a colorful desert cliff in Sedona Arizona

In this entry, our Vice President Jan shares a story of the journey that led her to her own personal paradise and the (very) important lessons about survival in the desert that she’s picked up along the way.

The first time I stepped off the airplane at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, I took a deep cleansing breath of that arid Arizona climate and grabbed a tissue. Nose bleed! Yes the air in the heart of the American Southwest is THAT dry. But as we were driving to our hotel I took one look at the giant saguaro cacti scattered across the terrain and knew that this would one day be my home.

Almost 30 years later, I’m finally a resident of the Valley of the Sun. I love living here, every day is a new adventure, but as a very wise man once told me, “Everything in the desert is trying to kill you.”

The first thing you learn is to never be too far from a water source. It’s so crucial in fact that in Arizona it’s actually illegal to deny a person who knocks on your door and asks for water, said glass of water. So I carry a water bottle every time I leave the house and you should too. My new favorite unbreakable water bottle from Stanley is the right size to fit into the cup holder in car console, rugged enough to take out into the desert terrain, and so perfectly insulated that it'll keep my water iced for up to 4 sunny, 115 degree summer days.

Sunscreen and lip balm are the next most important things in your Arizona arsenal. Apply both liberally and often. Although, residents learn early to plan your day trips around the height of the sun. I learned to stay indoors during those peak summer hours. I’m proud to say that I haven’t had one sunburn yet. If you are new to the valley, the sun will quickly crisp up your skin and your lips will always feel like they are sucked dry of all moisture.

One more thing for your Phoenix kit: a pair of really good sunglasses, and probably multiple pairs. You never want to end up outside without great UV protection for your eyes. We are closer to the sun here and it shines powerfully an average of 300 days a year. I have so many sunglasses that I can choose a different pair for every outfit. If you're like I am, but don't want to spend $100 or even $50 per pair I'd suggest checking out Knockaround.

My house is in North Phoenix. There are so many reasons to live above the city: it’s usually about 5 degrees cooler in the summer, nice neighbors, country atmosphere, but with the freeway system, I’m never far from the action. My favorite part about living north of town is the wildlife. It’s a very long list but since we’re only talking about the more dangerous parts of living in the valley, I’ll focus on those.

Coyotes are cool. They have been romanticized as lone hunters howling at the moon but they actually run through our somewhat rural subdivision in a pack. I’ve seen as many as 9 or 10. Coyote attacks on humans are so rare you won’t find a reliable report in recent history. They will attack your dogs though. It has even happened when a person was walking the dog on a leash. While most of us have 6 foot walls around our back yards, a coyote can easily clear that height when looking for food. Caution is necessary when letting your dogs out to play.

Javelina look like a big hairy pig but they are really aggressive peccaries with razor sharp tusks. They tend to run in packs for protection and will typically not bother with people or dogs unless they feel threatened. The most dangerous time is when they are protecting babies. They are to be avoided but not usually a problem. You can tell when the herd is nearby because of the horrific odor, much akin to a ripe inner city dumpster.

    Bobcats and mountain lions are also found in the more rural areas – including my subdivision. My large dog and I have passed within a few feet of a very large bobcat and once had a young mountain lion chase a temporarily adorable rabbit right down the street past us. Both left us alone but I was a little scared during the encounters. There are many photos of bobcats hanging out in my neighbors’ back yards, cooling off by the pool. You cannot afford to wander aimlessly listening to your music in this part of the country – vigilance is the key. While you will usually see coyotes on the ground, a bobcat can be pretty high above you in trees or on rocks and walls.

    Of course we live in the desert, so rattlesnakes are also our neighbors. There are many benign snakes that keep the rat population in check (yes we have something called roof rats) but stumbling across any large snake will wake you right up. I have only seen one rattlesnake in my time here. We left him alone and he returned the favor. Snake removal specialists make pretty good money in Phoenix and you do not want to have to take your dog in for antivenom shots – a single vial can cost close to $500 and frequently your pet will need more than one treatment. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open during snake season. Don’t worry: the news and your neighbors will let you know if there are snakes in the ‘hood.

      Everybody loves owls. Except maybe your small dog or cat. We have great horned owls in our neighborhood. They hang out on rooftops in the dark and scare the crap out of you when they swoop silently past. They are usually looking for rodents, birds and rabbits, but a chihuahua also looks like a meal to a bird of prey.

      I love desert landscaping. You’re probably thinking that there can’t be anything scary about a plant – I mean they have roots and can’t chase you. As long as you keep a healthy distance, that would be true. However, one of the coolest cacti is known as the Teddy Bear Cactus or Jumping Cholla. While they look soft or cuddly, they are neither and you should stay at least 3 feet away from any Cholla. Even a slight breeze can cause one of the segments to spring forth and you don’t want to have those hollow, barbed spines embedded in your skin.


      So by now you’re wondering why ANYONE would want to live here. For me, it’s all about the sun and the heat. I like the laid-back casual atmosphere. I like the people. There is so much to do because every major event or show comes thru here. Fantastic hiking abounds regardless of your location in the valley, the Grand Canyon, and many great museums. I’m also a sports and car (and sports cars) nut and we have so many events for sports and cars. I love that I never have to shovel snow and rarely do I have to wash my car because of rain (dust is another thing). Besides all that, every day is a new adventure and for me it’s the adventure of a lifetime.

      If you like what you read here, please subscribe to our newsletter, share it with your friends, and check out all of the other great Details & Distractions stories posted here on AdvancedPrimate.com. Oh and in case you didn't notice, we have a store too.

        Adventure spots


        Jenn Holloway

        Jenn Holloway

        I just moved to the desert for the winter as a snowbird and I am terrified of all of these things. Not sure I’m cut out for the desert

        Diane CURBEY

        Diane CURBEY

        You left out also our bad air! And people burning wood fireplaces. Hazardous to children and seniors and asthmatics!

        Jan Bryant

        Jan Bryant

        Thanks, Christine! I definitely missed the scorpions!

        Christine Harper

        Christine Harper

        Great article Jan and I agree! But you left out the scorpions. Look forward to your newsletter on a regular basis!

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