This is a photo of one of the formations in Red Rock Canyon on the west side of Las Vegas in the northwestern Mojave Desert. I live a couple of miles from the Canyon and often go there to enjoy the scenery and to cool off -- it is about 10º cooler there than in the less elevated parts of the Las Vegas Valley and, as it lacks the heat-holding concrete and human-made structures, those 10º are really noticeable.
The fact that Las Vegas has desert climate was certainly no surprise to me. I mean, it wasn't like I'd never been here before or that I was unaware that the desert is dry, hot, inhospitable to such flora as lilacs and hospitable to fauna that includes a variety of snakes and deadly insects. Of course I was aware of all that. And I was also aware -- and am constantly reminded -- of how beautiful the desert landscape is. The sky is that amazing blue that you see in movies. The colors are breathtaking. In fact, if you think Red Rock Canyon is spectacular, just take a ride to the northeast of Las Vegas and spend some time in the most aptly named Valley of Fire.
(And if you want to learn all about the local flora and fauna, be sure to visit the wonderful Springs Preserve where they have all sorts of exhibits and cultural events and -- because this is Las Vegas, after all, they also have a very nice, very moderately priced "cafeteria." That word is in quotes because it is a Wolfgang Puck-owned cafeteria so it features extraordinarily good food for a public institution.)
I arrived here at the tail end of winter and while was a much milder winter than I knew from the northeast, it did feature one element that came as a surprise. The wind. The first month I lived here the wind would awaken me at night, howling and roaring like I'd never heard. You can walk outside after a windy night and find your car covered with detritus from the trees. It was a new phenomenon, but one I easily got used to.
But the heat? Yeah, I'd heard stories. I'd also been one of those people who'd say to friends in Las Vegas, "You have heat, but you don't have humidity. We have humidity in the east."
Well, please, if you and I are discussing the heat in Las Vegas, don't say that. One moves to Las Vegas and, almost instantly, the skin gets dry, soaking up moisturizer like.....like....it's trying to survive in a desert. (Duh.)
(It's important to note the very serious fact that in Las Vegas, in the summer, many, many elderly people die from dehydration. I spoke to a dietitian once who said, "In this climate, never ask the elderly friend or relative you're visiting, 'Would you like a glass of water?' They don't want to be a bother, so they'll say 'no.' Always get the water and give it to them. Don't ask.")
Anyway, this year Las Vegas had one of its coolest Junes on record. It seems to be making up for it in July. Today the nearby thermostat read 105º even before the hottest part of the day -- late afternoon -- arrived.
What does it feel like? Some people say it's like being what they'd imagine being inside an oven would be like. At night, when the warm wind is blowing, I imagine it's like being inside a clothes dryer just when it's winding down and the clothes have dried. Not a drop of dampness, just the driest heat imaginable.
A true Las Vegan does not complain about the heat. A true Las Vegan goes swimming, plays golf, grills dinner and generally goes about his or her business as if it were only a temperate 95º outside.
I, however, as much as I love the scenery and as much as I enjoy being a resident here, am apparently not a "true" Las Vegan. I know this because when I said to a friend who's lived here five times longer than I have, "It was sooooo hot out today," she said, "Hot? This isn't hot. 'Hot' is at least 110º."