush before a lichen covered outcrop near Wickenburg, Arizona.

The brittlebush is in full bloom now and the cactus is just beginning to blossom. I recommend that you grab your camera and head to the nearest road out-of-town to capture the color while it’s here. March and April are when the Sonoran Desert is the prettiest, but this is an exceptional year. Don’t miss it.

Till then . . . jw

The Land of Two Seasons

Where did spring go? Up until last week, the Queen and I were enjoying the chilly winter days. The temperature was perfect for doing chores in the afternoons. With weekly storms passing through, we’d declare those rainy days as Lazy Days, and use them as an excuse for not working. Instead, we could enjoy the sound of rain on the roof and curl up on the couch with a good book, make a pot of hot soup, and take long afternoon naps.

Because we’re tightwads, we try to keep our electricity bills to a minimum. In winters, we keep the house a little cooler than usual. When days are sunny, we open the blinds to let the morning sun in. If the daily high exceeds the thermostat, we’ll open the doors to warm up the house. It turns out that our home is pretty well insulated and it will hold the heat gain well into the night. In dark and dreary winter days, we put on a heavier sweater and watch TV under throw-blankets.

That was the mode we were in until last Tuesday when a monster high pressure system moved in and decided to stay for a while. That’s what happens in Arizona during the summer. You have proof on the evening news. When you see that the weather map has a big “H” parked over Four Corners, it’s summer.

By last Wednesday, we started wearing shorts and tee shirts. The temperature began to climb through the seventies and kept heading towards the century mark. We’re setting records for the earliest we hit the eighties, the nineties and it may not stop there. I even scheduled my chores in the mornings before it got too hot.

So now, we’re managing the house to keep the air conditioner from coming on. In the evenings, when the outside temperature comes close to the inside thermometer, we open the house up. We shut the blinds to the morning sun and button up the house when the temperatures rise again.

I don’t think of this as summer mode because when summer comes, it’s useless to fight. We’d be better-off putting the house in an ice chest. When the heat is enough to trigger the air conditioner, it will run until winter. That’s how one copes in Arizona, we have two seasons, ‘Hot’ and ‘Not-As-Hot’.

Till next time . . . jw