But, It's A Dry Heat
Phoenix is pretty much as I remember it from my last visit about 10 years ago: very blue sky, very brown ground, very hot. My cousins keep telling me how humid it is here, but at about 30% it still seems extremely dry compared to the average 70% we're used to in Seattle. The heat of course is what you notice first; even in the relatively cool atmosphere of Sky Harbor airport, it still overwhelms the massive air conditioning system, but that's only a hint, a taste, a frisson of what's to come. Stepping into the parking garage was like pushing through some membrane of temperature differencial; a cool 76 or so inside, and about 110 outside.
There's been a huge amount of new development since my last visit. A new freeway system that rings the entire Valley Of The Sun, which makes getting around pretty easy compared to the awful meandering through surface streets I recall from before. Fortunately, the gas pipeline shutdown we all heard about has been resolved, and prices are pretty much back in line with national averages; which is a good thing, because "public transit" down here is ridicuous to the point of being an oxymoron. There's also been a huge explosion of new housing all around the edges of the valley. The area where my cousins used to live northeast of Scottsdale was at that litterally on the edge of the desert below the northern foothills; today it's in the middle of a sprawl that goes on for miles, and even has started to advance up the sides of the slopes themselves, pushing right up to the edge of what's supposed to be a protected nature reserve. There are easily 3,000 new homes filling the flats and even creeping into the arroyos, and from what I've been told, this has happened all around the outer edges of the Phoenix/Scottdale/Mesa/Tempe metro area. And in keeping with local sensibilities it's all build low to the ground, and thus covers the landscape like an adobe stucco carpet.
It's a weird color pallet here too, one that takes a bit of getting used to for this mossback. The sky is the same, but that's about the only similarity. Everything else is a variation on a pinkish-orange hue that gives the whole region a sort of mono-chromatic look. While there's a surprising amount of greenery, most of it natural desert vegetation, it only shows up significantly in the close perspective. Because there are very few tall building, intervening hills (like Camelback), and no tall trees, you can see pretty far into the distance from just about anywhere, and mostly what you see is khaki, beige, adobe orange, a bit of grey, and Italian tile red.
And of course, since it's so bloody hot here during the day (and the evenings -- I always think of deserts as getting fairly cool at night, but the Valley seems to just trap the heat and so the overnight lows tend to only drop maybe 10 - 15 degrees below the daytime highs), that nobody wants to be outside, and so while Seattlites are flocking to outdoor events like Bumbershoot by the hundreds of thousands this weekend, most of the locals here will be hunkering inside their air-conditioned concrete & stucco bunkers like lizards under rocks. At the most, a few will venture out to their ubiquitous swimming pools to lounge for a few minutes, bronzed water lillies floating in an a pond of robins egg blue, and the aroma of sizzling human flesh will mix with the slightly pungeant tang of SPF 40 sunblock, and just the barest hint of desert pine and sage. Later in the evening, when it cools down into the low 90's a few hardy souls may venture to the outdoor patios at a local watering hole, where they'll be further cooled by 22 ounce beers served in frozen mugs and by the jet sprays from the overhead misters that seem to be a standard architectural feature.
On the plus side, the barristas at the local Starbucks don't freak out when you order a "short" latte instead of one of those stupid made-up-and-focus-grouped-to-death fake drink sizes some corporate marketing numbskull at the SODO HQ came up with. Plus, they actually consider it a welcome challenge when you ask them for a "ristretto"...
on 11:06 AM