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A Day in the Life - Sonoran Desert Small Town Living

Updated on August 30, 2011
Saguaro in bloom 100 feet from my house
Saguaro in bloom 100 feet from my house | Source

Few people living in temperate suburban America can claim that their lives are ruled by the weather. But some of us live in the extremes. My town is one of those places.

I live in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in a small town established in the valley of three mountain ranges. My house rests in an area of steep hills and valleys, with a view of Vulture Peak, named after the establishment of the Vulture Mine during the 1860s. My neighborhood is a mixture of 30-40 year old homes and brand new development. The homes in my neighborhood have large lots peppered with the unusual vegetation that draws so many curiosity seekers to our part of the country. Suspiciously absent to the newcomer is grass. No-one bothers. the natural desert environment takes over and exotic native cactii and other heat-tolerant plants from Arizona, Mexico, South America, Africa, Australia make their way into our gardens.

After a rain, which happens only seasonally, and then in mild deluges, the neighborhood smells of creosote and sometimes oranges.

In the desert, trees have black, gnarled and knotty bark that is tough and gristled, like some of the ol' timers that live in trailer parks and motor homes. The leaves on desert mesquite trees are tiny and frilled, with a feather-like quality that doesn't quite fit with the scraping, scabby bark of the very same trees. Desert mesquite trees and palo verdes (green trees for you Spanish speakers) dominate the landscape in the arroyos and washes, where rainwater runs and is absorbed into the thirsty ground.

The area is a dusty landscape of browns and silver, grey greens. In the springtime, with a just a little bit of luck and a reprieve from the intense heat we receive, the land is dotted with yellow and sometime orange flowers, on palo verde trees, on creosote bushes, and on the spindly silver stalks of desert marigold. Cactus plants are the lone exception, seasonally exploding into brilliant flowers of fuchsia, blood red, pearl white, and peppermint pink. Some of the prickly pear cactus plants are purple, the cactus ears absorb minerals from the ground.

In front of the high school, a prickly pear in bloom touts the school's colors: purple and gold. The ears are purple and the flowers are gold. An amazing sight.

My little house has a view of the blue mountains yonder, my neighbor's white mare, and an eclectic mixture of homes dotting the hills. Out my back windows we keep bird feeders and sometimes watch as snakes and hawks and owls scout out their prey. I am amused at lunchtime in the spring when the animals are still active, but seeking out shade, to see lizards peering into my windows, ground squirrels resting under a wheelbarrow filled with weeds, and a baby bunny panting in the tiniest tuft of grass which grows just outside of my flowerbeds, where the grass finds occasional water.

In the summertime (when I am not pregnant) my day can begin as early as 4 or 5:00 in the morning. The cool air settles in for only a moment after dawn, and then the sun rises and burns off all hope of comfort. The air in Wickenburg is brilliant and still and photo-realistic. The sky is a blinding brilliant blue that reflects off many surfaces. Arizonans get cataracts at alarming rates.

Dawn is a time of hurried activity, when the weather is cool enough to manage. At 6:00 a.m. people rush to the grocery store and the gas pump and onto the walking trail. By 7:00 people stumble indoors to turn up the air conditioning. By 10:00 a.m. the curtains are closed on all the west and south facing windows, and people stare gratefully at darkly painted walls you would never see in the northeast.

Construction workers and landscaping crews begin work as early as 3 a.m., racing the clock for temperatures that won't cause heat stroke up on tile roofs and stucco walls. At 9:30 a.m. I see white vans running in front of the convenience store, where the construction workers buy their lunch.

My day is like many other moms'. I play with my toddler son, feed him breakfast and then a snack, and we run errands. Our trips to the park cease when the thermometer begins reading 85 degrees at 8:00 in the morning.

I hurriedly load the washing machine with my white loads first thing in the morning, knowing that I am racing the clock and the thermometer. I try to wash and dry things before the sun begins to beat down and forces my air conditioner to work too hard.

By 1:00 my son takes his nap, and I turn on the computer to visit Hubpages.

At three in the afternoon I fret about my young daughter getting off her un-airconditioned school bus, and ply her with Popsicles and ice water. It is 99 degrees, and the real heat of summer hasn't yet begun. I know that if school weren't ending in two days, I would call the school and pick her up from there, even with gas prices soaring close to $4.00 a gallon. Every sane parent worries about heat stroke this time of year.

In the evening the desert breathes. A gentle wind blows and an owl hoots on my roof. Sometimes we sit and listen to a coyote howl or a rabbit cry late at night. The mourning doves coo and as evening falls, a Gamble's quail scurries hurriedly with its little chicks following behind in a line.

Sometimes on the way home from the grocery store or a church activity in the evenings, we see a snake in the road. Occasionally we catch a deer, javelina, or a coyote in the headlights. Once we saw a rare desert fox with it's enormous ears.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom
Hedgehog cactus in bloom | Source


Submit a Comment

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Hey High Miler, the weather in the Sonoran desert in Arizona is quite temporamental during monsoon season, which is usually somewhere between July and September. My area of Arizona has enough rain to create a rich habitat full of plants and animal life, but it is still very hot, very dry, and so unique. Wouldn't want to be caught in a monsoon storm, though. Thanks for your comment!

  • High Miler profile image

    High Miler 6 years ago from Santa Monica, CA

    That is an incredible weather pattern in that first photo! I've never seen anything like it. Very beautiful. I've visited the Sonoran desert in Mexico and it seems more arid then in your part of the world.

  • lovekv profile image

    lovekv 7 years ago

    what a beauty,,,,,countinoue in new

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks dealrocker. You look like you are on your way to success writing on HubPages!

