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Living with a dragon – Phoenix in the summer

I can feel the heat as I open the door to the condo, my helmet strapped on my head. The heat hits me like a wall of flame, instantly causing sweat to start to form on my helmet covered forehead. I take my bike outside and head towards the stairs. As soon as I clear the carport the sun is waiting for me, beating down relentlessly on my loose fitting cycling outfit. This is Phoenix in the summer.

I make it to the bus stop and see my first peculiar sight; people are standing around with Umbrellas. But wait, There has not been rain here for days, but in the valley of the sun these devices are used for a very different purpose. Sure it rains here, which is another interesting topic all its own.

While I wait for the bus to come I think back on the last time it rained, it was about 6 weeks ago and the liquid only fell for about ten minutes from the scorching sky. The puddles the downpour left behind were dried up in minutes, leaving no trace they were even ever there. If you think rain is interesting in this desert you should see what happens prior to the skies opening up on this city. It’s usually the same thing on a rainy day, and it always starts with the weather warnings. First you will hear the flash flood warning, which seems strange in this area. Then that’s followed by the Dust storm watches, which is something you just have to see.

Picture a wall of dust as high as you can see coming at the entire city out of the desert. Visibility drops in seconds, and everything is sandblasted as the dirt from the dry desert is kicked up with winds sometimes reaching 50 MPH.

Once the dust has subsided the rain comes shortly after. The length and intensity of a storm can vary from 1 minute and a few drops to 1 hour and a complete deluge. The desert cannot hold all the moisture and soon the streets are flooded and the swimming pools overflow their dust covered walls.

The bus has come now; my bike is safely positioned on the front as I enter the air conditioned interior. You can hear and feel the big bus laboring in the scorching heat. Depending on the length of your trip your body can get pretty cool on the bus. If the air conditioning is off you’re in for a miserable ride. Once the bus stops you exit and are once again hit with a wall of insatiable heat. Your entire body feels like it’s dried up of every drop of perspiration.

There is danger here in this city when this heat comes.

People can suffer from all sorts of heat related illnesses and it only takes a matter of minutes to succumb to them. Exercising in the heat is even more dangerous as your body cannot sweat enough before the heat dries the perspiration, effectively making it impossible for your body to cool down. As you know sweat is your body’s way of radiating heat from its core, no sweat no cool down. Older people and children are sometimes forced to stay inside, prisoners in their own homes from the relentless and unforgiving heat. If they do venture out they will need extra shade and liquids to make it back again safely to their air conditioned homes.

People still try to get out in the heat though. Every year the phoenix police rescue people off the Valleys Mountains and preserves who ventured out against the warnings. The rule is simple, if it’s over 100 degrees do not hike. People do not always listen to the warnings though.

I have witnessed on many occasions people hiking Camelback Mountain (Phoenix’s highest peak) with Jeans & A hoodie and only a 20 oz. bottle of water.

It’s those people that are rescued off trail and dehydrated if they are lucky. The taxpayers will ultimately end up footing the bill for their stupidity. Some others are not that lucky, and they never make it off the mountain.

As I wait for the next bus I glance at the bank sign and read the temperature.

The signs red LEDS glare back at me letting me know it is 118 degrees. The sidewalks are shimmering in the heat, and people are guzzling water and looking for shade everywhere. The people of this desert complain about the heat and its dangers, they hide from it whenever they can but they still choose to live here. It is not an uncommon sight to find people hiding behind bus shelters like ants hiding from a little boy’s magnifying glass.

As you can imagine as the mercury rises so do the tempers. Phoenix police say that violence and Domestic disturbances rise steadily when the heat gets put on full blast. When I am out on a day like this I talk to no one, I am hoping to avoid an altercation.

The last thing I want to do is pepper spray and taze someone in the sweltering heat.

The signs are there though, people pushing each other and jockeying for a piece of shade wherever it can be found.

Phoenix is situated in a bowl shaped valley only 408 miles from the hottest place on this earth, Death Valley, California. The temperatures in the summer can rise to a staggering 120 degrees. The area has very little humidity making any heat a dry caked on heat that is oppressive and can also be life threatening.

When I think of Phoenix I think of the breath of a dragon, the intense heat that hits you when you leave an air conditioned place is like it breathing on you, hoping to scorch you with its fiery hot exhale. The heat is relentless and will last for days, if not months on end. As the summer wanes so will the temperatures but not by much. In the summer the temps will often not drop below 90 degrees even in the wee hours of the morning. Swimming pools do not offer much relief, and the pipes take forever to generate any type of water that is drinkable.

I have reached my destination and we have just driven through a dust storm, although minor everything is dry and scorching outside.

I know as I look to the west what will be coming next. I go inside and come out about 20 minutes later to see the sky has turned dark and grey. In any other area you might be running inside or covering up in rain gear, but not here in the dragons den. I wait a few minutes to make sure my electronics are protected then I start the ride back to the bus stop. As I start to pedal to the west the first drop of rain hits me. It’s so hot that I barely even notice it until it is joined by a lot of friends. It is raining now and the streets are starting to run over with the muddy water that so longs for an escape from the caked soil below.

I am soaked to the bone but still the temps hover in the 100s and there is no relief.

I arrive at the bus stop and in just a few minutes I am completely dried off.

Now it’s back on the bus and time to make our way back across the city. The skies are clearing and the heat has returned. I know today will not be a day for any recreation as the trails will be flooded and will be for a couple days. As the bus lumbers across the city I am reminded that this is a place where weather records are broken every day. The bus arrives at my stop and I step to the door, ready to face the dragon’s hot breath once again. This is Phoenix in the summer!

How about you, do you live in an area like Phoenix, A place with heat so unbearable you stay inside?



Profile photo of Jason Harris

I'm Jay from the popular adventure travel blog Jays Odyssey. I travel the world in search of stories that are off the beaten path. I seek to travel in an "Immersive" way rather than " I got the pic and the T-shirt". I believe that everyone has a story, and I want to travel the world to hear it!Feel free to read my articles here and also to check out my awesome website at

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