I have previously written about the desert surrounding the Phoenix, Arizona area. A few repeats as a lead-in to reviewing its California cousin. Phoenix is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert and lies at an elevation of 1200 feet. This section of the Sonoran is best known for the magnificent Saguaro cacti that love this climate and altitude.
One of my favorite things to do from Phoenix is to drive north to Flagstaff. The highway is gradual uphill the entire way, and displays the changes in desert plant life as elevation increases. Leaving Phoenix, the landscape is dominated by the Saguaro. As the beginning of the red rock formations of Sedona approach at roughly 4,000 feet, the giants disappear and are replaced by smaller prickly pear cactus varieties.
Another 1,000 feet leads to a disappearance . of cacti, replaced by sagebrush and the emergence of fragile, arthritic-looking trees. Finally, the near 7,000 feet of Flagstaff, with its more regular rainfall and less extreme temperatures brings us to full forested landscapes.
A swing west for about 250 miles leads back to lower elevations and a return travel through the Sonoran Desert, before entering the higher elevations of the Mojave Desert. You don’t see many cacti in the Mojave. Instead, you have prickly scrub plants, occasional barrel or pear cacti, and very hearty Joshua Trees. The picture below is a typical glimpse of undeveloped desert in California’s Coachella Valley.
The next thing to notice in the pic above is the mountain range in the distance. The Coachella Valley is surrounded by mountains… These peaks top out at 11,000 feet, but generally range between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. The resulting blockage of air currents reduces annual rainfall, even for a desert, and soars the temperatures. The best example I can give of this phenomenon is Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Standing at the South Rim in 60degree weather at 6,200 foot elevation , while temps at the canyon floor in the rises to the 90s. In the Coachella, a common (and incredibly beautiful) day in February will have temps hovering around 70 on the valley floor, while snow covers the summits of the higher mountains .
The pics above also display the lush landscaping and abundant green grass of the Valley. The palm trees you see have been imported to the region, and the golf courses are grassy from tee to green.
This requires lots of water in the middle of this desert, something that is a constant struggle for the densely populated areas of Arizona.
Like Arizona, Southern California uses aqueducts to transport water to densely urban areas. The water above is primarily headed to the thirsty Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas . But some is syphoned off by these desert communities. In addition, the Coachella sits on top of various California fault lines. The resulting earthquakes and geothermal activity has produced numerous hot springs and aquifers. This abundance of water in a desert climate attracted many seasonal visitors. In the 1950s, movie stars from Hollywood began to spend their winters in the warmer, drier deserts 85 miles inland. Then, people began to move here permanently, which led to huge influxes of population, money, and development.
The other contribution to the spectacular landscaping and golf courses of the area has been the use of reclaimed water. Most irrigation is now completed with water from sewage that has been separated and treated … It then waters the lawns, golf courses, and palm trees.
The end result of all this is a beautiful, peaceful location to spend the winter months. Visitors sit outside on terrace chairs most of the day, enjoying the mountain views, the quiet, and the solitude, until the sun goes down. If lucky, one will see a desert sunset to end your day.