Welcome to Scottsdale

It had been a few visits here for me before I realized that Scottsdale is, in fact, its own city. The sprawl that is Phoenix stretches out for miles; if you fly in at night you are treated to a truly awe-inspiring stretch of lights. As “Scottsdale” is only 30 minutes from the airport, I had always taken it for granted that it was but a neighborhood. Soon however you notice signs that say “City of Scottsdale” and eventually, the “Welcome to Scottsdale” signs along the wide, clean freeways.

My parents moved here 3 years ago, after having lived in Washington for nearly 25 years. This place is as dry and hot as my adopted state is wet and cold: most of the year it is, and some of the year it isn’t. This time of year, it’s very, very hot. Two nights ago, the “low” was 92 degrees.

This temporal extremity leans to some specialized behaviors: stores and shops all have their AC up full-bore, so walking out of 110 degree heat into 70 degrees is a bit jolting. My mother ordered hot tea with lunch because the restaurant was so cold. Women wear sleeveless shirts or dresses, and shorts or capris or skirts; when they leave the car they reach first for their shades and the windshield shade, and second for a little sweater or wrap for once they enter the store. I’ve seen it. It’s real.

In Washington, after it rains, things smell fresh and woodsy; in Scottsdale, after it rains… I can’t quite describe it. It’s a vaguely grassy, musty smell. It’s not wholly unpleasant once you’re used to it. And when the sun comes out again, your first inclination (as a Washingtonian) is to run right out and enjoy it, after all, you’re looking through large picture windows at sunshine dappling on the pool, and hummingbirds flitting about. You open the door, go outside, and your face starts to flake off.

I will say this: the climate, however hot, does great things for acne, and hair that won’t behave. I can let my hair air-dry here without getting massive frizz. And thus far I haven’t gotten completely burnt. Or not much. Playing in a backyard pool for hours that is naturally at 90 degrees isn’t bad, either.

If you’re looking to visit Scottsdale and/or Phoenix in summer, I do recommend the following:

1. Pack a light windbreaker. It’s monsoon season, and so it “rains”. If you’re a Washingtonian you don’t probably care much about rain, but others seem to, so it makes them feel better when you have a light jacket.

2. Sunscreen. Spray-on, waterproof, and use it repeatedly.

3. Phoenix (and Scottsdale) have many GREAT museums (including the Heard, the Art museum, the Natural History museum…) and a wonderful zoo. It’s not just golf and desert hikes and great Mexican food.

4. Water. Drink lots and lots and lots and lots of water. Not from the tap. The water here is killer hard, so most houses/establishments have water softeners, which make the water taste like ass. So get bottled, or filtered water. No, I don’t know what ass really tastes like, so let’s just say I *imagine* that’s what it tastes like. Just read it as unpleasant.

5. The freeways here are wide, languid, flat things with lots of other people on them, who (for the most part) drive reasonably. But motorcyclists don’t have to wear helmets and they don’t always drive “reasonably” here. If you rent a car, note that, and also note that no matter how cool it seems outside, a shady parking spot will be worth a little bit of a walk.

6. If you play outside, or run outside (I don’t in the summer, the ‘rents have a treadmill), do it early and remember the altitude. Scottsdale is 632m (about 2000 feet), unlike my hometown of Sammamish, which is 9m (30 feet). It makes a huge difference in your cardio.

And, as you leave, note that the Phoenix Airport is truly crazily laid out, so if you have to return a rental car plan some extra time (especially as it’s a 20-minute shuttle ride from the rental car facility to the actual airport). If someone is dropping you off,  you need to know what terminal you’re at well in advance of airport arrival (or you will miss your terminal and do that never-ending-drive-around-the-airport-thing).  Finally, the TSA area has a dedicated family-friendly line — and they don’t care if your kid is 10. Just sayin’.

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