Escaping the Southern Arizona Heat
by Michael Yeager
The summer heat in southern Arizona is definitely something to deal with. We could have escaped to Seattle, but since this was our first year here in southern Arizona, we decided to experience it in its entirety. The monsoon thundershowers cool things off, but they are few and far between.
Meanwhile we have weeks of 100+ weather to contend with. There are two choices, stay inside in the air conditioning most of the time, or go to a higher altitude. The later is just what Katie and I did last week. We went to the mountains of Colorado.
Katie had never seen Mesa Verde National Park and I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, so that became our destination. It’s about 400 miles from Green Valley to southern Colorado, two lane highways most of the way and the scenery is beautiful. The southwest has received more than average rainfall this year so everything that grows is either lush green or in bloom.
We stayed in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona overnight to cut down the long drive and to experience that area. The town is at an elevation of 7,200 feet, located in the White Mountains. It boasts the world’s largest stand of ponderosa pines. It is a popular getaway destination for us desert dwellers.
We rented a condo for the night and soaked in the cool fragrant pine air. The maintenance worker told us the units didn’t have air conditioning and didn’t need it, what a wonderful concept.
Our plan was to camp four nights in Mesa Verde National Park. We hadn’t tent camped in years. Part of our strategy for early retirement was getting rid of costly possessions. The first things to go were our Casita trailer and the SUV to pull it. After selling them, we bought a good quality tent and a thick air bed. We were determined to return to the more simple basic style of camping that we had done so much of in the past.
After the first night at Mesa Verde campground, however, I thought we had made a terrible mistake.
Moments after falling asleep, a car pulled into the camp site next to ours and two guys started putting up their tent in the dark. It probably was around 10 PM and they were talking to each other as if they were the only ones in the campground.
One of the guys wasn’t sure whether a girl he had recently met liked him or not. He was meticulously going over every detail concerning how he had behaved around her to his friend. Fascinating as it was, I finally yelled out for them to stop talking.
To our relief, they did.
Ah, finally we could get some sleep. About an hour later, we were both awakened by intense pain in our hips, shoulders and back. The air mattress had sprung a leak and we had been slowly sinking onto the cold, rocky, bone numbing ground.
So we got up off the limp mattress, I hooked up the battery powered blower and filled it again with air. We climbed back into our sleeping bags and desperately tried to fall back to sleep before the air again was depleted forcing us to repeat the process all over again.
With the first light of morning, we both felt relieved to have survived the night.
So our first day of camping was spent driving into Durango to buy some mattress pads. I look at that first hellish night as our right of passage, because the next three nights were wonderful. We bought two of the new type pads that automatically, with a little help, blow up when you unroll them. They were firm but comfortable and our bones were happy.
The Mesa Verde Park campground has a common area near the campsites with a store, free showers, laundry facilities and a very good pancake and sausage breakfast for $6 a person. And to our delight, being Northwest coffee snobs, they served Starbucks coffee as well. So for the entire trip we were able to stay clean and well fed and 3 of the 4 nights, slept like logs, life was good.
There are a variety of ruins tours to choose from at Mesa Verde. We chose the Longhouse tour. It is a big ruin site and the most accessible to tourists. We climbed around in the ruins by going up and down ladders just like the pueblo people did hundreds of years ago.
Our park ranger guide left a little to be desired, however. She spoke to us like we were all a bunch of children who were about to misbehave. As we were dutifully lined up waiting for our shuttle to arrive, she stood in front facing us with legs spread in a defiant stance and began a mini lecture on the importance of fastening the chain behind us after getting on the tram and all the horrible things that could happen if we didn’t.
She called us ladies and gentlemen and reminded me of a drill sergeant I had in the Army. I had a secret desire to leave the chain unfastened, but didn’t.
I could have forgiven her militaristic nature if she had been knowledgeable about the site and the culture, but I swear she made up half the stuff she was telling us. She did tell us several anecdotes from her private life that she must have felt were relevant to something.
When she asked for questions, which she did repeatedly, our group became silent. I guess none of us wanted to encourage her.
After the tour of the ruins, Katie and I hiked several miles to view a wall of petroglyphs. The hike was on a small trail that followed the contour at the base of a sheer rock cliff. We arrived at the picture wall at the same time as a group of young college age kids. One of the young men had a book that explained what the pictures represented. He pointed to each picture and then read the explanation from the book, what luck, a free unsolicited tour.
It was interesting to discover that the pictures related to one another and told a story of the splitting of the various clans. And I had foolishly thought it was just young pueblo boys doing graffiti.
Our final day was spent hiking the Colorado Trail in the mountains outside of Durango. The alpine country was exhilarating and the altitude (>11,000 ft,) forced us to take it slow. We had packed a lunch and after about an hour of hiking stopped to eat at an outcropping overlooking the surrounding mountain valley below.
We stopped to spend some time in Durango on our drive back to camp. It is a very active restored old town with interesting shops and good places to eat. We didn’t spend too much time there, just enough to decide we would definitely like to return.
On our return to the desert, the heat seemed more intense than ever. For the next month or so until the weather cools off, we will have to keep the cool mountains of Colorado alive in our imaginations. Wendy's Two Cents:
I am laughing... imagining you two with the guys next door yakking, then the air going out of the mattress! Oh my... what a trip! Grin!
Thanks for the great story, Michael!