Rain in Phoenix Nov 30 – Dec 1

L1000042.jpg Rain in Phoenix... Click image for larger file.

It finally rained in Phoenix last weekend …

I snapped this Saturday morning (12-1) at the tail end of three inches of evening and overnight rainfall. There were no floods or gulleywashers, but everything got properly soaked. They say it last rained down there on May 18. But it’s been a long, dry spell. We had no monsoon rains in August at all. This was just the ticket.

You can see from the photo that it’s cool (60F), the deck is soaked from the recent rain, and there are still a few sprinkles falling in the pool. The patio is a mess from wind-blown debris I had not had a chance to sweep up. The overturned chair is not the wind. I up-ended it until I can break it up and stuff it in the trash, so no one will sit in it again.

It was 40F at 630AM Sunday morning; winter is definitely on the way, even in Phoenix.

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Phoenix Vacation Notes

Well, HERE we are, Saturday morning in Phoenix, the last Saturday of vacation. Mr. Popslider sings his European Starling songs outside. It is COLD in October here – most mornings, I have to put on a T-shirt! The thermometer reads 60, but will soon climb to 80 as Arizona’s fall Sun warms the air. This afternoon, it will briefly hit 90 until the sun goes low in the western sky, and then the earth will hang on to the heat until after dark. Then, desert temperatures will rapidly return to below 70.

This will be the first vacation that did not produce at least some photographs. Weather has been mild, skies blue but unspectacular, nothing to speak of is in bloom in the yard, and you can take just so many new perspectives of the swimming pool and the palms before running the very real danger of making it a cliche.

I only got half the chores done that I’d planned for this trip, but instead I got to tackle a number of unexpected surprises during this visit, mostly chronicled in Computers earlier this week. The living room music-server PC is repaired, and the termite people are actually coming to kill off the little subterranean buggers mid-day today. And I had all week to lay in supplies at the grocery store, visit some friends, and peck away at some of the things that need doing around the yard.

The swimming pool is running like a dream. Of course, no one heats the pool down here. The water’s already cold enough to make a dip in the pool a bracing short-term adventure. Tom, my pool guy, dropped by at 7AM on Friday. We had time to chat while he did pool maintenance. He has 46 pools on his route now, plus major jobs like pool drains and pump system replacements. At 80 bucks a month per pool, I am doing mental calculations that say he is working awfully hard to afford what, in the Phoenix cost of living area, would be a comfortable but not affluent living. As long as I am working full time in California, and only a part-time resident down here, Tom’s service is one thing I can count on.

But the cable internet connection is still problematic. As I write this on NotePad between trips to the coffeemaker, I have been pinging the outside world, and the connection has registered “No Response”. Finally, a connection materializes all by itself.

It’s an unsatisfactory solution, but, for now, it beats spending the rest of my brief time here on the phone with Cox Communications. It’s time for some other irate consumer to try to get them to look at their own internet servers. I’ll try to upload this to My NOTES now, and then get that other cup of coffee.

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Welcome Home Popslider

It will be 106-108 today. The “monsoon season” here in Phoenix was officially a BUST. This was another dry year with high temps, yielding 0.47 inches rain in a desert valley that historically gets an average of 2.65 inches of rainfall, according to this National Weather Service explanation of the Arizona Monsoon

To folks in northern California (not to mention Oregon and Washington), 2.65 inches is pathetic. It’s enough to help keep the yard from drying up and blowing away, though we do use the high-maintenance drip irrigation even with the desert landscaping. In the mountains to the north, average rainfalls are much higher, and this all-important watershed keeps the Salt River flowing.

By the time the Salt River gets to Phoenix, it is a wide dusty dry channel. One year I actually did see it briefly fill, shallowly, to about 200 feet wide. In the floods of over a decade ago, the channel briefly filled to flood warning stage.

100 and climbing.

So, I’m down here for a short two-day mini-vacation in one of the hotter mid-Septembers on record. Today we have yet another traditional photo of the L.L. Bean thermometer mounted on a porch post in the back, and it was 108 in the shade yesterday. A good day to stay indoors.

But I couldn’t. There is always some urgent surprise to keep you from relaxing on a vacation down here.

Front yard desert jungle.

Speaking of drip irrigation: yesterday my favorite plumbing company was scheduled to come and take a look at the broken anti-siphon valve. It was leaking so badly the ground was saturated. Last trip, I had to shut it down, which turns off the drip irrigation system. Poor plants!

The George Brazil Co. plumber arrived. He is new, replacing Kevin, the best plumber I ever knew, but he was trained by Kevin. He took one look at the valve and said, “we don’t touch those”, and called in to the office. For these, you need an irrigation specialist, and I called one. They would be out in a couple of hours.

