Summer is Ending

At least in some parts of Arizona.

Mike and I took the helicopter up to our vacation place at Howard Mesa yesterday. I’d bought some blinds for the windows on the shed there, mostly to keep the sun and prying eyes out. We also had to caulk the windows — one of them leaks terribly when the rain is coming hard from the northwest and the floor and wall there are starting to show water damage. We wanted to bring the dog, but we had so much junk — blinds, tools, etc. — packed into the back of the helicopter that there wasn’t room for him.

We left Wickenburg in t-shirts and shorts. I was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. It had been cooling off in Wickenburg over the past few days, but it was still in the high 90s every day. And the humidity — which was probably hovering around 30% — was glazing me. We loaded up the helicopter in Jim’s hangar. (Wickenburg airport is temporarily closed so I moved my helicopter to a friend’s home hangar so I could continue flying during the closure). Even with two helicopters in the hangar, there was enough space for Mike to back in his car, enabling us to load in the shade.

It was a nice flight from Wickenburg to Williams, AZ. We stopped there for fuel. It was “only” $3.79/gallon. That may seem high for fuel, but it’s probably one of the lowest prices for avgas in the entire state. They’re currently getting over $5/gallon in Scottsdale and Phoenix Sky Harbor for the same stuff. Sheesh.

The wind was blowing hard at Williams. At least 20 knots out of the south. And when I stepped out to fuel the helicopter, it felt very cool. Almost cold. This at 11 AM on an August morning. I started wondering if I’d need the warmer clothes I had stored in the shed.

We overflew our friends’ house on our way to our property. On the way, we also overflew Howard Lake and a bunch of cattle tanks. The tanks were all full of brown water. That means it had rained rather recently. Everything was green.

On our “helipad” (an area covered with gravel that I try to keep free of weeds), the helicopter cooled down quickly. The wind was still blowing hard and it was still cool. The elevation at our place is 6,700 feet and it’s always 10 to 20°F cooler than it is down in Wickenburg. That day was definitely at least 20° cooler.

We’d brought lunch from Wickenburg and ate it at our picnic table. The sky was full of white, puffy clouds, speeding northeast. The trees around our future homesite at the top of our property seemed to shield us from most of the wind. We weren’t quite cold — the sun is very strong in Arizona — but we certainly weren’t hot.

And that’s when it hit me: summer was over at Howard Mesa. Sure, there would be a few more hot days and, hopefully, plenty more rain. But the seasons were changing as the sun moved south, shortening the days and changing the angle of the sun at the hottest time of the day. The amount of daylight simply wasn’t enough to bake the high desert landscape. Things were cooling down because they weren’t getting enough sunlight to heat up. In another month or two, temperatures would dip below freezing at night.

I think the realization was triggered by an overall feeling I had, though. Like when I was a kid, growing up in New Jersey. School starts in early September there, on the Wednesday after Labor Day. I clearly remember the coolness of the mornings as I dressed for school. And the smell of the air. I had the same feeling at Howard Mesa yesterday as we ate our lunch.

This year, I hope to get up to Howard Mesa during the autumn and winter months. I hope to be there when there’s a snowfall. The snow falls hard and deep up there — I’ve been there twice when there was at least a foot of snow on the ground — and it’s beautiful to see. Best of all, it melts quickly with that hot sun beating down on it during the day, so it never has a chance to get dirty and ugly.

As I write this at home in Wickenburg, it’s a startling 67°F outside at 5:45 AM. That’s wonderful. Normally, in August, the nights just don’t cool down like they do the rest of the year. There’s too much humidity and often some cloud cover to keep the day’s heat close to the earth. But lately it has been cooling down. Is this just a front passing through? Or is the end of monsoon season near?

Time will tell. Summer has to end sooner or later, even in Arizona.

What do you think?