Snow in the Arizona Desert

Yes, snow in the Arizona desert. And no, not in the high desert country – where it is the norm to have snow, and lots of it. Flagstaff and the White Mountains get enough snow to be home to ski resorts. Both places being only hours away from the Phoenix valley so you could conceivably ski in the morning and make it back to the valley for a round of golf, or at least a few holes.

But this most recent snow event happened down in the Phoenix valley – the low-lying desert with average elevation around 1000 feet. I have been coming to the Phoenix area for more than 40 years and have never experienced anything like this. Snowflakes here and there, but not actual accumulation of snow on the ground.

North Phoenix, Cave Creek area, can get ground accumulations on occasion but they are upwards of 2000+ feet in elevation; or down in Tucson where they have had several snow accumulations this winter of 4-6 inches or more, but they are at 2500+ feet in elevation or more.

Heavy snow accumulation in Tucson happened several times this winter.

For us, this is a once in a lifetime weather experience here in the desert so I felt it was worthy of a blog post, if for no other reason than to share some pictures not often captured in Arizona. I have often wanted to experience the desert with a little snow cover – but assumed I’d have to time a trek to Sedona or the like to get those photo ops. Never thinking I’d ever have the opportunity to capture these kinds of photos in my own backyard.

I live in the east part of the Valley where Four Peaks, Red Mountain, the Superstition and McDowell Mountains rise up out of the desert. Inhabitants here revel at awaking to the view of Four Peaks blanketed with snow on occasion. But generally these snow storms hang in these outward lying mountain ranges and just supply us with this ‘off in the distance’ majestic visual while we stay snow free, basking in the valley’s sun.

Being from the midwest, where the four seasons abound with diversity, I have truly missed experiencing a little snow here and there. So I was giddy with this anomaly snow event. With temps hovering around the freezing mark the snow quickly turned into sheets of ice by morning, leaving everything glazed over with a whitish hue.

Our home sits high on a hill, elevation of 1945 feet on top – with a steep curvy driveway and an elevation change of 300 feet from top to bottom. During the build we joked how it’s going to be a real challenge to shovel in the winter and worry about sliding down the icy driveway. Never in our wildest dreams did we think this could be a possibility. Luckily by the time we woke up during this recent weather event – the roads were wet, but not icy. I’m sure if we’d had to make a middle of the night run, it might have been a different case.

On February 22nd, 4 inches of snow fell in Fountain Hills, 9 inches in the McDowell Mountains, and 12 inches in the Tonto Hills and Carefree areas.** The last measurable snow event, of an inch or more, recorded in the Phoenix valley, was in 1937. There were traces of snow in 1998 and 1990.*

Waking up on February 23rd to snow in our Arizona backyard.

No golf today!

Rarely do we see temps low enough to create icy creations.

Even this ‘Elk’ was wondering ‘what the heck’ – he moved south to get out of the snow!

Red Mountain, although shrouded in clouds much of the day showed a hint of snow – first time ever.

The McDowell Mountains that separate the east valley from Scottsdale, and where we spend a lot of winter months hiking – just 10-15 minutes from our home.

Although the actual peaks of Four Peaks are slightly shrouded in clouds, the density of the whiteness of snow shows how deep it had to be – upwards on 3 feet for this mountain range about a 20-minute drive from Fountain Hills.

Palm trees and a golf course in the same picture of the snow-capped Four Peaks mountain range was a sight to see.

But don’t let this snow event deter you from heading to the desert in the winter to warm up and get a reprieve from the real winter wonderlands in the country, especially in a year that has experienced the extremes of snow and cold temps. By the end of the next week we were back up into the 70’s, still a little snow showing on Four Peaks, and a full 10-days later all traces of snow were left only in our memory banks.

Within days a good amount of the snow had melted off of Four Peaks.

And now 10 days later, not a trace of snow to be seen – even on Four Peaks. Ahhh…winter in Arizona.

