The Little Rock weather during the spring of 1968 can be summed up in one word; wet. It was the final semester of my last year of medical school and I had had it with academe, being poor, and put as my first choice an internship in the desert. St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix offered a mixed private/public hospital rotating internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Maricopa County Hospital. It paid $400.00 / month + an apartment + meals in the hospital cafeteria when on duty. I graduated at the end of June and Lynn and I hitched the smallest U-Haul trailer made to the back of our VW, stuck our German Shepherd, Gretchen in the back seat, and took off on our grand adventure.
We stopped over at my parent’s home in Crawford County, Arkansas and struck out the next day on I-40. We drove across Oklahoma and spent the night in El Reno, Oklahoma. You may recognize the name. There was tremendous tornado damage there this spring. We got gas and the service station attendant told us that our shock absorbers were shot and needed to be replaced. We charged the replacement on our Esso card, incredulous that a practically new car would have such a problem. By sheer luck in talking to one of my fellow interns, later, I found that he and his wife had stopped at the same service station and had their shocks replaced. Eventually, we both got our money back and the station manager lost his station.
We drove through Amarillo, Texas and on to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The little VW began to go slower and slower and the highway, for some reason, was a two lane road at that point. Looking in the rear view mirror I could see traffic strung out behind us for a quarter mile. Finally, a state trooper passed all of the cars and waved us to the shoulder. No ticket. He just wanted us to let all of those cars by. We were approaching the continental divide and the ascent was so gradual that I had no idea we were going uphill. I thought the car was failing.
After Gonzales we picked up speed and spent the night in Albuquerque. We ate in a Mexican restaurant and I had my first huevos rancheros. The Mexican food in Albuquerque is muy picante, the hottest I have eaten anywhere. Phoenix fare was bland by comparison. From Albuquerque we drove to Flagstaff, Arizona. At Flagstaff we took a left turn down I-17, better known then as the Black Canyon freeway.
Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet. The altitude of Phoenix is 1100 feet. In Arizona altitude dictates climate. As we drove south the temperature became steadily hotter and when we drove into the parking lot of the apartment building, where we would be living, the temperature was 117 degrees. I have checked the records at Sky Harbor airport for that date and the official records are lower with the hottest day being earlier in June at 114 degrees. It was definitely hotter than that at our apartment.
We needed to run some errands so I took the bumper jack and, releasing the lock on the hitch, jacked the tongue off of the hitch. We ran to El Rancho, the local supermarket, and bought a few groceries and drove back to the trailer. The jack had sunk an inch into the asphalt. Impressive. Semiliquid asphalt. Also impressive was the fact that you could buy liquor in the grocery store and you could buy it any day of the week. Arkansas at that time had blue laws too complicated to describe.
Gretchen was suffering more than we were. She acclimated quickly, though. We hauled our few possessions to the apartment, wedged the bumper jack out of the asphalt, and turned the trailer in.
I searched my memory. I had missed the sign on the Black Canyon freeway that announced, “You are now passing through the gates of Hell.”
Saturday, June 29, 2013, the National Weather Service reported that the Phoenix temperature set a record at 119 degrees.
MAXIMUM 119R 407 PM 117 1994 107 12 110
MINIMUM 91 624 AM 59 1913 81 10 90
AVERAGE 105 94 11 100
TODAY 0.00 0.09 1976 0.00 0.00 0.00
MONTH TO DATE 0.00 0.02 -0.02 0.00
SINCE OCT 1 3.53 5.34 -1.81 2.38
SINCE JAN 1 2.61 3.23 -0.62 0.36
The nice thing about that kind of climate is that you don’t have to heat the water in your swimming pool. The bad news is that it is becoming increasingly hard to come by the water.