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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loving the Southwest

What makes people prefer one type of climate over the others? It's definitely good that not everyone likes the same sort of climate.

While some love cold and snow, I get grumpy when the temperatures drop. Some people love cloudy, rainy climates, while I get depressed without a lot of blue skies.

I grew up in the cold and snowy Chicago area. I lived in damp Maryland and in hot and humid Houston. I love the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area. But at this point in my life, no place beats the high desert of New Mexico.

I love the vastness of the state, the low humidity and the crystal blue skies. I love the privacy my half-acre lot provides, along with the unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. At night, I can look up at a black sky with countless twinkling start. I love the open spaces and the ability to get away from the crowds without facing a long, traffic-clogged drive. Most of this part of the country is less populated (aside from Phoenix) than the rest of the country.

Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, has a population of only 600,000. Yes, traffic can be terrible, and crime is a real problem, but one doesn't even have to leave the city to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. A mere five miles from my home is Coronado Historic Site, which has  nothing to do with Spanish explorer Coronado, but it does include the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. Among the ruins is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, that included some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian art ever found in the US. (The original murals have been removed for safekeeping, but copies decorate the inside walls of the kiva).

From central New Mexico, I can easily drive to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, Ariz., or to Abiquiui, made famous by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I can reach Durango, Colo., in less than 4 hours. I can be at the other-worldly beauty of White Sands in 4 hours. When I attend a photography trip in Moab, Utah, later this year, I will make the 11-hour drive through a beautiful land. I can be in Santa Fe in less than an hour.

Every morning I watch the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. They aren't terribly pretty mountains, especially compared with Arizona's and western New Mexico's red rocks, but they are impressive as they soar to 10,567 feet. And they are home to some amazing sunrises. I try to keep a camera handy so I can dash outside whenever I see one of the fiery sunrises over the mountains.

Yes, it can get hot during the summer (it's been hovering in the 100-degree F range for a couple of weeks). It is very dry. And the winters are colder than I would like. But the small amount of snow we get each year generally melts in a day or less. Water is a constant concern, especially given the unrelenting demand of local governments to encourage construction of still more houses. 

I enjoy the blend of three cultures -- Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian -- in my state. I love visiting some of the historic buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years. The crisp air of spring and fall bring a much-appreciated change

My yard was xeriscaped after removal of a water-guzzling lawn. The yard is beautiful and perfect for a desert climate, with drought-tolerant and low-water trees and plants, artificial turf and lots of colored, decorative gravel and boulders. The plants bloom every spring with flowers of a variety of colors. And there isn't a cactus in sight! My yard also includes two peach trees and a cherry tree, too young to produce fruit just yet.

The Southwest states have the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Sedona, Monument Valley and so many more gorgeous locations. Other parts of the country, of course, have their own natural beauty. But in my mind, the Southwest has more beauty than anywhere else in the United States.

I hope my little slice of heaven stays just as it is, without a strip mall on every corner and houses crammed onto tiny lots.There is barely enough water to go around, even with careful water use and conservation of this valuable resource. Let's hope our so-called leaders can see beyond the demand for more and more tax revenue and stop encouraging people and businesses to move into the desert.