Since the plumber was already here, I let him replace two bath lav faucet sets. I had bought them a year ago for Kevin to replace. I have done plumbing projects myself in the past, and I’m determined but not experienced or equipped with all the appropriate tools, so I knew it would take me a day or two. Think “Dagwood Bumstead”, only with an eventual installation and skinned knuckles.

I let the plumber charge me $600 for swapping out two faucet sets that I had already purchased. Don’t you dare even say a word. However, the plumber earned his keep, running into trouble with one of the drain traps (the little knob you pull to stopper the drain) which kept him there with file and hacksaw for an hour extra time on his employer’s nickel. I’m glad it wasn’t me.

So then “Lee” of Evergreen Irrigation arrived. We knew exactly what the problem was, but we couldn’t swap out the part because it was set too close to the other valves. Then too the old pipes are a little flakey – literally – and one might bust in the operation, and we don’t know how deep they go or where they lead.

I didn’t say much. I was already envisioning several thousand bucks to support a dilapidated ten year old drip irrigation system that I hate. Plants that don’t need any water at ALL were beginning to sound attractive.

Lee offered to try to rebuild the anti-siphon valve. It was a different brand than the parts they stocked in the van, so he’d have to go buy the parts. No guarantee it would work. I agreed we should try that.

Back row left: the repaired anti-siphon valve. Front: new electric shutoff valve.

And it worked. I noticed the timed electric shutoff valve wasn’t shutting off – probably debris stirred up from the line – and he had the part to swap that out. And, the electronic clock-timer control box was old and the switches corroded – I didn’t suppose he could swap that out too? He could, and did. The whole bill was under $500 (including parts). The whole front end of the drip system is in great repair now, and I am eternally grateful, and so are the plants.

I’d planned on making a paperwork run downtown today. Household stuff. It looks like what’s actually going to happen is: I’ll enjoy the day, go nowhere, eat breakfast around noon, go back north tomorrow, and re-schedule this task for October when I have more time in Phoenix, a whole week to be exact.

Back yard and Mr. Popslider's pine tree across the way.

Coming full circle to the title of this ramble, the european starlings are back in town. I heard Mr. Popslider’s distinctive whistle and saw him sitting in one of his favorite old spots in the big ol’ pine tree next door. Welcome home, Mr. Popslider – and stay in the shade!

DSC_0201.jpg September sky ... Click image for 1024x768 desktop file.

Southeast sky in September … Click image for 1024×768 desktop file.

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Hot Enough

Hot enough for you?

They said it would hit 116 today, and no doubt it will. We always joke about how old man weather sees me coming, and prepares a warm welcome. Truth is, it’s July in Phoenix.

As long as no weather system comes in to disturb the high pressure pattern, ambient air temperature drops from the daytime high no more than about 25 degrees at night. After a few days of 115-116 daytime highs, if you get up really early in the morning to look at outside air temps, you’ll see that it just never cooled down below 90 or 91 or so.

There is simply not much to do about it except stay indoors as much as possible, and schedule outdoor chores in the early morning or late evening. If you must work during the hottest time of day, a fully-clothed dip in the pool every half hour helps combat heat fatigue or worse. Friends who are fully acclimated to local heat (I’m not) regularly report near-heat-stroke experiences. I confine my outings to the air-conditioned car, taking out the recycle and garbage bins in the evening, and watering a few desert plants that still aren’t doing very well.

There is the early morning window of relative cool, my enjoyment of which I write about often, but there is no daytime afternoon equivalent. Once it heats up, there is very little relief until hours after sunset. I usually check outdoor temperature before turning in for the night, and it’s still at or above 100. It’s too late in the season to open the windows at night for a little free air conditioning.

DSC_0178.jpg Thin high clouds ... Click image for desktop-size 1024x680 file.

A thin high band of cirrhus bring a few degrees of coolness and promise of the Monsoons on a few short weeks … Click image for desktop-size 1024×680 file.

The Monsoons are tropical disturbances that roar in from the Gulf and over the Southwest. They can bring summer dust storms, high winds and microbursts, thunder, lightning, hail and rainfall, ranging from pitiful isolated local spatters to true flash flood, gulley-washer downpours. I have seen the entire back yard flooded and threatening to come into the house. I remember the year we were out there with tennis shoes and shovels, wading in the swirling muck in a torrential downpour, looking for a drain culvert that may or may not have existed at one time … and we had several years in which hailstorms turned the back yard white, with stones the size of pearl onions.

Those are the years when motorists are advised to avoid underpasses with standing water, which they attempt to ford anyway, treating us great media pictures of pickup trucks and Hummers submerged to the rooftops.