  • dealrocker profile image

    dealrocker 7 years ago from California

    Liked the pictures and info. very nice article. Your other hubs are interesting as well. Joining your fanclub and would like to invite you to join mine. :)

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Diogenes, I miss it too. We live in a suburb of Phoenix now and it just isn't the same. Still we like where we are and have great neighbors.

  • diogenes profile image

    diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

    You bring that lovely place to life; how I miss that type of environment...bob

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thank you for sharing that sweet moment. Some people just don't "get it" about the desert, because it is a different type of beauty than the "purple mountain's majesty and amber waves of grain" type of landscapes that we typically think of as beautiful. The elements make living in the desert inconvenient and uncomfortable sometimes, but the rewards outweigh the discomforts.

    My family recently moved into a Phoenix suburb, and we miss life out in the desert. Phoenix has its own individual feel unlike other metropolitan areas but this is still a city.

    About 12 years ago when I was working at Intel, one of my coworkers was from Arizona. I told him my ideal place to live was the Sonoran Desert. He thought that was pretty funny! But I got my wish and loved every minute of it. We hope when our children are raised to retire there or in the mountains north of Wickenburg.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Thanks for sharing your desert life with the rest of us. Though the summer heat sounds daunting, it must be a beautiful life.

    Years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Anza Borrego Desert in southern California (twice) and it was the trip of a lifetime. It was spring and it had recently rained. I must admit that walking up that path, as we were preparing to leave, I cried, my face washed with tears over having to leave such a beautiful place.

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thank you rnmsn! We love the desert, the smell of creosote after the rain is one of its best gifts! I hope you make it home soon.

  • profile image

    rnmsn 8 years ago

    ah yes my lovely sonoran desert! You brougt the smell of creosote to Alabama with this hub! Thank you! mY FAMILY AND i ARE TRYING TRYING TO GET HOME/tUCSON WAY...SOON/WE DONT EVEN CARE IF ITS STLL OVER THE HUNDRE MARK :)

  • Woody Marx profile image

    Woody Marx 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    As a child we often took Christmas vacation in small towns in New Mexico. What a thrill it was! You are so lucky to be able to live there! Thanks for the hub!

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 9 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Desert Blondie,

    We have the same problems with pets here, too. I don't have small dogs but had a cat that we guarded jealously. We wanted to get her declawed because she was scratching my son repeatedly in the face and although we tried everything we couldn't get her to stop. We felt declawing her was inhumane since it would make her completely defenseless against predators. The coyotes travel in packs and do most of their hunting at night. They bait their prey and then surround it. We found a new home for our cat but refused to get her declawed.

    We had a wonderful break from the heat this morning. A cool front rolled in and we headed for the park. I found my friends at the park playing tennis and ran (waddled) through the grass (a rarity here) with my son. Thank goodness he's small. He moves quickly but I can still keep up with him.

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 9 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Decrescendo, i have never traveled to L.A. from Wickenburg, but we drove from Wickenburg through the edge of the L.A. metro area up into the central California Valley. We arrived in Fresno after 8-10 hours of driving. It takes on 3 1/2 hours to drive to Las Vegas frome here. I think a lot of people who never really stop to see Wickenburg think of it as a pit stop on their drive from Phoenix to Sin City :) We are also about 5 hours from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

  • profile image

    Amy_Roberts 9 years ago

    sounds like a beautiful place, i wish i lived in a place as interesting as your town :D

  • desert blondie profile image

    desert blondie 9 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

    Lovely, moving hub! Have been a "permanent" resident of the desert (east of Palm Springs since Dec. 1),..the winter was learning to adjust to unseasonably hot May! Have lived in Seattle, where 60 degrees meant the locals thought it was bathing suit weather, to Oklahoma where semi-high humidity and summer nights at 3am that were still 95 degrees! Even to Alabama where I didn't think I coud breath at 10AM and 85 degrees because of the horrendously high humidity! Now I watch for coyotes all the time (i have small dogs), the only birds I see are road runners, and I'm learning to appreciate a new beauty, the style and form of succulents. I actually dreamed about cataracts last weird! The closest I've experienced is a couple of skin cancer places being "cut out" of my hubsband's skin (see my sun protection with style hub) but think I'm going to bejoy my new life! Thanks for giving me some lovely motivation as my own journey begins!

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 9 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thank you for your encouraging words, all! I love living in the desert. I have lived in many places in my life, including East Anglia, England. The contrasts are fascinating! When I was a child in the 5th grade, I remember going everywhere in my London Fog windbreaker, picking up chestnuts glistening wet, and forgetting to be cold! This was a fun one to write!

  • profile image

    pgrundy 9 years ago

    What a lovely hub. I love the desert. I stayed in the high desert above Los Angeles for a couple on weeks once and it was so beautiful, and um, so hot! But mostly so beautiful. Thanks for bringing that all back to me.

  • VioletSun profile image

    VioletSun 9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

    You write beautifully.  If I could paint, your words would inspire me to paint a portrait of your town as I was able to visualize what life is like in the Sonoran desert as I read your words, from the textures to smells and the trees.

  • solarshingles profile image

    solarshingles 9 years ago from london

    Wannab, thank you for this beautiful hub! I 'did' it from the first to the last word. It is amazing, how weather conditions could determine our life style. If I am honest, I always wanted to experience a desert, a hot dry climate, constant sun almost every day. I've been most of my life surrounded by almost too much water, cold climate, lots of snow and ice. I feel, I could do well in a dry climate, even though it is just another extreme and human body is simply too sensitive sometimes to adapt on rough weather conditions.

    Wannab, it have to be even harder for you in your sunny town, if you are pregnant? I admire your persistence and love towards your little town in Sonoran desert.