Adapting to the Desert

A foothill palo verde tree grows in front of saguaro cactus along the Gateway Loop Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

We’ve been here four weeks now, though strangely it feels to me like we’ve been in Arizona a month but left Portland months ago. One of the appeals of moving here was the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert and I’m thankful that not only have I been able to start exploring the desert, but I’ve been out six times! A welcome respite after only getting out once since November while in Oregon. What a blessing it is to be out on the trails.

One of the things I looked for in a rental house was easy access both to work and to local hiking trails, thankfully our house is only 15 to 30 minutes from a number of trails, allowing me to explore the desert in spring before the brutal summer heat arrives. While the trees here like this palo verde don’t provide shade, I have found some trails that are shaded in the morning by the surrounding hills, so hopefully those will be tolerable for a couple hours after sunrise even during the summer months. We shall see.

In the meantime adjusting to hiking here means adjustments to my hiking gear.

I’ve had the same hiking hat my entire time in Oregon, a hat we picked up at REI after we moved there, but after a few hikes in the desert I realized I was going to need a hat designed for the heat. On Friday the Columbia Sportswear Bora Bora II Booney hat arrived and was immediately put to use on both hikes this weekend. I immediately noticed the difference as the new hat is lighter and lets out more heat while keeping out the sun. Loved the old hat and will love the new one. I figure sun hats here are like sunglasses, you’ll want multiple ones so you’re never caught without one when you need it, so I may keep the old hat in the car and maybe pick up a different style of hat as well, but this one I expect to be my main hiking hat.

I’ve been wearing a pair of old New Balance trail runners on all my hikes so far, which work well on the flat hikes but on some of the hills I would have preferred a more structured shoe. Both of my pairs of hiking shoes are waterproof and a bit warm for the desert in the summer (they’ll be fine in the winter). Saturday my Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator shoes arrived, I haven’t worn them hiking yet but Saturday night I wore them around the house and they fit well and don’t seem like they’ll need any break-in. I ordered them in black as I like the look despite knowing from the moment I hit the trails they’ll be covered in desert dust from here on out.

Saturday morning after returning from my hike I ordered two Klean Kanteen 27 oz water bottles to join the two I’ve had for years (as well as a smaller one) and they arrived that afternoon, a perk of the the Phoenix metro area is Amazon has same-day delivery on some items. They joke about the dry heat but it really is dry here and you have to work harder to stay hydrated. I always try to hike with more water than I’ll need so it was time to up the water bottle ante, the two new bottles were put to use this morning. The Klean Kanteen bottles are sturdy and I’ve never had a leak, which is important to me as they sit next to some expensive camera gear. They come in a variety of colors, really love these bottles.

I do miss Portland’s tap water though.

My wife picked up a small bottle of sunscreen so I can keep it in my backpack in case I forget to apply it before I leave or if I need to reapply it. I used the same bottle of sunscreen in Oregon for many, many years, as I rarely needed it unless I was above tree line or out on the coast. Here though I never hike without it. I already had some good hot weather hiking shirts, I’m still testing out when I’ll wear long versus short sleeves, and I have a couple pairs of lightweight hiking pants that convert to shorts, so I’m OK there. I did order a long sleeve swim shirt and a new swimsuit, as while I haven’t swum much the past thirty years, that’s about to change and I enjoyed testing them out in our pool this afternoon.

A quick dip in the pool to cool off, and to get some exercise even in the heat, that I think I’ll love.

Lots of pictures to come, this desert really is something special.

3 thoughts on “Adapting to the Desert

    • Yes and no. The Cascade mountain range splits the state into a western side (where most of the population lives) and a larger and much drier eastern side. The western side (including Portland where we lived) has a lot of rainy days during the rainy season, late fall to early spring, but almost no rain during the summer. The winter rains are generally soft drizzles to light rain, with the occasional deluge thrown in the mix. Even the winter days without rain often had heavy cloud cover. But as soon as you cross the big mountain ranges to the east, you end up in the high desert. I mostly hiked in the western side, I loved the lush forests and mountain streams all that rain provided.

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