We need to catch up with letters from readers, before the prospect of summer heat makes us too giddy for words, and I begin to estivate.
Spring is fast fading. Most paloverde trees, which painted the desert gold for a few weeks, have turned a duller green, but there’s still color out there. Prickly pear cactus are bursting with yellow blossoms.
Ironwood trees are blooming ten-penny nails. Okay, that’s my annual ironwood joke; the trees are actually covered with delicate lavender blossoms.
It’s too hot, too early, and we’re in a critical drought. Some people are dipping into their emergency supplies of powdered water, an army surplus item from the Korean War.
About those letters:
My husband and I are “snowbirds” who have been wintering in your area for twenty-three years. We’ve always been curious about what you locals do after we leave in the spring.
– Noreen in Mankato
We dismantle the town of Wickenburg and put it all in storage. Then we all go to Sun Valley or Aspen for the summer.
Seriously, we miss you winter visitors, but we get by. Although we can no longer count 20 different license plates in a day, we enjoy an adequate supply of parking spaces, and the absence of over-sized motor homes.
Some of us estivate. “Estivate” is a word I learned when I was an editor, and it means to hibernate in summer. I’m proud that I know such a word.
My short-haired St. Bernard, Clifford, purrs like a cat. Would you like to write a Journal of Prevarication about him?
– Bill in Yuma
Gee, we usually don’t write about real things. Besides, my schnauzer, Fibber, bugles like a bull elk. Purring seems kind of lame.
Dear Mr. Cook:
A few years back, I was touched by the plight of feral donkeys in the Grand Canyon area. Some people wanted to eliminate them. Are there still feral jackasses in Arizona?
– Cindy in Cleveland
Let’s not even go there.
Dear Mr. Cook:
You claim to live in a place called Wickenburg, Arizona. Who was Wicken?
– Karl in Scranton
Clive Wicken was a Brit, a “second son” whose older brother booted him off the family estate in Wickenshire, but sent him a small monthly stipend. Clive came west, hoping to make his fortune in the fur trade.
Seeing the Hassayampa River on a crude map he bought in St. Louis, Wicken set out to trap beaver along the Hassayampa. The river was distressingly dry, and devoid of beaver.
Finding a poor market for lizard fur, Wicken homesteaded, dug a deep well, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a way to use Arizona’s natural hot air to fuel balloons of the type Wicken had seen in France.
He never grasped the concept that the air inside the balloon had to be hotter than the air outside the bag. He did, however, obtain a patent or the oft-mentioned lead balloon, which assured his place in history.
Oddly, the town of Wickenburg was named not for Clive Wicken, but for his good friend Henry Wickenburg, a German-born prospector who found the Vulture Mine in 1862.
We’d like to take a summer trip to Arizona to visit my in-laws in Sun City Grand, but your stories about Arizona heat scare us. Are you lying?
– Bobbie in Biloxi
I’ve been known to kid around. Heck, almost every place on earth is hot in summer and cold in winter.
While the highest daytime temperature officially recorded in Arizona by the National Weather Service was 129, it’s usually much chillier than that–say, 116 degrees on July afternoons.
It’s a dry heat, i.e., the humidity is low, like that makes a lot of difference. It does compare favorably with 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity in Mississippi. You know how in Hollywood, they have stars put their hand and foot prints in wet concrete? We can’t do that here, because concrete dries too fast.. We just have celebrities stand in the sunshine, which burns their shadows into the ground. If you arrive on the right day, you could be so immortalized.
I’m freaky for maps, and I notice that Arizona seems to have very few counties. How many are there?
– Wanda in Waukesha
We think 15, but we’re not sure. Pioneer land surveyors worked at night, to avoid the heat, so not all of our boundaries meet.
Dear Mr. Cook:
We hear there’s a plan to rename the San Francisco Peaks the Blockbuster Mountains, a result of the trend toward corporate sponsorship. How did the mountains come to be called the San Francisco Peaks in the first place?
– Josh in Hartford
The aforementioned midnight surveyors thought they were in California.
My husband and I are planning our first trip to Arizona. Are there paved roads that far west?
– Myra from Elmira, New York
Our roads are paved more often that any other roads in the nation. Paving is our number one industry.
In addition to constantly repaving existing thoroughfares, our pavers create enough new subdivision streets in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas each year to pave an area the size of Delaware.
Why doesn’t Arizona go on daylight saving time? I’m never sure when to call my Mom in Mesa. This aggravates me.
– Ruth in Dover, Delaware
Why would we save daylight? We have a surplus. Because the desert air is so clear, it’s light in Arizona when it’s still dark in Kansas City. Some scientists believe this early light may be surplus from the previous day.
Dear Jim Cook:
Can you tell us how to find the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine?
– Sven and Ole in Hibbing
Dear Sven and Ole:
Glad to. The Wickenburg Institute For Factual Diversity sells a set of maps that will lead you right to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. The map set costs $1,759, which you should easily recover with your first shipment of gold.
Proceeds from the sale of the Lost Dutchman package help to pay for important WIFD research on locating lost newcomers. Our motto is, “We support search and rescue. Get lost.”
(Many of these questions are answered in our new book, The Arizona Liar’s Almanac, from Globe Pequot Press. The Almanac is available in bookstores and gift shops, or you can order a signed copy from WIFD at P.O. Box 1024, Wickenburg AZ 85358. It costs $12..95, plus $4.50 shipping and handling.)