When we think about retirement spots, the usual dilemma is whether to retire by the sea or in the mountains. Both destinations offer many opportunities for outdoor activities and leisure pursuits, beautiful settings, and interesting, dynamic communities to live in. Beach and mountain towns, however, can be expensive, and beaches in particular can get crowded, especially in the summertime when beach communities swell with summer vacationers.
A third possibility that more and more retirees are considering is the desert. In the United States, desert environments are generally limited to the southwest of the country — inland southern California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Texas, and a few other states. These regions are popular for their year-round warm weather, golfing opportunities, and health benefits. The semi-arid climate of the desert, with its dry air, can help alleviate asthma, allergies, and other conditions suffered by seniors and people of all ages.
Desert Living Equals Better Air Quality
The first thing many people notice about the desert is the improved air quality. Many desert communities are remote and under populated, with flat terrain all around; any pollution from vehicle exhaust or other sources dissipates quickly. Certainly, you may not notice such benefits in downtown Phoenix or Las Vegas, and thoroughfares in popular destinations such as Palm Springs can get choked up with exhaust pretty quickly, but there are plenty of cleaner communities not far away.
Desert Areas Have More Sunny Days
Another benefit to the desert is an abundance of sunshine. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a great source of Vitamin D, critical for maintaining skeletal calcium and enhancing the body’s immune system. Vitamin D deficiency can make one more vulnerable to catching a cold or virus, and has been identified as a cause of depression. Of course, the sunshine has its dangers as well — overexposure to solar radiation can lead to various forms of skin cancer and other ailments. But if you get a good base tan and control your exposure to the sun with lotions, floppy hats and other clothing, and even parasols, you can protect yourself from the dangers.
Low Humidity in Desert Locations
High humidity can breed dangerous molds and mildews, especially during winter months. In the low-humidity desert, mildew is not a problem. Sufferers of asthma and various allergies find great relief in the dry desert air; some doctors who treat acute asthmas sufferers prescribe a move to the desert, if possible. And more, dry weather can reduce occurrences of lung infections and alleviate arthritis.
Peace and Quiet in Desert Communities
Finally, most desert communities are peaceful and quiet. Tranquility is a factor in reducing stress, and chronic stress can cause heart disease, sleeping disorders, digestive problems, depression, obesity, and more. Being stuck in traffic on a hot drive to a crowded beach, or being cooped up in a mountain valley during a monsoon-like downpour, are not conducive to stress relief. Watching a desert sunset on a crystal-clear evening can be. If you protect yourself from too much sun (and learn to adapt to the summer heat!), a desert can be the healthiest environment to live in.
There are variations in the various deserts of the American southwest. There are generally considered to be four major deserts in the U.S.:
· The more southern Mojave
· Sonora,Chihuahuan Deserts, which have long, hot summers and semitropical vegetation
· The more northern Grand Basin Desert, which is cooler
· The Chihuahuan Desert stretches from southwestern Texas, including the El Paso area, across southern New Mexico extending deep into Mexico, this is the largest desert in North America. Most rainfall occurs during the very hot summers; winter temperatures can get cool.
The Sonora Desert covers southern Arizona and the Arizona/California border area, including the Arizonan cities of Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma and the Palm Springs area of California. Like the Chihuahuan, the Sonora Desert stretches well into Mexico. This is the hottest American desert, though freezing may occur on some winter nights. Rain can fall both in the winter and the summer, irrigating a diversity of plant life. The Sonora Desert is well known for its towering saguaro cactus.
The Mohave Desert is mostly in southern California and southern Nevada, and includes Death Valley National Park and the city of Las Vegas. This area is noted for its extremes: Death Valley includes both the 11,049-foot-high Telescope Peak as well as the lowest surface point in the United States, at 282 feet below sea level. Death Valley also boasts the highest maximum temperatures in the summer, hovering around 134 degrees Fahrenheit, though average temperatures throughout the Mohave are lower than in the Sonora, to the south.
Finally, the Great Basin Desert covers most of the state of Nevada, and includes western Utah and parts of southeastern Idaho. Because of its northern location and higher elevations, this is a “cool” desert; precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the desert and often comes down as snowfall in the winter. Sagebrush is common; cactus is not.
Because climate is such an important feature of desert living, be sure to spend ample time in any desert community before making a commitment. Larger communities such as the Arizona cities, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas offer all the amenities a retiree could hope for, and Phoenix and Las Vegas in particular have suffered from the real estate crisis, so it remains a buyer’s market (as of July 2011) in those cities. However, there are hundreds of smaller communities that can offer you all the peace and tranquility you could ask for!