Winter in the High Desert


The first time I witnessed a big snowfall, it was in Northern Arizona. I was walking back to my hostel from a yoga class when the flakes first started. After having lived full-time in the Southern US, where snow seldom makes an appearance, I was super-excited to see it. Two days later, there was an accumulation of three feet, and I was over the moon. My car was buried, and I was lacking a proper coat and snow boots. But what a delight!


Later, after spending time in the Northeastern US, I learned that the snow in the Southwest was different; in addition to making everything beautiful, it was light, easy to shovel, and didn’t stick around for long. After a bit more exploration, I knew that I wanted to spend many more winters in that high desert environment.


The topography of the state of Arizona is an anomaly, and the weather reflects that. Cities sit at elevations separated by thousands of feet, mountains rise up sharply from arid desert floors, and forest covers about 25% of the state. Much of the state’s deserts are hot and dry. But on average, Flagstaff, in northern AZ, receives about 100 inches of snow each winter, making it one of the snowiest places in the country.

One of my favorite snow scenes is what I call a “spray-painted tree.” It is one with many small branches and without leaves on which the snow has fallen gently for hours, causing each of the little branches to be thoroughly coated. I also love the way the snow appears on the boulders, large and small, near the San Francisco Peaks, which are the majestic result of volcanic activity eons ago. And, of course, snow on the red rocks of Sedona is unforgettable.

From the inside looking out at the San Francisco Peaks

The reason the snow doesn’t usually linger here is due to the frequency and strength of the sun. Northern Arizona gets upwards of 300 days of sunshine annually, and the elevation increases its strength. For example, Sedona, sitting at about 4000 feet in elevation, is just under a mile higher than areas at sea level. Flagstaff, perched at 7000 feet, is closer to a mile and a half above sea level! You can imagine how the sun might feel stronger and melt snow quickly in these areas. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to the highest elevations where temps stay lower – like the ski area!) Owing to our strong sun, many cold days, even with temps in the 20’s, can be tolerable for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Layer up for a hike?

But there is more to the area’s extraordinary winter than snow. Some evergreens here exude an intoxicating fragrance in the colder months. Sometimes you have to cozy up to the trees to smell them, but other times you walk by and they just seem to be broadcasting their lovely scent. You know when you’re walking down the street and you smell some really good food and turn to see where it might be coming from? Same idea!

And the skies, oh the skies! To look up in the frigid night and see a gazillion stars in the big Western sky is absolutely glorious! In the early morning, the sun creeps over the horizon, heralded by tender shades of pink and baby blue. In the evening, when a snowstorm is blowing in or out, sunset skies can display brilliant hues of yellow, orange, red, pink, silver, black, gray, and violet. Photographs don’t do it justice, you really must see it first-hand.


In some years, the cold weather is prolonged here (we can get snow in June!), and we just need a break. When that happens, we hop in the car and within 2 – 3 hours, we find ourselves in a lower elevation with a higher temperature. Phoenix, for example, typically has winter temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees warmer than points north. A fabulous respite!

I do hope you are enjoying the season as much as I am! The snow, sun, skies, elevation, and evergreens make the high desert a true paradise in winter months. Especially now that I have a winter coat and boots!

For more photos and info on Arizona, check out my article Arizona: A Love Letter.

Winter Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

54 thoughts on “Winter in the High Desert

  1. Beautiful photos and commentary. We finally got a snoot-full of snow after living at Lake Tahoe, (shoveling gets old after a while, especially during one’s ‘golden’ years) but we never lost the appreciation of its silent, gentle beauty.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The climate here is generally mild (wet) so not much snow, usually, but we do get ice which makes getting around tricky. If we get snow in the morning it might be gone by noon! By the old traditional calendar, the spring begins in a few weeks! A lovely post, Lisa, and gorgeous photos. Thank you 😘🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow Lisa, such pretty pictures but one trip seeing my car under snow would about do me in.
    The right coat, boots and spirit of adventure is all you need and love. Sooo beautiful. Nice you are in a place you can escape so quickly. LOVE Sedona! OMG.. those skies are amazing and your capture, breathtaking! Snow in June?! You definitely need to visit me for that Starbucks coffee. 🤣❤️🤗😘🙏

    Liked by 3 people

  4. As I can read, you are blessed with a very extra ordinary climate where summer temperatures combine with winterly once. If it’s to cold, you just take the care and drive to the summer 🙂 We here in Belgium have grey, wet and cold winters but seldom we have snow. The summer brings us warmer days (some of them very hot) but also frequent rainfall. Greetings from Belgium, Rudi

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Rudi from Belgium, and thank you for your kind visit & comment! I do feel very blessed to live in this climate. Your winter sounds a lot like that of the Northeastern US, with the exception of wet, heavy snow. Have a great weekend! 🌞

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    1. Hi, there! You certainly wouldn’t appreciate it here right now; snow has been falling since Saturday, & we have about a 2 feet accumulation. This storm is forecast to last through tomorrow. Who knows how much we will end up getting! Thanks for stopping by! 🌞

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Really lovely photos and so pristine! I am definitely not a cold weather person and winters in New York can be brutal, but certainly not as bad as other regions. As much as I dislike the cold, I enjoy being able to experience the four seasons of the Northeast and would never think of leaving … except maybe for Tahiti! 🏝

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I am back! Goodness, Lisa that sunset! What a photo! And you talking about the snow, is lovely, I can feel in my hand the softness..
    Wonderful view through your window.
    Thank you.

    Joanna
    PS. I corrected, I meant your faith!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I love photo’s of snow landscapes … probably because we never get snow (ever) where we live. I can page through snowy photo’s for hours and enjoy every one of them … but then I’ve seen that sunset photo in your post … and oh my goodness 😲, how amazing is that!

    Liked by 2 people

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