At the management company we picked up the key to our rental house, into which we would move the following day. We got a motel room on Yuma’s main drag. In the early evening, while Linda napped and the dogs chilled, I drove to our new house on the east side of the city to check it out. It was a modest, single-story, three-bedroom affair with a small swimming pool. I would wait until the following day to enter it.
Upon starting our car in the driveway to leave, I noticed the car’s thermometer read 118°F outside. I suspected the city’s official temperature was less, although not much so, and that the added degrees were the contribution of the naturally higher desert ground temperatures, particularly when the “ground” was the heat-absorbent concrete of the house’s driveway.
At ten o’clock that night, the TV weatherperson reported the temperature was 104. Was it that hot beyond the city, in the undeveloped desert? I wondered. I doubted it. Writing about Phoenix in A Great Aridness, author William deBuys identifies the “phenomenon known as the ‘urban heat island’.” It is “mainly felt at night,” he writes, “when the hard surfaces of the city release heat stored during the day.” In any event, never had I found myself attempting to square so much heat with so much darkness. That same night, just beyond our motel window, Yuma’s municipal workers were repaving 4th Street, no doubt to prevent daytime traffic jams, but surely to avoid the debilitating, if not deadly, daytime heat, as well.
Welcome to the Land of the Black Flame.