Enduring Seasonal Consequence, Tolerance and Hostility within the Sonoran Desert…
The wilderness surrounding Tucson is fascinating and beautiful to say the least. Within a short distance and a just a few hours from Tucson you can hike through several biotic zones and gorgeous landscape offering some of the best hiking experiences any trail junkie would appreciate. Some come here for the views and landscape, some come here for the geology, and some come for the multitudes (and chance sighting) of wildlife, and many, most in fact, come for the almost perfect weather.
I came for the hiking, the challenging terrain, and to experience the many seasonal pleasures the Sonoran Desert offers. I was fortunate to first arrive in Tucson at the very beginning of monsoon season, a remarkable time of year that some southern Arizonans consider an actual season, myself included. In other words, a twelve-month seasonal life cycle in southern Arizona encompasses summer, fall, winter, spring and monsoon. Although I tend to believe our spring and fall seasons here to be rather short and winter entertainingly mild, monsoon is particularly inviting and without a doubt our most exciting and energetic season. Monsoon, defined by it’s erratic thunderstorms, torrential, horizontal rain, high wind and cool temperatures, also happens dead smack in the middle of summer literally dividing our summer in half, with monsoon temporarily cooling our environment for at least a couple of months, making southern Arizona summers amazingly bearable.
We’re currently in the initial stages of summer, until early July when the monsoons typically arrive, and even though the summer season doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, the average temperature in Tucson these past couple of weeks has been well over 100ºF. The overall yearly average temperature in our little region of the Sonoran Desert ranges from cold to cool evenings in the winter and from warm to extremely hot daytime summer temperatures, making the season changes quite difficult to determine. After eleven years of living in southern Arizona I really have no idea when our winter and spring seasons begin and end judging by seasonal definitions and solstices, it just sort of inconspicuously happens, highlighted by some degree or element related to temperature and barometric pressure. The temperatures tend to blend so well that extreme season and temperature changes just sort of creep up us until we’re fully enveloped. When summer temperatures do arrive, they arrive with abandon and I wish with all my strength and energy and every moment of that time for the beginning of monsoon, and that monsoon would begin earlier than the year before. Monsoon, fortunately, is about as close to clockwork as possible, always something to look forward to, to count on, and although I would really rather enjoy the moment I’m currently experiencing, I anticipate monsoon with every baited breath once summer begins and I’m always grateful for it’s return. Summer in southern Arizona is hot and dry, and famous for the proverb, “but it’s a dry heat”, and monsoon is a wonderful reprieve. When and if monsoon arrives late and not like clockwork, wanes early in the season or presents a rather tranquil season, there’s definitely a sort of mourning that takes place, a harsh reality that I’ve felt before, and at other times, monsoon has released an unforgettable fury. Monsoon is not just important to the sanity of a hiker but to every water-dependent being in the desert.
The negative effects of low humidity and extreme dry heat, temperatures in the 90º’s and well into the 100º’s, is that the desert floor is no place for a warm-blooded hiker, hiking being my favorite activity. Granted I’ve become quite accustomed to hiking in temperatures ranging in the mid-90º’s, but once the temperature splays beyond the mid-90º’s, I immediately acknowledge the fact that I dauntingly consider myself a victim of seasonal consequence, tolerance and hostility; with considerable forethought and caution deliberated before I begin any summer hike. And it’s not just the high, immensely dry heat and exhausting summer temperatures but the amplitude of prickly flora, poisonous reptiles and lack of water, all lending a bit of aggravation to southern Arizona summers. Thus, a hiker’s options or plan so to speak, in southern Arizona, summer edition (and let’s face it we’re going to hike), is simple and includes carrying no less than 2 liters of water per hour (1L of water weighs 2.2 lbs.) of hiking time, arriving at the trailhead before sunrise and returning before 11am, the time before the sun begins to competitively bake the desert floor. Not only is this region hot and the sun excruciatingly exhausting, but the reflective heat off the desert floor makes conditions beyond 11am very near unbearable. My best option (and one I prefer more than hiking) is backpacking and camping into higher elevations, providing there’s a perennial spring nearby. I also tend to map particular perennial springs and carry water purification equipment in the event of an emergency or decision to remain on the trail longer than expected, which I often do. Water is scarce in the desert, including higher elevations and careful planning is essential. Even in the winter I’ve been caught in higher, cooler elevations in southern Arizona without water and the effects were close to disastrous. During the summer months, there is absolutely no room for mistakes. Night hiking is not recommended as the terrain may be quite difficult to traverse, even with a flashlight. Full-moon night hiking, incidentally, is a wonderful experience, with or without a flashlight.
As a result of southern Arizona summer temperatures and the Sonoran Desert, I have not been hiking too often or for distance in several weeks now. There has been little cloud cover, no rain, and sweltering dry heat. This time is apparently a time for rest. However, these hostile temperatures and personal tolerances are only momentarily in mind and monsoon, a particularly favorite season to hike, is coming and although I may be hiking precariously through heavy thunderstorm and rain drenched trail washes, monsoon is every bit a dream. No amount of hostility and personal tolerance can measure up to the beauty and elegance of monsoon. Driving rains for short periods of time between thunder and lightning, intermittent humidity, water, so much wet, wonderful water, and amazing skies make monsoon the perfect hiking companion. Forgo the umbrella, it will be upended. No rain coat or poncho has ever been comfortable. Bring on the wild Monsoon and I’ll ingest every bit of it. Monsoon is coming, a season worth waiting for!
If you’re interested in the Tucson area weather forecast, past, present and future, click on the link below…
So what’s a hiker/backpacker do to? Embrace personal tolerance and southern Arizona hospitality (hostility), and venture into the unknown as well prepared as possible, or remain indoors with visions of monsoon dancing in our heads? I say, plan ahead, be careful and get out and hike, we will! You’ll regret it if you don’t.
What have we been doing? We have been working quite a bit and we’re really quite close to beginning our eCommerce website for Wild Drake. Our natural cuisine is tremendously nutritious, fully sustaining our endurance hiking, and our extensive line of trail apothecary, also natural, has been an essential addition on the trail. Our line of tested apothecary items currently includes lotions, salves, scrubs, bug repellant and tooth powder, (many more will be added) are all as essential as life itself on the trail. We’re very excited about initially releasing our hydrator, Hydraulic™, in many nutritionally-boosting flavors; our Bios™ energy bar; our newest creation and nutritionally specific food/beverage enhancement, Hike™; AscenTea™ and DescenTea™ Teas; etc. etc. Hey, and our products are wonderful for in-home use, too!!
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Please observe our Leave No Trace principles and avoid lighting campfires during this hot, dry season in all of Arizona and the Southwest. Thank you!