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The ‘dry heat’ arrives in Arizona

A postcard of Yuma possibly used as an advertisement to lure health seekers to the Southwest’s therapeutic climate.

A postcard of Yuma possibly used as an advertisement to lure health seekers to the Southwest’s therapeutic climate.

In his 1878 book “Picturesque Arizona,” Enoch Conklin quotes Dr. A. M. Loryea: “The heat in Arizona, though high, is endurable in consequence of the dryness.” His statement may be the precursor to Arizona’s most quoted weather phrase: “but it’s a dry heat, so you don’t mind it.”

Anyone who has spent a summer in southern Arizona usually chuckles after hearing this phrase, yet there’s enough truth in the observation to keep it circulating like an oscillating fan in July.

And then there are those who never had a choice in the matter. For health seekers more than a century ago, it was either live in Arizona or die almost anywhere else. Loryea dubbed Yuma “Nature’s Turkish Bath” and “The Great Sanitarium of America.” Conklin agreed. “The very Indians take their sun bath here every day,” he said. “For centuries this people have been reclining at certain times of day on their heated sand-mounds, at a high temperature, and checking the heat by a plunge in the cooling waters of the Colorado. For centuries they have been working wondrous cures from the aid of these medical properties of the soil and atmosphere.”

One of the first to seek a health cure in Arizona was Hiram C. Hodge.

He arrived in 1874, wracked with pulmonary and bronchial ailments. His health improved after only a few months of sun and exercise, and that turned him into a grateful fan of Arizona. Hodge began writing articles for Eastern newspapers praising Arizona’s curative climate.

In 1877, Hodge compiled his articles into a book, “Arizona As It Is, Or The Coming Country.” Arizona leaders, who knew they needed energetic settlers (and their money) to help the territory grow, probably funded its publication. In purple prose, Hodge praised the restorative effects of southern Arizona winters on enfeebled constitutions, but sagely recommended the cooler mountain regions in summer for severe cases of asthma.

Stories of Arizona’s fabled “enjoyable heat” didn’t begin with these men, however. Spanish officials in the early 1700s may have coaxed prospective colonists to settle near the missions of southern Arizona with similar complimentary phrases. Southwestern Indians also may have had similar ideas on the subject.

As early as 1857, when Mexican troops left Tucson after the Gadsden Purchase, pioneer mining entrepreneur Sylvester Mowry wrote the first book about the Arizona Territory. While emphasizing mining, he also extolled the territory’s other virtues in hope of raising capital for his enterprises. Mowry quoted surveyor A. B. Gray’s report: “towards the Colorado River it is much dryer and more torrid, but by no means unhealthy; nor does it prevent outdoor work the whole of the day during the heated term of summer.”

By the 1870s, a more desperate group of settlers took up the cry.

These were sickly writers, exiled to the desert frontier and dealt a life sentence in their therapeutic prison of glaring sun and burning heat. They hoped that sitting at their hooded typing table in the sun painting word poems of glorious Arizona sunsets might entice others to share their appreciation for the desert climate that had saved their lives.

So, the phrase persists, partly a joke now, but still used by entrepreneurs and doctors to lure retirees and invalids to Arizona.

Judging from the growing population in places where the summers are hottest, perhaps it is a dry heat that millions of new arrivals don’t mind all that much.

— Jim Turner. Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society.

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