Most years of late, the Monsoons bring enough rain to tease Maricopa County, and little more. But there is one blessing they always bring … cool air. I have seen the outdoor thermometer drop from the hundreds down to about 70, over 30 degrees in as many minutes. Like the minute hand on a large wall clock, you could practically see the hand rotate counter-clockwise to the cooler temps.

If there’s no dust storm, when the cooling winds arrive, the smart money is to turn off the air conditioner and open every door and window in the house, including the garage. Within minutes the entire house is cooler than it will be again until December, or the next good storm, whichever comes first.

Hot weather is a great time to trade stories of the best storms. Here, we do not get the overwhelming extremes of, say, the Midwest, nor the hurricanes of the Eastern seaboard or Southern coastal regions. Nevertheless, Artizona weather can be a serious force to be reckoned with.

I find myself wishing for one of those cooling storms this trip, but I believe it’s a little early to get my hopes up. Given that I plan to retire down here, I should feel a little guilty longing for the cooling fogs of the SF Bay Area, but right now I just don’t.

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Pigeons and Palms

According to Wikipedia, Pigeons and doves comprise the family Columbidae within the order Columbiformes … but that doesn’t make them smart.

Yesterday I found a large black pigeon standing in the shade by the pool. He would walk a few steps, and stop and rest. This, I thought, could be a pigeon on his “last legs” – a curious expression in its own right, since bipeds only get two legs to start with. He stuck around a number of hours, and then I saw him no more.

This morning a noise made me check the pool skimmer cover, the circular plastic deck manhole covers that hide the working parts of a pool skimmer. When I pulled off the cover, out popped the pigeon as nice as you please. His feathers were ruffled but his disposition seemed fine. He strolled around the pool patio for a while, grooming himself. Later I saw him fly up to a gate rail, joining two doves. So at least he could fly. An hour later, he was gone. I checked the pool skimmer, and he wasn’t in there, so I guess and hope he resumed his journey to wherever he was headed.

Monday I called a couple of tree companies for bids on trimming our six palms, and an overgrown olive tree. The first guy said he was driving, and would call me back in 20 minutes. He called back in an hour and a half. He set a time of 4PM to give me an estimate, and said he’d call half an hour before arriving. I warned him I had to leave at five. He called at four-thirty and arrived at ten of five. He told me he could “do it” the next day for $550, “the best price in town”. No written estimate; he let me look at a figure “550” he had scratched on his scratch pad. The work is, in fact, pretty standardized in the Valley, but “do the job” somehow lacks the specificity of a real agreement.

I ran my own painting company for 6 years, way back in “another lifetime”. I’m death on contractors who can’t keep their word on “little” things like punctuality. If he couldn’t keep to his own arrival estimates when all he had to do was bring himself, how well could we reasonably expect him to manage scheduling and supervising an entire crew? I didn’t tell him this. I just thanked him and said I’d let him know.

The next guy said he’s be here between 8 and 10 this morning. The doorbell rang at 8AM sharp. I liked him, and actually learned something about our trees.

The skinnier palms are washingtonia robusta – easier to climb. The fatter ones are Californian fan pams – harder to climb. To most of us, they’re all just “fan palms” – shapely and beautiful, but messy. Last year’s growth dies back annually, and droops down to form a “sweater” around the upper trunk. They also send out shoots in July that drop thousands and thousands of berry-like seeds into the pool (see picture in last year’s article).

Once you trim off the dead fan-shaped leaves, that leaves a bristly pine-cone stubble. For $20 extra a tree, this can be shaved off too, leaving smooth bark all the way up into the canopy. That is what we used to do before our Tongan tree guy went out of business.

The olive tree in the front yard was pruned on its lower reaches a few years back, but is starting to sag over the driveway, and “sucker” shoots have emerged to completely hide the shape of the lower trunk. Guy #2 explained exactly what limbs he was going to take and why that part of his bid would come to $180 alone.

So guy #2 will email his written bid of $640. He can do the work next Tuesday. He knows his trees (I know more about it than I let on). He’s licensed, bonded and insured. If he follows through, sounds like he’s got it.

And it looks like the weather will be cooler next week. This week, they’ve upped the weather alert to 117 peak temperature on the Fourth. “Have a safe and sane”, and if you’re in the Phoenix area, stay in the shade or go back indoors.

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Weather Alert!

Heat wave alerts in two locations

3PM, Phoenix: 113 in the shade. A couple of doves quickly wing it to another palm. There is very little activity outside. Everybody and every creature is waiting for it to cool down in the evening. A brief dip in the pool does not satisfy. After the breeze dries you off, there just does not seem to be much point in sitting outside pretending it feels great.

