Summer in the desert

Regardless of what the calendar says, Americans determine seasons by weather. Many places in America have four distinct seasons, each of nearly the same length. Alaska has a much longer winter and correspondingly shorter spring, summer, and fall – I recall a few springs that just jumped over summer and merged into to fall. The desert southwest is the opposite with a long summer, reducing the remaining seasons.

Summer for us in Tucson started a few weeks ago when the mercury climbed to 100 for the first time. We can expect many more days of triple digit temperatures until fall begins in late September. The record was set about 20 years ago with 99 days over 100 degrees although the average is much lower.

Today and tomorrow we are anticipating some moisture from a hurricane off the Pacific coast of Mexico. A weather system off the California coast is spinning into Arizona and additional moisture is being sucked in from Hurricane Amanda (now downgraded to a tropical storm) . Minimum rain is expected though. Arizona has been hit a few times in the past by hurricanes and one in (I believe) 1983 caused severe flooding and resulted in flood protection programs in the valley.

As days grew warmer in our abbreviated spring, our avian friends nested and we have seen many nearly grown golden finches, wrens, and doves in the backyard. Many new hummingbirds appeared, apparently migrating from Mexico, and are competing with our resident hummers for food. Lizards ventured from their burrows and started feeding on insects. Our neighbor’s resident Desert Tortoise awoke from his slumber and has been prowling the yard. The insect population has increased substantially.

Speaking of the desert southwest, I first wrote this story as a junior in high school, but since I can’t seem to locate the original, it’s all new.

Engquist Dry Lake

Swede Engquist slowed the ancient Studebaker pickup and downshifted to first gear as he approached a washed out section of the trail. “Damn kids. It’s okay when they come out here on their dirt bikes and four wheelers, but I wish they’d stay away after a rain. All they do is rut up my road.”

Bill Wickersham laughed. “Swede, this ain’t no road. It really ain’t even a trail unless you preface that with four-wheel drive. I know your great-granddad started the mine and built a wagon road, but it hasn’t changed in nearly a hundred years. Every time we come through here you bitch about the condition but you never even take a shovel to it.”

“Yeah, I know. But if I fix it, more people will show up.”

Swede and Bill had been best friends since grade school and after successful careers, Swede as a geologist and Bill as an aeronautical engineer, both were doing what they loved best–roaming through the desert and prospecting.

Swede upshifted to second as they cleared the rough area. Within eighty yards he was on the dry lake bed and added gas until he could hit third gear and cruise at about fifty. “I wonder what that kid was doing at the mine today.”

“Probably looking for gold. After all it was a gold mine.”

“True, but the vein petered out before my granddad was born.”

“He didn’t know that.”

Swede was quiet for a few moments. “Well why did he pull that gun on us?”

“Probably planned on robbing us of all our gold.”

“Yeah, we fooled him when we didn’t have any. Just a couple boxes of amethyst crystals.”

Swede tilted his head slightly as the truck shimmied a bit. “Sure glad you were able to get behind him with that cast iron skillet.”

“Knocked him for a loop, didn’t I?’

The truck began to shake violently. Swede, thinking the front end had failed, braked heavily and downshifted as the speed dropped. He was still doing twenty when a large, jagged crack developed in front of them. It started on their left and the ground opened like a zipper. A cloud of dust rose from the crack. He managed to nearly stop and turn to the right before they hit the crevasse.

Bill had both hands braced on the dashboard. “Holy…! What was that?”

“Earthquake. Big one, too. There’s a lot of minor faults coming off the San Andreas but this one was never mapped.”

They peered into the crevasse. It was about four-feet wide and ten-feet deep although both width and depth varied. It extended as far as they could see in both directions.

Swede laughed. “Well, this solves one problem.”

“What problem?”

“Where we dump the kid’s body.”



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