Thursday 13: Hot tips for living in the desert

 Giant Saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-row) cacti. Photo Credit

As someone who despises being hot, gets overheated easily, and hates excessive sweating, moving to one of the hottest parts of the country was not my cup of tea. I fixated on the weather, growling to myself every day when I left for work at 7 a.m. and faced a wall of heat when walking out my front door. As I conclude my second year in the desert, I can tell you that the first year is the worst, especially if you’re unprepared like I was. So, if you’re contemplating a move to the Southwestern part of the country, or even if you’re just planning a visit, consider these (not exhaustive) Thursday 13 “hot” tips:

1. Carry water at all times. On your person, in your car, stashed at work, I’m not kidding. The desert can dry you out faster than anyone from a more temperate climate could ever imagine. Dehydration is a constant problem that can affect your ability to function (think headaches, fatigue, road rage and if sever enough, mania or death!). I never leave home without a water bottle and I keep crate of water in my trunk, just in case.

2. Check your battery. The extreme heat zaps car batteries like nobody’s business. Keep an eye on the water levels in your battery and check your fluids frequently—oil, water, windshield wiper fluid.

3. Hone your shade-finding ability. When temps get above 110 degrees, the parking advantage is shade more than close proximity. I’ll park further away if I can get a slice of shade.

4. Invest in car sun protection. This means window tinting and heavy duty sunshades for the windshield. Note: Arizona allows a deeper shade of window tinting than where I’m from in California. If you’re coming from out of state, you may want to check out the rules/regs.

5. Don’t succumb to skin cancer. I can get a tan meandering from the parking lot to my building at school. That sun-tensity demands sunscreen. Slather it on thick, don’t be shy! Other modes of protection include big hats and parasols. (I don’t buy the “wear long sleeves” thing though, I’d die.)

6. Protect your perishables. If you like chocolate, ice cream or other quick-melting foods, heed my advice and stock up on lined grocery bags. Trader Joe’s sells perfect Velcro-topped freezer bags that promise to keep your cold things cool. In the dead of summer, I add a cold pack so I can get my frozen goods from the store and back without trouble.

7. For heaven’s sake, don’t leave anything you like in your car. If it’s 117 outside, it’ll be two zillion degrees in your car, so think about what items you let take residence in your ride. Electronics like cell phones and GPS systems seem to get pissed off in the high heat and don’t get me started on what happens when you leave a chapstick in your middle console in August. Ah hem.

8. Plan your errands accordingly. I would say “Do your errands in the morning,” but it’s likely to be 100 degrees at 7 a.m., so what’s the use? Instead, plan the order of your trips. If you have to go grocery shopping, get gas and stop at the post office, arrange your events such that your food items have a chance at survival.

9. Escape, often! I don’t know many full-time desert dwellers who can survive without escaping to cooler climates every so often. For instance, while Snow Birds may fly south for a warmer winter, Zonies head West to San Diego to get a reprieve from the scorching summer. Plan trips to break up the baking time, I promise you’ll be a happier camper.

10. Embrace brown. One of the strangest things about the desert for me is the coloring. Coming from a “tree city,” green’s the thing for me. In AZ, particularly in dry seasons, it’s not uncommon for the landscape to be solid brown. Many yards are zero-scaped (meaning rocks and cacti requiring no water) which is hard to get used to as someone who grew up with grass everywhere. Of course, if you’re a cacti-lover like me, you might find a strange beauty in the rugged wilderness (surrounded by millions of square feet of concrete/metal).

11. Expect mortgage-sized utility bills. My one-bedroom apartment raked in $150 utility bills during the summer months, despite keeping the thermostat at 80 and being gone most of the day. Plan accordingly, grit your teeth, and know that it’ll even out in the winter.

12. Summer is the new winter. Part of surviving the extreme heat is contextualizing it. If you reframe summer to be akin to blizzard-bursting winter climates, for instance, then it makes more sense. Michiganders know what winter means— you just don’t go outside for, um, months at a time without battling snow. Same deal in the desert. Having that understanding going in can make the long months of blistering heat bearable. (Slurpees help, too)

13. Keep your eyes on October. When I first moved to Phoenix, people told me to hang in until the end of October. “When will the heat let up?” “End of October.” “When will the reprieve come?” “End of October.” “What is the meaning of life?” “End of October.” Halloween is usually the harbinger of better temperatures, but plan to still expect the 90s through the first part of November.

13b. Remember “winter.” 75-degree days in January. T-shirts during blizzard season. The absence of Seasonal Affective Disorder. These are reasons to *love* desert living (that and the cacti, of course). Just remember not to post snotty comments about 80 degree days in February on Facebook when the rest of the country is covered in snow. The poor schmucks with ice scrapers don’t like it so much.

Bonus Materials:
– Prepare your come-backs for “But it’s a dry heat.” Yeah, “dry heat” doesn’t exactly matter WHEN YOU’RE LIVING IN A FREAKING OVEN! Ah hem.
– Invest in Cetaphil or Nivea or Jergen’s. You haven’t experienced dry skin until you’ve lived in less than 20% humidity
– Understand hard water. Heavy minerals contribute to the dry skin, will jack your hair and leave residue on dishes. Also, the taste/smell is not generally fabulous so consider buying a Brita filter or water service. (Note: You can fill five gallon jugs on the cheap at Target and Walmart.)


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