Sunday, July 27, 2008


I've been visiting my sister and brother-in-law this weekend, which means I'm in Las Vegas. I haven't been anywhere near the Strip; they live way out in the southwest quadrant, more or less on the way to Pahrump. When they moved out here they had to dig their own well, and neighbors were scarce; now, the city has moved much closer. But they still have a big, cool house on 5 acres of desert, which they've landscaped (mostly; there is a moderate lawn) to look like, well, desert. They have a small patch of ground devoted to half a dozen or so rescued desert tortoises, in three sizes; their yard is inhabited by wild rabbits and tiny ground squirrels, and two mellow dogs.

As Vegas goes, it isn't too hot, for July - it's been running from 95 to 105 degrees. It's supposed to go up another 5 degrees next week, but I'll be home before then. The weather station says the humidity is 20%, which doesn't sound like much - I'm used to 55% or so - but with these temperatures it's pretty muggy. My sister says the normal humidity is 5%.
Even with 20% humidity I can't keep my lips moist. But it's peaceful out here; quiet (except for the overflights from McCarran), little traffic noise, and the nearest things to look at are the Red Rock mountains, west and a little north. And the dogs, rabbits, and tortoises.

Heat like this rearranges your priorities; I normally work out on Sunday morning, and I've done it here before (they have some gym equipment), but today it would have been like doing situps in a steam room. I gave up. And you don't
just go out for a walk in this heat. It doesn't cool down much at night either - at 8:30 this morning it was already 89 degrees outside.

It's a different world from Oakland, where half the time the sun doesn't burn off the fog bank until noon, and I wear sweaters in the house in the morning.

My sister and her husband love the desert. Myself, I wouldn't want to live in a climate where the failure of the air conditioning unit is a life-threatening event. But I don't mind visiting, and checking in with my sister, my brother-in-law, the dogs, the rabbits, and the tortoises.


  1. Weather is weird.

    We lived in the Midwest for three years in the early 1970's, while I went to grad school.

    In Iowa there were always extremes, but the common factor, year-round, was very high humidity. For only about a week during each Spring and Fall, was the weather fresh, clean and temperate. The rest of the time it was either freezing, or sweltering, or blowing, or stuff was falling on you.

    My parents came from the Midwest, and they left there as soon as they could. I'd forgotten just how bad it can get, when we returned for a visit in 1995. Typical August: 105 degrees heat, 98% humidity. "Moons" under your arms. Rashes. Black spots when you blink. Terrible sleeping. Voracious mosquitoes. Smart people would "Summer" on the coast.

    In the 'Eighties and 'Ninetees I spent a lot of time photographing in the Southwest. Not sure just how this works, but dry heat is much less punishing than wet. Despite spending weeks at a time outside with short-sleeve shirts, skimpy hats, and frequently Bermudas, I never burned. You have to have brown tinted sunglasses, or the blue-light spectrum punishes your eyes. I never saw a dessert tortoise, but I saw road-runners, foxes, black dessert bees. Once when I was at a remote dune 55 miles from any regular road or any vestige of civilization, totally alone, two big air force jets "buzzed" me, roaring over at about 200 feet at about 600 miles per hour--let me tell you, there's nothing quite like that, you'd not want to be under them in a hostile confrontation. It made my bones rattle. The other thing is the quiet: You can hear the blood sloshing in your arteries, your ears. Also, peculiar sense of time: Constant waiting sensation, like a deliberate pace of acts, focuses your mind wonderfully. At night, the bats whizzing around intercepting bugs, squeak-squeak.

    Our Bay Area moderating fogs are a godsend. Heaven forbid if global warming changes that!

  2. Sorry for "dessert" --a senior moment.