It’s hot in the in high desert at the moment. Very hot. I know that it is hot elsewhere. I read about a heat index of 165 in Iran. That’s worse. Sucks for them. However, it doesn’t make it any more comfortable at high noon in the high desert.

Dry Heat vs. Humidity

Having lived in Atlanta for years, I have had the opportunity to consider the nuances of dry heat versus humidity infused heat at great length. Most people are quick to point out the merits of dry heat, lamenting that humidity is far worse. There may be some truth to that claim, but when internal body temperatures escalate to inferno levels, both seem intensely undesirable, albeit in different ways.

Swampy Heat

While living in Atlanta, I had a regrettable track record with air conditioning. Out of twelve years, I successfully endured three summers with no issues. 25% success rate. I was forced to get inventive in terms of heat management the other 75% of the time .

My strategy included several tactics. Shower. Don’t bother drying off. Capitalize on the additional skin moisture by positioning a rotating fan to oscillate within inches of your body. Don’t bother with clothes unless there is a high probability that someone is going to arrive on your porch. In Atlanta, unexpected visitors usually arrive wielding bibles and a desire to convert. As an aside, this heat management technique is remarkably effective for avoiding prolonged conversations with strangers on your porch. A healthy popsicle supply is helpful. Liquor stores with walk-in beer coolers can be utilized to provide respite when other measures fail to alleviate the discomfort associated with being steamed alive.

The consistent lack of adequate AC resources forced ongoing contemplation of the nuances of southern heat. The analogy I came up with is that this is what it would feel like if you were stuffed in a damp wool sock and shoved under a fat man’s armpit in hell’s sauna. Air has substance, mass, texture, taste. It feels heavy. It is suffocating and entirely too moist. I don’t miss southern summers.

Searing Heat

However, the heat here in New Mexico should not be underestimated or deemed inferior in power or potency. The dry climate has advantages and disadvantages, exacerbated by a remote environment with questionable cell phone reception and few towns. Not having enough water can be fatal in New Mexico.

At lower elevations, there is a dearth of trees. Shade is scarce. Being outside during the day is like being an ant under God’s magnifying glass, with the potential for spontaneous combustion compounded by every moment of sustained exposure. Most native New Mexicans become acutely aware of shade in their environment, surfing from one shadow to the next to avoid the sun’s direct glare.

The mere act of stepping outside in the summer initiates immediate water loss. It is easy to be oblivious to how much water you are losing if you aren’t sweating profusely. It is possible to drink a gallon of water, not sweat a drop and end up completely dehydrated by the end of the day, because any water molecules generated quickly and quietly evaporated. For people unaccustomed to New Mexico’s climate, heat stroke is common, dehydration is common, altitude sickness is common. If you aren’t prepared, a summer holiday could be stricken by a trifecta of traveling ills.

  • Heat Sickness
  • Confusion.
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Death

Head for the Hills

New Mexico has additional options for escaping the summer heat in the form of mountains. During the summer months, daytime temperatures often exceed 100° F at elevations below 5,000 feet; but the average monthly maximum temperatures during July, the warmest month, range from slightly above 90° F at lower elevations to the upper 70’s at high elevations. If you don’t like the temperature where you are standing, consider heading for the hills.

Despite the need to be constantly aware of hydration, the main advantage of New Mexico’s summer climate is evident every evening as the sun sets. Not only do the skies deliver a glorious palette of colors, but the temperature immediately starts plunging. With little in the way of cloud cover to retain the earth’s heat, 30-40 degree variations are common. Having a day with temperatures over a 100 and an evening with temperatures that dip below freezing is a summer reality in the Rockies. When I consider the nightly reprieve, the heat of the southwest seems far more appealing than the humidity laden heat of the south, but that doesn’t mean that I am willing to give up my supply of popsicles.

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