Climate.—As may be inferred from the physical description, Arizona has a wide variety of local climates. In general it is characterized by wonderfully clear air and extraordinarily low humidity. The scanty rainfall is distributed from July to April, with marked excess from July to September and a lesser maximum in December. May and June are very dry. Often during a month, sometimes for several months, no rain falls over the greatest part of Arizona. Very little rain comes from the Pacific or the Gulf of California, the mountains and desert, as well as the adverse winds, making it impossible. Rain and snow fall usually from clouds blown from the Gulf of Mexico and not wholly dried in Texas. The mountainous areas are the only ones of adequate precipitation; the northern slope of the Colorado Plateau is almost destitute of water; the region of least precipitation is the “desert” region. The mean annual rainfall varies from amounts of 2 to 5.5 in. at various points in the lower gulf valley, and on the western border to amounts of 25 to 30 in. in the mountains. The highest recorded maximum in Arizona is 35 in. The proportion of perfectly clear days in the year varies at different points from a half to two-thirds; of the rest not more than half are without brilliant sunshine part of the day. Local thunderstorms and cloud-bursts are a characteristic phenomenon, inundating limited areas and transforming dried-up streams into muddy torrents carrying boulders and débris. Often in the plateau country the dry under-air absorbs the rain as it falls; and rarely in the Hopi Country do flooded gullies “run through” to the Little Colorado. The country of the cliff-dwellers in the N.E. is desert-like. Only points high in altitude catch much rain. Mountain snows feed the Gila, the Little Colorado, and the Colorado rivers. The Colorado, apart from the Gila, draws little water from Arizona. The mountain zone W. of Prescott drains into the Colorado, and to the S. and E. into the Gila; and the latter is by far the heavier drainage in volume. The floods come in May and June, and during the wet season the rivers, all with steep beds in their upper courses, wash along detritus that lower down narrows, and on smaller streams almost chokes, their courses. These gradients enable the inconstant streams tributary to the Colorado to carve their canyons, some of which are in themselves very remarkable, though insignificant beside the Grand Canyon. Many streams that are turned in spring or by summer cloud-bursts into torrents are normally mere water films or dry gulches. Even the Gila is dry in its bed part of the year at its mouth near Yuma. From the Gila to the southern boundary the parched land gives no water to the sea, and the international boundary runs in part through a true desert. In the hot season there is almost no surface water. Artesian wells are used in places, as in the stock country of the Baboquivari valley.
The temperature of Arizona is somewhat higher than that of points of equal latitude on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. In the mountains on the plateau it ranges from that of the temperate zone to that of regions of perpetual snow; S. of the mountains it ranges from temperate heats in the foothills to semi-tropic heat in the lower valleys of the Gila and Colorado. The average annual temperature over the region N. of 34′ N. is about 55°; that of the region S. is about 68°. The warmest region is the lower Gila valley. Here the hottest temperature of the year hovers around 130°, the mean for the hottest month (July) is about 98°, and the mean for the year is from 68.9°-74.4° F. at different points. Some parts of the Santa Cruz valley are equally hot. In the hottest (western) portions of the true desert on the Mexican border the daily maximum temperature is about 110° F.; but owing to the rapid radiation in the dry, clear, cloudless air the temperature frequently falls 40-50° in the night. The coldest points on the high plateau have annual means as low as 45-48°, and a mean for the coldest month at times below 20° F. The range from high to low extreme on the plateau may be as great as 125°, but in the S.W. it is only about 70-80° F. The daily variation (not uncommonly 60° F.) is of course greatest in the most arid regions, where radiation is most rapid. And of all Arizona it should be said that owing to the extreme dryness of the air, evaporation from moist surfaces is very rapid, so that the high temperatures here are decidedly less oppressive than much lower temperatures in a humid atmosphere. The great difference between absolute and sensible temperature is a very important climatic characteristic of Arizona. Generally speaking, during two-thirds of the year the temperature is really delightful; the nights are cool, the mornings bracing, the days mild though splendid. Intense heat prevails in July, August and September. In lowness of humidity (mean annual relative humidity at Yuma about 39, at Phoenix 36.7, at Tucson 37.8) and clarity of atmosphere, southern Arizona rivals Upper Egypt and other famous arid health resorts.
