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   Chapter 14 A FINE CLIMATE

Arizona Sketches By J. A. Munk Characters: 18814

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The climate of Arizona as described in the local vernacular is "sure fine." The combination of elements which make the climate is unusual and cannot be duplicated elsewhere upon the American continent. The air is remarkably pure and dry. Siccity, indeed, is its distinguishing feature. That the climate is due to geographical and meteorological conditions cannot be doubted, but the effects are unexplainable by any ordinary rules.

The region involved not only embraces Arizona, but also includes portions of California and Mexico and is commonly known as the Colorado Desert. Yuma, at the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers, is approximately its geographical center. The general aspect of the country is low and flat and in the Salton sink the dry land dips several hundred feet below the level of the ocean. Only by extreme siccity is such land possible when more water rises in evaporation than falls by precipitation. There are but few such places in the world, the deepest one being the Dead Sea, which is about thirteen hundred feet lower than the ocean.

The Colorado Basin is the dry bed of an ancient sea whose shore line is yet visible in many places upon the sides of the mountains which surround it. Its floor is composed of clay with deposits of sand and salt. Strong winds sometimes sweep over it that shift and pile up the sand in great dunes. The entire region is utterly bare and desolate, yet by the use of water diverted from the Colorado river it is being reclaimed to agriculture.

The rainfall is very scant the average annual precipitation at Yuma being less than three inches. The climate is not dry from any lack of surface water, as it has the Gila and Colorado rivers, the Gulf of California and the broad Pacific Ocean to draw from. But the singular fact remains that the country is extremely dry and that it does not rain as in other lands.

Neither is the rainfall deficient from any lack of evaporation. Upon the contrary the evaporation is excessive and according to the estimate of Major Powell amounts fully to one hundred inches of water per annum. If the vapors arising from this enormous evaporation should all be condensed into clouds and converted into rain it would create a rainy season that would last throughout the year.

The humidity caused by an abundant rainfall in any low, hot country is usually enough to unfit it for human habitation. The combined effect of heat and moisture upon a fertile soil causes an excess of both growing and decaying vegetation that fills the atmosphere with noxious vapors and disease producing germs. The sultry air is so oppressive that it is more than physical endurance can bear. The particles of vapor which float in the atmosphere absorb and hold the heat until it becomes like a steaming hot blanket that is death to unacclimated life. All of this is changed where siccity prevails. The rapid evaporation quickly dispels the vapors and the dry heat desiccates the disease creating germs and makes them innocuous.

The effect of heat upon the body is measured by the difference in the actual and sensible temperatures, as recorded by the dry and wet bulb thermometers. When both stand nearly together as they are apt to do in a humid atmosphere, the heat becomes insufferable. In the dry climate of Arizona such a condition cannot occur. The difference in the two instruments is always great, often as much as forty degrees. For this reason, a temperature of 118 degrees F. at Yuma is less oppressive than 98 degrees F. is in New York. A low relative humidity gives comfort and freedom from sunstroke even when the thermometer registers the shade temperature in three figures.

A dry, warm climate is a stimulant to the cutaneous function. The skin is an important excreting organ that is furnished with a large number of sweat glands which are for the dual purpose of furnishing moisture for cooling the body by evaporation and the elimination of worn out and waste material from the organism. As an organ it is not easily injured by over work, but readily lends its function in an emergency in any effort to relieve other tired or diseased organs of the body. By vicarious action the skin is capable of performing much extra labor without injury to itself and can be harnessed temporarily for the relief of some vital part which has become crippled until its function can be restored.

A diseased kidney depends particularly upon the skin for succor more than any other organ. When the kidneys from any cause fail to act the skin comes to their rescue and throws off impurities which nature intended should go by the renal route. For this reason diabetes and albuminuria, the most stubborn of all kidney diseases, are usually benefited by a dry, warm climate. The benefit derived is due to an increase of the insensible transpiration rather than to profuse perspiration. The air of Arizona is so dry and evaporation so rapid that an increase in perspiration is scarcely noticeable except when it is confined by impervious clothing. The disagreeable feeling of wet clothes which accompanies profuse perspiration in a damp climate is changed to an agreeable sensation of coolness in a dry one.

The atmosphere of Arizona is not only dry but also very electrical, so much so, indeed, that at times it becomes almost painful. Whenever the experiment is tried, sparks can be produced by friction or the handling of metal, hair or wool. It affects animals as well as man, and literally causes "the hair to stand on end." The writer has on various occasions seen a string of horses standing close together at a watering-trough, drinking, so full of electricity that their manes and tails were spread out and floated in the air, and the long hairs drawn by magnetic attraction from one animal to the other all down the line in a spontaneous effort to complete a circuit. There are times when the free electricity in the air is so abundant that every object becomes charged with the fluid, and it cannot escape fast enough or find "a way out" by any adequate conductor. The effects of such an excess of electricity is decidedly unpleasant on the nerves, and causes annoying irritability and nervousness.

