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Springtime in the Arizona Desert

Updated on July 6, 2011

Memories of Spring Then and Now

I can remember, as a child growing up in upstate New York, looking for the early signs of spring. Things like tulips and daffodils beginning to poke their way through the new earth where the snow had begun to melt away from the edge of the house. A crocus or two suddenly blooming amidst the melting snow. Robins reappearing in the yard and flocks of geese flying overhead as they returned from their winter sojourn in the south.

In northern areas, like New York State, there are four distinct seasons and, while there is a transition period between each of the seasons, the transition is usually relatively short and one can easily determine the season by simply looking or stepping outside.

However, in places like southern Arizona one has to be more observant in order to note the changes in the season as we basically have one season that is divided into two phases - the phases being the hot summer phase and the cool summer phase. The hot summer phase usually begins in late May or June but can begin as early as April and lasts until mid-September or October and the cool summer phase which is the rest of the year when daytime temperatures are moderate and evening temperatures cooler sometimes dropping low enough to get a frost.

Mexican Gold Poppy

Winter in Arizona is Really Just a Cool Summer

Living in Southern Arizona where the sun shines most every day and daytime winter temperatures tend to average in the high sixties or seventies, I have found the main signs of spring are the lengthening days and a thinning of traffic congestion as our snow birds begin to leave the area and begin their migration back to the north. Snow Birds being the name we use to affectionately describe the visitors who flee the cold of the northern states and Canada every winter to spend the winter in southern Arizona where the days are warm and the golf courses always open. With the coming of spring they, like other birds who have sought refuge from the cold northern winter by flying south, now turn and head back northward where the winter is receding and days warming.

Of course the American southwest is not all desert with warm winters and hot summers as we are surrounded by mountains in which one can find cold winters complete with snow and ice and cool summers. Most of the time we can enjoy the snow by simply looking up at the snow topped mountains that surround us without having to bundle up and shovel the stuff. If we want a closer look we simply get into our car and drive up the mountain were we can spend the day frolicking in the snow and then return home in the evening to relax in our backyard hot tub or swimming pool.

Winter in the desert is also our rainy season so we do get some days which are cooler and accompanied by rain. On rare occasions the temperature will drop low enough for the rain to turn into a few snow flurries. Every four or five years we get hit with a major, crippling snow storm that can blanket the area with as much as a half inch of snow leaving land and foliage draped in white and bringing traffic almost to a halt for a few hours.

Winter Showers Bring Forth Spring Flowers

To a large extent, our Spring is dependent upon the amount of rain received during the winter. While we rarely get much rain, a dozen or so extra showers during the winter can make the difference between a spring that one barely notices to a memorable one in which the surrounding desert blooms and thrives with beauty and life.

In years with good winter rainfall, the combination of water in the soil and longer days brings about a huge abundance of greenery for a few weeks as plants sprout and cover the brown and normally dry desert. This abundance of vegetable matter brings forth an abundance of of rabbits to feed upon it. Of course, the sudden abundance of fresh rabbit meat running around leads coyotes to breed and multiply as well. In addition to rabbits and coyotes, the surrounding desert is also carpeted with wild flowers as the plants, like the coyotes and rabbits, take advantage of the good conditions to reproduce and multiply.

Picacho Peak

Cacti in Spring

A Lonely Peak and the Wildflowers Around It

While the wildflowers pop up all around, one of the best places to see them in abundance is Picacho Peak State Park where the fields surrounding the peak blossom with wild flowers.

Located just 40 miles North of downtown Tucson, Arizona and just off the Picacho Peak exit on Interstate 10, the park is well known for the abundance of wild flowers that sprout up in the park every year.

Travelers traveling in either direction on Interstate 10 can spot Picacho Peak itself miles before they reach Exit 219, the Picacho Peak exit, as it stands out sharply against the horizon. Not that the peak is that big, being basically a large hill which rises a mere 1,500 feet above the surrounding desert floor. While it is surrounded by much larger mountains in the distance Picacho Peak itself stands pretty much alone in the immediate area.

Unlike numerous similar peaks in southern Arizona, Picacho Peak is not an extinct volcano. Instead Picacho (which means peak in Spanish) was created when large slabs of volcanic rock that had previously been spewed forth by volcanoes were pushed upward in ancient times by a shifting of the Earth's crust. After pushing these slabs of rock upward to form the peak, most of the surrounding land sunk into the huge empty spaces left below ground as a result of the molten rock, that had once filled the space below the crust, having been vometed to the surface by the preceeding volcanic activity.

Thus, Picacho Peak stands high on the surface not because it was pushed up but because the surrounding land crashed down leaving the Peak to dominate the, now most flat, surrounding landscape.

The Battle of Picacho Pass Was Fought Here in Spring

In addition to its wildflowers, Picacho Peak is also the site of another spring time event that took place on the fields surrounding the peak and this was the April 15, 1862 Battle of Picacho Pass which was the western most battle of the Civil War and only Civil War battle to have been fought in Arizona. Like the peak which appears high because the surrounding land is so low, so too, is this battle remembered solely because it was the only one fought in this part of the nation.

