I live in Oro Valley Arizona, the high Sonoran desert. When you hear the word desert you, of course, think sand, sun, and relentless heat. Maybe even camels. Let’s keep it that way. We of Oro Valley like to keep our secret. We live in a paradise. Oh, we have our share of prickly things like cactus and stingy things like Gila monsters. But we are also surrounded by the beauty of cactus flowers in a variety of delicate colors, Mexican bird of paradise, purple Texas rangers, hummingbirds by the thousands, and on and on – a never-ending panoply of nature’s color and texture. Our valley is bounded by the Tortolita Mountains to the north, the Catalinas to the east, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. Tucson lies south of us and has additional mountain ranges framing it.
My favorite season is the fifth season. We have the regulation winter, spring, summer, and fall as most in the world but we also have monsoon season which interrupts the hot summer with thrilling drama. You can see monsoon clouds gather to the east over the Catalinas like towers of whipped cream, bright and white. Then, when the mood strikes, they climb above us, turn dark grey and let loose a torrent from the sky. I didn’t really understand the word torrent until I experienced my first monsoon. I was driving through town on a sunny August day when bam! Suddenly I could not see the front end of my car. An opaque sheet of water enveloped me making it impossible to move. It was as if I had driven into a waterfall. Fortunately, the downpours only last seconds or a few minutes then rain continues to fall in a more civilized way – in drops. Monsoon rain is commonly ushered in by loud thunder and exciting lightning strikes but occasionally it creeps up and pounces like a bobcat without warning. In a recent downpour, we could not see the houses across the street. They disappeared behind a veil of water.
When we hear monsoon thunder begin, my husband and I open up the doors and sit either on the front patio or back covered-patio to watch the fireworks. The sound of angels bowling balls through the sky is accompanied by sheets of bright light illuminating the mountains with occasional zig-zag strikes. Monsoons are the greatest in the evening, at dusk or later when the light show can best be enjoyed. Then the rains begin. The fragrance of the desert unfolding to the rainfall is intoxicating.
As with any extreme of nature’s many facets, there is danger in monsoons. Flash floods occur regularly during these tremendous storms. Floods wash away cars and other property, even houses, and cause death. Too many times we read that people, unusually young men on a dare, go to the edge of the Santa Cruz river that runs through Tucson to challenge the waters. The Santa Cruz is dry most of the year and is a temptation when it flows. Flood waters descend from the mountains to claim property and lives in the foothills also. Nature is to be respected as well as admired.
To my amazement, summer is when the locals flee to cooler climes. They escape to summer homes in the north or to the nearby White Mountains. I would never choose this season to leave town. It is by far the most beautiful time of year and temperatures drop from the June 100s to the 90s during the day. At night, as soon as the sun retires over the western Tucson Mountains, temperatures fall twenty to thirty degrees. And during the spectacular storms, they fall into the low 70’s. The humidity climbs, however, and we no longer have dry heat. Our environment becomes tropical for ninety days or so. The desert blooms its finest colors. The mountains turn green. Glorious monsoons are nature’s gift to us.
I grew up in the northwest and skied in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. Now I live less than sixty miles from the southernmost ski resort in the continental U.S. In Washington, at Snoqualmie Pass, the altitude is around 3,000 feet at the base and rises to 5,600 feet. Oro Valley, itself, is at an altitude of 2,600 feet. In the Catalina Mountains, we have Mount Lemmon Ski Valley at 8,000 to nearly 9.000 feet. Granted you are only able to snow ski or snowboard during a short winter window, generally February and March. The rest of the year you can ride the ski lifts to see spectacular mountain and valley views.
Snow stays in the mountains where it belongs. No snow shovels required in Oro Valley. We can see it fall and enjoy a snowcapped mountain scene from our yard without having to drive on slippery icy roads or slush as it melts. We have actually had snow in our yard on a few occasions over the twenty-five years we lived here. Twice it fell on Easter morning (see photo above). Snow stays a few hours then becomes mere hydration for the plants. As soon as snow begins to fall, kids rush out to build snowmen in the yard or at the park. It is funny the next day to see a tall glob of snowman in the middle of a yard that is totally clear and dry. We look for hills with snow to slide down on makeshift sleds since no one owns a sled around here. It is brief fun – and no muss, no fuss, it’s gone. We don’t have earthquakes or tornados or hurricanes either. In short, we live in a five-season paradise. Shhh – but don’t tell anyone.
In our book Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, we pay homage to nature in essay and poetry as our group explores various genres of writing.