Thank you to *12 News – KPNX-TV (https://www.12news.com/article/weather/snow-in-phoenix-its-happened-before/383134939) and **KTAR – FM news (http://ktar.com/story/2449524/snow-lands-really-sticks-in-phoenix-during-record-rainy-day/) for stats used in this post.

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture

Phoenix Arizona: from the rims of the surrounding mountains to the valley below

I grew up in the midwest, but spent enough time in Arizona to call it my second home. Like millions of other snowbirds that swoop down from the northern states or the frozen tundra and mountains of Canada during the winter months, my husband and I will eventually make our Arizona vacation home our permanent home upon retirement.

Why Arizona? I am often asked – mainly by people who have never been there. Understandably a good question when Arizona finds itself in the news because: of haboobs (dust storms) that can be 50 miles wide and 5,000+ feet high; high temperatures that reach 110+ for weeks on end in the summer; critters that include rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions; and cactus that have thorns sharp enough to pierce car tires.

Showing the size of the fast moving haboobs.

Showing the size of the fast-moving haboobs.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Over the years I traveled to other warm weather destinations across the country, but I always found myself being drawn back to Arizona. Coming from the hot humid summers of Minnesota, the dry arid weather of Arizona is a welcome relief. August has become my favorite time of year to be in Arizona. When temperatures rise into the triple digits, the pool becomes perfectly heated by the warm air and works as a natural cooling element for the body, allowing you to spend hours outside in those kind of temps.

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

And then there’s the golf. There are a multitude of golf meccas across the country – but generally isolated to a resort or small concentrated area of golf courses. Not many states can call themselves a golf mecca – Arizona can. I have been going to Arizona for almost 40 years, and am an avid golfer, but I have only played a small percentage of all the amazing courses available. The public courses rival some of the better private clubs in other states. The topography varies from a dry naturalized desert course to pine tree-lined mountain courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

The views from some of these courses are un-matchable. Looking back across the flat valley of Phoenix and Scottsdale, you can see for miles to the mountains across the valley. And the views on these courses are like walking through your own private zoo. On any given day I have been up close and personal with: bobcats, deer, coyotes, javelina (looks like a wild boar but is actually a large rodent) and rattlesnakes. If you respect their space, they will respect you. The only time you hear of a run in with any one of these critters is when someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like reaching into a blind area.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

And then there’s the food and the shopping and the dine-in movie theaters – which by the way all have great air conditioning to escape to during those hot summer days. Mastro’s Steakhouse has become a family favorite and a tradition. Fashion Square Mall can compete with some of the best shopping in the country being anchored by Barney’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Macys. And who could resist being served wine and dinner while kicking back in a reclining leather chair, blanket and pillow provided, to watch their favorite new release at iPic Theaters.

But it is the sunrise and the sunset that really showcase the beauty of Phoenix. The hiking in the Valley of the Sun is plentiful, giving you ample options to climb peaks allowing you vistas rarely replicated anywhere in the country or the world. Enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over Four Peaks east of Fountain Hills is tough to beat. But sipping an Arizona wine while watching the sun set over Camelback Mountain, a mountain in the shape of a sleeping camel with a praying monk perched on the camel’s nose, is matched only by the brilliant red earth tones lit up by the setting sun on the appropriately named Red Mountain at the east end of the valley.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

 

What to do: Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s western abode, Taliesan West. Check out the Desert Botantical Garden, especially when the Chihuly Exhibit is there. Sports lovers are covered: besides golf, check out any one of the professional teams or high level ASU sporting events. Hiking: Camelback Mountain for a good workout and a test of climbing skills or Pinnacle Peak for a well trodden path for an easy to moderate hike.

Where to eat: For the steak lover, a perfectly seasoned steak served on a 400 degree plate at of three Mastro’s Steakhouses ($$$$) is a solid choice. For great appetizers Wild Fish and Sapporo have a tantalizing selection ($$$). For an outdoor fine dining experience Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn is a unique and flavorful experience ($$$$).

Check out extra pictures in the Global Gallery: Arizona