The hot sun sometimes blisters the skin and burns the complexion to a rich, nut-brown color, but the air always feels soft and balmy, and usually blows only in gentle zephyrs. The air has a pungent fragrance which is peculiar to the desert, that is the mingled product of a variety of resinous plants. The weather is uniformly pleasant, and the elements are rarely violently disturbed.

In the older settled sections of our country, whenever there is any sudden or extreme change in the weather of either heat or cold, wet or dry, it is always followed by an increase of sickness and death. The aged and invalid, who are sensitive and weak, suffer mostly, as they feel every change in the weather. There is, perhaps, no place on earth that can boast of a perfect climate, but the country that can show the fewest and mildest extremes approaches nearest to the ideal. The southwest is exceptionally favored in its climatic conditions, and is beneficial to the majority of chronic invalids.

Atmospheric pressure is greatest near the earth's surface, and exerts a controlling influence over the vital functions. Atmospheric pressure is to the body what the governor is to the steam engine, or the pendulum to the clock. It regulates vital action, insures safety and lessens the wear and tear of machinery. Under its soothing influence the number of respirations per minute are diminished, the heart beats decreased in frequency, and the tired brain and nerves rested. It is often better than medicine, and will sometimes give relief when all other means fail.

Arizona has a diversity of altitudes, and therefore furnishes a variety of climates. The elevations range from about sea level at Yuma to nearly thirteen thousand feet upon the San Francisco mountains. By making suitable changes in altitude to fit the season it is possible to enjoy perpetual spring.

Because Arizona is far south geographically it is only natural to suppose that it is all very hot, which is a mistake. In the low valleys of southern Arizona the summers are hot, but it is a dry heat which is not oppressive, and the winters are delightfully pleasant. In northern Arizona the winters are cold and the summers cool. There is no finer summer climate in the world than is found on the high plateaus and pine-topped mountains of northern Arizona. Prescott, Williams and Flagstaff have a charming summer climate, while at Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson the winter weather is simply perfect.

A mountain residence is not desirable for thin, nervous people or such as are afflicted with any organic disease. A high altitude is too stimulating for this class of patients and tends to increase nervousness and aggravates organic disease. Such persons should seek a coast climate and a low altitude, which is sedative, rather than risk the high and dry interior. Any coast climate is better than the mountains for nervous people, but the Pacific Coast is preferable to any other because of its freedom from electrical storms and every other form of disagreeable meteorological disturbance that tries the nerves. The nervousness that is produced by a high altitude does not, as a rule, develop suddenly, but grows gradually upon

the patient. Those of a sensitive nature feel it most and women more than men. After making a change from a low to a high altitude sleep may be sound for a time, but it soon becomes fitful and unrefreshing.

It has been discovered that altitude increases the amount of hemoglobulin and thus enriches the blood and is particularly beneficial to pale, thin people. It also sharpens the appetite and promotes digestion and assimilation.

Persons suffering from rheumatism, neuralgia, advanced pulmonary consumption, organic heart disease and all disorders of the brain and nerves should avoid a high altitude. Patients that are afflicted with any of the above-mentioned diseases are more comfortable in a low altitude and should choose between the coast of California and the low, dry lands of the lower Gila and Colorado rivers, according to the season of the year and the quality of climate desired.

The diseases which are especially benefited by the climate of Arizona are consumption, bronchitis, catarrh and hay fever. Anyone going in search of health who has improved by the change should remain where the improvement took place lest by returning home and being again subjected to the former climatic conditions which caused the disease the improvement be lost and the old disease re-established with increased severity.

Most sick people who are in need of a change live in a humid atmosphere where the winters are extremely cold and the summers uncomfortably hot, and to be benefited by a change must seek a climate in which the opposite conditions prevail. The climate of the southwest furnishes just what such invalids require. The sick who need cold or damp weather, if there be any such, can be accommodated almost anywhere, but those who want a warm, dry climate must go where it can be found. Not every invalid who goes in search of health finds a cure, as many who start on such a journey are already past help when they leave home. When a case is hopeless the patient should not undertake such a trip, but remain quietly at home and die in peace among friends.

As already intimated the climate of the Colorado basin is ideal in winter, but becomes very hot in summer. Its low altitude, rainless days, cloudless skies and balmy air form a combination that is unsurpassed and is enjoyed by all either sick or well. The heat of summer does not create sickness, but becomes monotonous and tiresome from its steady and long continuance. Many residents of the Territory who tire of the heat and can afford the trip take a vacation during the summer months and either go north to the Grand Canon and the mountains or to the Pacific Coast. Every summer witnesses a hegira of sun baked people fleeing from the hot desert to the mountains or ocean shore in search of coolness and comfort.