The battle was basically a skirmish that resulted when a small Union cavalry patrol stumbled across some Confederate pickets and took them prisoner. A short time later a somewhat larger Confederate patrol came through and, in the ensuing fight, the Confederate prisoners were freed while a Union Lieutenant and two Union privates lost their lives.

Because of its historical significance and the fact that the area in the park is basically unchanged since the Civil War, it has become a spot for Civil War buffs to gather in the spring to re-enact the battle. Like the wildflowers, the size of the re-enactments vary.

In some years there is no gathering while in others a group about the size of the two forces in the original battle gather and re-enact the battle. Then there are other years where a large force representing both sides comes with their families forming a grand encampment for the weekend and re-enacting not only the Picacho Pass skirmish but also the larger battles which took place in New Mexico at Glorieta Pass and Valverde.

Yes, It's an Ostrich

Summer Comes Soon

Spring, of course, doesn't last long and, after a few weeks, the increasing heat and dryness of the approaching summer take their toll on the flowers and travelers who now elect to remain in their air conditioned cars and continue their journey past the peak. The few who care to venture off the Interstate in the heat generally limit their stop to the restaurants by the exit with possibly a quick stop at Rooster Cogburn's Ostrich Ranch to feed the ostriches.


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    • Clara Ghomes profile image

      Clara Ghomes 

      10 years ago

      Excellent Photos of Arizona I like it most. A full of useful info.You've given me some great ideas.Not only was your content awesome, but your layout is also great. I learned alot, thanks. 5 stars!

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      WeddingConsultant - thanks for your comments.

      As to you question, all of the photos, including the ostrich, are mine and I took all of them. You can see more ostrich photos on my Hub entitled "A Visit to the Rooster Cogburn Ostirch Ranch"

      Thanks again.


    • WeddingConsultant profile image


      10 years ago from DC Metro Area

      Another great hub from Chuck. I loved the ostrich photo! Did you take that yourself?

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      ftclick - in answer to your question, yes our altitude is somewhat higher than Pheonix and this helps to keep us a little cooler in summer and does provide us with the occasional snow storm every few years. Tucson is located in a valley formed by the existance of four or so mountain ranges on our sides. So while the land in the city is more or less flat we are never far from hills and always in view of the mountains.

    • ftclick profile image


      10 years ago

      Just curious. Is the altitude higher than Phoenix.. I heard Tucson has some hilly areas. I lived Southeast of Phoenix but I like Northern Arizona more due to the trees and cooler weather.

      Good Hub

    • akeejaho profile image


      10 years ago from Some where in this beautiful world!

      Nice Hub! I was just through the Tuscon area not long ago. I visited Benson where I lived for a bit. It was a bit chilly in January, when we came through.

      I am curious where you lived in upstate New York. I lived in Massena, which is also in upstate.

      Anyway, great Hub and beautiful pictures!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      The poppy is the brightest yellow I have ever seen in nature. Thanks for writing this Hub! Thumbs up.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Nice hub. I was in Arizona once in April, by Phoenix. My friends and I drove up to Sedona, it was a beautiful drive!

    • jkfrancis profile image


      10 years ago

      That's why we live in Arizona. Of course, the summers get a little hot, but it's better than being buried in snow in the winter.

    • Dink96 profile image


      10 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Thanks for a nice hub about my home state. I've often longed for "the four seasons," but would hate the snow and wet that go along with it. I rationalize that it is better to VISIT those places than to live there. Although the snow and wet bring the green and beautiful flowers of their own and lovely gardens and big fat tomatoes that you just can't grow in the central deserts. My uncle had a lovely garden in Huahuacha City, but that is a different climate down there. Gracias, Chuck!

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 

      10 years ago

      Very nice, I was born and raised in Tempe and know the beauty of the desert. Now reside in WILD AND WONDERFUL WEST VIRGINIA.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      10 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Nicely done...I've been through Arizona on a trip but never really had such a view as you presented here...Thanks..For me would be too hot...I like it cooler...Thanks sweetie...G-Ma :O) Hugs & peace

    • raiderfan profile image


      10 years ago from Arizona

      snowbirds suck! almost time to go the river again. Hell Yeah!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      It sounds like I will have to plan a spring trip to AZ. Whild I won't be a true Snow Bird I will be a partical one, trying to escape the Nothern Wisconsin winters.

      Very good hub. Makes one want ot visit the area. You should submit this to a travel magazine for publication. Manke some meony off your writings.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Before reading this hub I knew nothing at all about Arizona, but now, I feel I've been there! Thanks Chuck.

    • Lgali profile image


      10 years ago

      wonderful pictures! nice hub

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thanks everyone for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures.

      Ralph, come on down and warm up and while you are here we can get together for tha drink we have been talking about.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nic pics and text, Chuck. Wish I were there after months of snow and near zero temperatures in Michigan.

    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 

      10 years ago from Florida

      I miss Arizona!! I lived there for four years! It was beautiful, even the 120 degree summers! I was in far southern Arizona, and I loved it!! Thank you for making me feel like I was back there, just for a little bit!

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 

      10 years ago from India

      Chuck..I simply adored this hub with all the wonderful pictures!Felt that I was really in Arizona...Thanks for sharing!


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