This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Surviving the summer in Phoenix, Arizona

It's July 14th as I write this, in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, and there's only one word for the awful heat here right now - unbearable. And yet people do bear it. I've been doing it for over twenty years now. Of course, I've had it easy. I've had air conditioning.

My interest in Phoenix history always makes me wonder how it was for the pioneers. And in spite of the people who insist that "it wasn't so hot back in the day", it was. Long before freeways, and asphalt, and swimming pools, it was the Sonoran Desert, which has been a very hot desert since the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. So, whenever I think about the people who lived there before the invention of air conditioning, from Indians to pioneers, I cringe a little.

My favorite description of it in the 1870s is from Phoenix pioneer George Loring, who wrote this in a letter back home:

“If a man can get up at three o'clock and sits perfectly still in some open spot (where he can get the advantage of what small breeze there is) without a rag on, he can get comfortable, the sweat will not run, but understanding that he has got to keep perfectly still. If he moves his toes they will be covered with perspiration, he must not wink more than once in fifteen minutes…"

And it goes on and on, and gets more sarcastic and miserable. Author Patrick Grady did the original research on this, and it's in his book "Out of the Ruins" if you'd like to read more. If you have the book, take a look at Chapter Six, "A Frontier Love Story". And all I can think is, "what in the world were people doing here?" Well, they were looking for opportunity, and being what I call "unrealistically optimistic" about the chances of a great city like Phoenix growing in such an inhospitable spot.

Like I say, I've been lucky. I've always worked indoors, with air conditioning. And thanks to the nice people at General Motors, I can travel around Phoenix with cool air inside of a bubble. George Loring would have loved it!

Above: the rugged face of Phoenix pioneer George Loring

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