Fauna and Flora.—Within the borders of Arizona are areas representative of every life zone save the humid tropical. From the summit of the San Francisco Mountains one may pass rapidly through all these down into the Painted Desert. The Boreal-Canadian, Transition and Upper Sonoran embrace the highlands. Coyotes are very common; wild cats and mountain lions are fairly plentiful. Deer and antelope are represented by various species. Prairie-dogs, jack-rabbits, crows and occasional ravens, quail, grouse, pheasants and wild turkeys are also noteworthy in a rather scant animal life. Characteristic forms of the Upper Sonoran zone are the burrowing owl, Nevada sage-thrush, sage-thrasher and special species of orioles, kangaroo rats, mice, rabbits and squirrels. The Lower Sonoran covers the greatest part of southern and western Arizona, as well as the immediate valleys of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. Its animal life is in the main distinguished in species only from that of the Upper Sonoran belt, including among birds, the desert sparrow, desert thrasher, mocking-bird, hooded oriole; and among mammals small nocturnal species of kangaroo rats, pocket mice, mice and bats. Jaguars occasionally stray into Arizona from Mexico. Lizards and toads are conspicuous in the more desert areas. Snakes are not numerous. The Gila-monster, tarantula, the scorpion and thelyphonus, scolopender and julus occur in some localities in the rainy season. The Arid-Tropical zone is represented by a narrow belt along the lower Colorado river, with a short arm extending into the valley of the Gila. The country is so arid that it supports only desert birds and mammals. Camels were very successfully employed as pack animals on the Tule desert in the palmy days of Virginia City, Nevada, before the advent of railways.
The general conditions of distribution of the fauna of Arizona are shown even more distinctly by the flora. There are firs and spruces on the mountains, characteristic of the Boreal zone; pines characteristic of the Transition zone; piñon juniper, greasewood and the universally conspicuous sage-brush, characteristic of the Upper Sonoran zone. In the Lower Sonoran belt, soapweed, acacias (Palo Verde or Parkinsonia torreyana), agaves, yuccas and dasylirions, the creosote bush and mesquite tree, candle wood, and about seventy-five species of cactuses—among them omnipresent opuntiae and great columnar “Chayas”—make up a striking vegetation, which in its colours of dull grey and olive harmonizes well with the rigidity and forbidding barrenness of the plains. It has exercised profound influence upon the industries, arts, faiths and general culture of the Indians. In places the giant cactus grows in groves, attaining a height of 40 and even 50 ft. The mesquite varies in size from a tangled thorny shrub to a spreading tree as much as 3 ft. in diameter and 50 ft. high; it is normally perhaps half as high, and 6-8 in. in diameter. Enduring hardily great extremes of heat and moisture, it is throughout the arid South-west the most important, and in many localities the only important, native tree. From the great juicy, leafless, branchless stalk of the yucca, soap is prepared, and strong fibres useful in making paper, rope and fabrics. The fibre of the agave is also made into rope and its juice into pulque. The canaigre grows wild and is also cultivated. It is easy to exaggerate greatly the barrenness of an arid country. There are fine indigenous grasses that spring up over the mesas after the summer rains, furnishing range for live-stock; some are extraordinarily independent of the rainfall. In the most arid regions there is a small growth of green in the rainy season, and a rich display of small wild-flowers, as well as the enormous flower clusters of the yucca, and blooms in pink and orange, crimson, yellow and scarlet of the giant cactus and its fellows. Even in the Mexican border, desert oak, juniper and manzanita cover the mountains, and there is a vigorous though short-lived growth of grasses and flower from July to October. The cliff-dweller country supports a scant vegetation—a few cottonwood in the washes, a few cedars on the mesas.
Continuous forest areas are scant. A fair variety of trees—cottonwood, sycamore, ash, willow, walnut and cherry—grow in thickets in the canyons, and each mountain range is a forest area. Rainfall varying with the altitude, the lower timber line below which precipitation is insufficient to sustain a growth of trees is about 7000 ft., and the upper timber line about 11,500 ft.
- At Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson, the records of twenty-six, eighteen and fifteen years respectively show a rate of evaporation 35.2, 12.7, and 7.7 times as great as the mean annual rainfall, which was 2.84 in., 7.06 in. and 11.7 in. for the places named.