Life in the tropics, perhaps, inclines to indolence and languor, particularly if the atmosphere is humid, but in a dry climate like that of Arizona the heat, although sometimes great, is never oppressive or debilitating. It has its lazy people like any other country and for the same reason that there are always some who were born tired and never outgrow the tired feeling, but Arizona climate is more bracing than enervating.

The adobe house of the Mexican is a peculiar institution of the southwest. It may be interesting on account of its past history, but it is certainly not pretty. It is nothing more than a box of dried mud with its roof, walls and floor all made of dirt. It is never free from a disagreeable earthy smell which, if mingled with the added odors of stale smoke and filth, as is often the case, makes the air simply vile. The house can never be kept tidy because of the dirt which falls from the adobe, unless the walls and ceilings are plastered and whitewashed, which is sometimes done in the better class of houses. If the house is well built it is comfortable enough in pleasant weather, but as often as it rains the dirt roof springs a leak and splashes water and mud over everything. If by chance the house stands on low ground and is surrounded by water, as sometimes happens, after a heavy rain the walls become soaked and dissolved into mud when the house collapses. The adobe house may have been suited to the wants of a primitive people, but in the present age of improvement, it is scarcely worth saving except it be as a relic of a vanishing race.

In order to escape in a measure the discomforts of the midday heat the natives either seek the shade in the open air where the breeze blows, or, what is more common, close up tight the adobe house in the morning and remain indoors until the intense heat from the scorching sun penetrates the thick walls, which causes the inmates to move out. In the cool of the evening they visit and transact business and when the hour comes for retiring go to bed on cots made up out of doors where they sleep until morning, while the house is left open to cool off during the night. This process is repeated every day during the hot summer months and is endured without complaint.

The natives, also, take advantage of the dry air to operate a novel method of refrigeration. The cloth covered army canteen soaked in water and the handy water jug of the eastern harvest field wrapped in a wet blanket are familiar examples of an ineffectual attempt at refrigeration by evaporation. But natural refrigeration find its best illustration in the arid regions of the southwest by the use of an olla, which is a vessel made of porous pottery, a stout canvas bag or a closely woven Indian basket. A suitable vessel is selected, filled with water and suspended somewhere in midair in the shade. If it is hung in a current of air it is all the better, as any movement of the atmosphere facilitates evaporation. A slow seepage of water filters through the open pores of the vessel which immediately evaporates in the dry air and lowers the temperature. The water in the olla soon becomes cold and if properly protected will remain cool during the entire day.

The dry air also acts as a valuable preservative. During the winter, when the weather is cool but not freezing, if fresh meat is hung out in the open air, it will keep sweet a long time. A dry crust soon forms upon its surface which hermetically seals the meat from the air and keeps it perfectly sweet. In the summer it is necessary to dry the meat more quickly to keep it from spoiling. It is then made into "jerky" by cutting it into long, thin strips and hanging them up in the sun to dry. After it is thoroughly dried, it is tied up in bags and used as needed, either by eating it dry from the pocket when out on a tramp, or, if in camp, serving it in a hot stew.

Even the carcass of a dead animal that is left exposed upon the ground to decompose does not moulder away by the usual process of decay, but what is left of the body after the hungry buzzards and coyotes have finished their feast, dries up into a mummy that lasts for years.

Climate everywhere unquestionably influences life in its evolution, but it is not always easy to determine all of its effects in detail. In Arizona, which is but a comparatively small corner of our country, live several races of men that are as different from each other as nature could make them, yet all live in the same climate.

The Pueblo Indian is in a manner civilized, peaceable and industrious. He is brave in self-defense, but never seeks war nor bloodshed. Quite different is his near neighbor, the bloodthirsty Apache, who seems to delight only in robbing and killing people. Cunning and revenge are pronounced traits of his character and the Government has found him difficult to conquer or control. The Mexican leads a shiftless, thriftless life and seems satisfied merely to exist. He has, unfortunately, inherited more of the baser than the better qualities of his ancestors, and, to all appearance, is destined to further degenerate. The American is the last comer and has already pushed civilization and commerce into the remotest corners and, as usual, dominates the land.

As diverse as are these several races in many respects, each one of them furnishes splendid specimens of physical manhood. The Indian has always been noted for his fine physique, and is large bodied, well muscled and full chested. One advantage which the southwest has over other countries is that the climate is mild and favorable to an outdoor life, which is conducive to health and physical development.

No single race of men flourish equally well everywhere, but each one is affected by its own surroundings; and, what is true of a race, is also true of an individual. The pioneer in any country is always an interesting character, but he differs in peculiarities according to his environment of mountain, plain or forest. Occupation also exerts an influence and in time develops distinct types like the trapper, miner, soldier and cowboy, that only the graphic pencil of a Remington can accurately portray. The eccentricities of character which are sometimes met in men who dwell on the frontier are not always due alone to disposition, but are largely the product of the wild life which they live, that inclines them to be restless, reckless and even desperate.

There is no better field for observing and studying the effects of environment upon human life than is furnished by the arid region of the southwest.

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