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

Being a desert rat in Phoenix, Arizona


I've lived in Phoenix for most of my adult life. And as much as I love living in the desert, you gotta admit the summers are just awful. Not just hot, but ridiculously, horribly, uncomfortably hot. And the heat starts coming on by April and the Sonoran Desert is a terrible place to be until October. So if you can get away, you really should. But I'm a desert rat.

I learned how strange this was way back when I was going to ASU. I lived in Tempe, in a less-than-fashionable neighborhood, and in the summer I watched the town empty out. The people left behind I called "desert rats". And if you've never been a desert rat, you may be surprised at what these people do to make it through the summers in Phoenix. Here are a few things:

• Early mornings. Desert rats know that the desert is at its coolest early in the morning, just before sunrise. When the sun comes up, wham, it starts getting very hot. So you'll see desert rats stir in early morning, and then scamper back for shade.

• Avoiding mid-day. Mid-day is not the time to be out. There's an old expression from 19th century India that said "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun". It's also true in Phoenix. Unless you're a mad dog, or have no idea how the climate works in Phoenix, you'll stay inside, in the shade, during mid-day.

• Heat acclimation. Of course, not just mad dogs and Englishmen have to go out during the day in Phoenix. There are a LOT of people whose jobs require them to do it. For these amazingly tough people, they do what is called "heat acclimation". I've never been tough enough to do this, but it's like anything else that you teach your body to deal with, like extreme cold. Yes, it hurts, but there are people tough enough to take it. Some of these people tell me that you get used to it, but I can't imagine how.

• Air conditioning and shade. Desert rats aren't stupid - they want to stay cool. They know about air conditioning and shade. They don't want an apartment, or a house, with a "sunny south window" exposure. They turn their backs to the sun, and make sure that their air conditioning is working correctly.

Personally, I've always liked being a desert rat. Even though I'm a sociable person, I like the way that 100-degree temperatures tend to clear out the traffic in Phoenix. If you've lived in Phoenix long enough, you can actually feel the town get less crowded after April. If you've never seen it, well, you probably have the money to get away in the summer. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.



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