The government weather service says it will even quickly warm up to triple-digits in the California Bay Area. Down in Phoenix, 113 is not that unusual for the first day of July – two years ago we hit 123 in July – but it’s a good excuse to stay indoors and put off those yardwork plans.

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Ahhh, Phoenix

poolside morningAt 7:15AM it’s already climbing past 80 degrees. This one-hour daily window in Summer is the nicest time of day.

When you are over 60, there are always the pills and eyedrops and little ablutions that make getting up not quite so simple as pulling on a pair of cargo shorts and running out to the poolside. When I am anxious to get going, as I am today, it seems like these little routines own me, and I will consume the whole morning simply doing the things I know I need to do before the day even starts.

But the likeliest way to ensure these little routines actually will consume your whole morning is to ignore them, until your doctor’s preventative or precautionary strategy has to be changed to a full-blown treatment. I have gotten pretty good at taking my meds on the fly, without missing a beat. Pills taken while coffee brews, I decide I would rather sit outside and do my eyedrops. No need to miss out on this best part of the morning.

On this, the first day of vacation, I make the coffee and bring a cup out into the shade of the back deck. The eyedrop thing means closing your eyes for a few minutes, not your ears. A pair of Doves call to each other from opposite sides of the yard. A Flicker alights on a fan palm and calls out with his rasping screech. An air conditioner kicks on with a loud thrum atop one of the roofs across the way, and then settles into a barely audible hum as the 220 volt motor comes up to speed. You get used to the click and surging hum as these units fire up. You can hear faint traffic sounds from Southern Ave, a hundred yards away, but it is soft and unobtrusive, and a gentle breeze slides past under the porch roof. The eyedrops are done.

The pool is blue and crystal clear. The water is so warm by July there’s no longer a hint of chill, but a dip in the pool is still refreshing. When you climb out, the breeze gives a little chill, and that is good, and towelling off feels great. I sit here in the shade savoring vacation. This is the life.

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Return from Phoenix

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Here are the kind of personal stats the whole world could give a rat about: Our return trip to the Bay Area was via LA and the infamous I-210 and Grapevine, considerably shorter on the return trip, at 10.6 hours and 710 miles.

We didn’t measure the longer route via Flagstaff on the way down, but I am guessing it added about 80 miles to the round trip. Calling that 1500 miles round trip, we spent $158.63 on 62.393G gasoline, for a both-way fuel economy of 24.04 mpg. The car is a 1999 Toyota Camry Solara.

Average price of gasoline was $2.542 overall, with the cheapest gas being in Phoenix itself (Circle K, $2.339), and the most expensive $2.999 (Shell, Needles).

Leaving Phoenix at 6AM Saturday morning got us across the desert by 10AM, out of weekday LA traffic, and in front door at 4:40. Various freeway splits and mergers between I-210 and other major freeways are poorly marked out and little time is available to prepare. If you don’t already know you need to be in the right hand lanes of 10 to end up on the 210, and then the left hand lanes to not end up going to Riverside, and then in the right 3 lanes to merge to I-5 (say, have I got all that right for sure?): you’ll never get there. We always make it somehow.

But it can be exciting when 400 speeding cars jam on their brakes and switch 3 or 4 lanes of braking traffic at the last minute before hitting the Y in the freeway.

With generous stops for stretch breaks, fuel and even a sandwich, and a driver rotation, we found the return trip overall less draining and more pleasant, though not of course as post-card scenic. At least we saw proper real pine trees in Flagstaff.

In the roughly 200 miles from mountain pass to mountain pass that is the LA basin, once you descend into the smog from the San Bernardino Pass, you are engulfed in it until you reach Gorman and swoop down into the dry clear agricultural valley of I-5. You always drive by beautiful landmark Mt. Baldy approaching Sylmar and the San Fernando Valley, but we never saw that mountain this trip.

All in all, then, we surprised ourselves with the discovery that the drive could be fairly pleasant and reasonably quick if the LA route is taken yet planned and timed carefully. I like the desert and barren open spaces, so am at no loss of things to look at through Arizona, the Mojave and the continuous long, irrigated, dusty farming corridor between LA and the Bay Area.

The photo was taken on I-10 about an hour or so west of Phoenix.

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Driving to Phoenix

We loaded some stuff in the car that’s too big or otherwise inappropriate for airport security. Included is a 10″ reflector telescope and mount that just barely fits in the car at all. Also, a sharp new pair of Long’s Drugs 4″ barbershop scissors I wanted for trimming.

The drive is from the SF Bay Area to Phoenix. Our best time is 9 hours; our longest, about 12. This time we tried a new “long route”. Total time was about 13.5 hours but this included a 1-hour delay on account of a traffic accident that backed up traffic in highway 17 north of Phoenix for 20 miles.
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