I thought my troubles of having no air conditioning in my car were over once I entered the arid New Mexico temperature, but I was far from any relief. As I got into Arizona the heat was unlike anything I had experienced before.
The smell of rotten eggs emanated from my cooler along with the stench of lunch meats going bad. I had the genius idea of trying to save money by preparing my own food while traveling through the desert. Of course it backfired and the malodorous, rotten food had to be cleaned by hand at a rest stop with some water and bleach wipes. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, and I could see other tourists look at me with pity.
After that unpleasant experience I got back on the road and checked a weather app and saw that it was 103 degrees with a high of 120. A summer heat wave was taking over the Southwest and I was caught right in the middle of it as I drove west down Interstate 8 on my way to Saguaro National Park.
My body wasn’t just sweating, it was oozing. What ensued was dehydration and the mass consumption of water until I could give my body back all that it sweated out. I put down two towels under my seat to trap the moisture of my disgustingness and continually sprayed my left arm with SPF 50 every 30 minutes or so.
A layer of sunblock started collecting on my arm. It looked like I had been basting my arm, putting layer upon layer on. The arm tan that ensued was quite a stark contrast between my left and my right. I still had a nice tan on my right arm, but my “window arm” looked like a brown clump of dry leather.
I drank and drank and drank on a large gallon of water that was cold an hour before when I pulled it out of a cooler at a gas station. Just after a few minutes the jug became so hot that it was like drinking jacuzzi water.
It was at this point that I was regretting my decision to forgo the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. I was just outside of Tucson and closer to Saguaro National Park (pronounced Sa-wear-oh), home to the biggest cacti in America. I arrived at the visitors center drenched, probably smelly, and thirsty as hell. I went inside and sat down in the air conditioning to recover as much as I could before going inside the park.
The gift shop lady looked at me like ‘ya gonna buy anything pal?’ I looked around to find a postcard for my 3 year-old niece who I had been trying to send a postcard to from every stop along the way. Her love of animals dictated my previous postcard purchases, but there was hardly any wildlife options so I settled for a sunset cacti to impart my wisdom to the coolest little person that’s ever lived 🙂
I finally cooled down, approached the entrance and asked the ranger where the best look out spots for photography were, and she looked at me and said, “It’s all pretty much the same, just find what you like and take a picture.”
The heat, the overbearing sun, and dehydration made my trip to Saguaro not a pleasant one. I tried to find the cliche cactus tumbleweed shot, but I couldn’t take the heat for much longer. I stopped and got a few shots, but Saguaro certainly didn’t present itself in the majesty that White Sands National Park had just a few days before.
I looked at the screen a few times to see what I was getting, and what I saw looked pedestrian. When I think back on it now, I wonder if it would have been a different experience if I had air conditioning in my car to rest and cool down in between each stop I made in the park. Saguaro was beautiful and rugged, but my body and my growing headache from the heat made my day a living hell.
The only thing on my mind after I left the park was getting the hell out of Arizona. I put on the radio as I passed through Tucson and the DJ said that it had finally hit 120 degrees. As much as I hate to admit it I almost passed out from the heat in my car a few times, which was unsafe, stupid, and regretful.My stubbornness made me travel on, and I stayed up literally by smacking myself awake instead of what I should have done — get a hotel room and recover ASAP. I was getting closer to the state line of California when I found a hotel that was only $60 dollars a night with almost a five star rating online. I booked the hotel immediately and put the coordinates in my GPS and went on with the hope of not passing out at the wheel.
I made it to Yuma, Arizona, and stayed at the La Fuente Inn & Suites. I checked in and got to my room as quickly as possible to cool down. What followed was one of the nicest hotel stays on my trip and my first In-N-Out in a few years, which was equal parts serendipity and deliciousness. And La Fuente was clean, friendly, and they had a great free breakfast the next morning. Don’t worry they’re not paying me to say this, but it’s a great place to stay if you’re looking for a hotel in Yuma.
Arizona, I love you still, but I don’t love you during the summer. I’ll be back when Ohio is frozen over with a foot of snow, then you and I will be best friends again.