Went to Arizona -- got some questions

Just got back from Arizona (Tempe area) and noticed yall do some things different out there. Could you enlighten a Georgia boy on a couple of things.

1 - Driving around Tempe, through Scottsdale toward Carefree I noticed that the vast majority of single family homes were one story affairs. Is there a reason for this? Zoning? Design to beat high temp?

2 - I heard that real estate is very pricey anywhere in this region. Is this true, because…well, it’s a desert. It would seem that land would be really cheap in a desert.

3 - Driving along 60 from Tempe toward Globe I noticed several spots where 60 dropped down to pass underneath city streets, so that the highway (60) was like a big bowl underneath the overpass. But there were no storm drains in the pavement. I would have thought that nearly any amount of rainfall and 10-12 lanes of asphalt shaped like a bowl would have made for huge traffic problems – what gives?

4 - Spent hours driving though Tonto National Forest in different areas and the only wildlife I saw (other than birds) was one chipmunk. We let our wildlife wander around on its own here. Apparently you guys put all of yours up before I got there. Where to go to see some wildlife on my next trip and what will I be seeing.
BTW - loved my trip, thanks to all you good folks in AZ for the hospitality. I’ll be going out there again.


Hey Rainy!

Fellow GA doper here, who just so happens to have spent a significant portion of his life in the desert-like South West, in both southern AZ and in CO. Here are my attempts at answering your questions:

I think cheapness and ease of construction might be the answer here. In Bisbee, where I lived, most of the older houses were two stories, much of the newer, lower income houses were one story. I could be off base, though…anyone else know the answer here?

Price is driven by demand, and a lot of people go to AZ to retire, due to its relatively nice (and dry) climate. I found that prices around cities and such in the Southwest were exponentially higher than the more rural areas…so while a strip of desert in the middle of nowhere might be relatively cheap, a more desolate strip with 30-45 minutes of town are incredibly much higher priced.

One other thing to consider is that distance is honestly viewed differently in the Southwest then in the Southeast. When my family and I moved from Colorado to Georgia, it astounded us when we would here people talking about taking “long drives” and only having travelled for three hours! People also think I’m nuts because I live 40 minutes from work here in GA. Hell, in Colorado, we used to take 6+ hour drives every weekend just to go to a nice camping/hiking/fishing spot! It took me 40 minutes just to get across town in Colorado…

If AZ ever got even a portion of the rainfall GA gets, they would think that the earth was flooding and start building arks. :wink: Really, heavy rainfall there is soooo rare, and often times, it is so dry that the water that does fall evaporates almost as soon as it hits the ground. I have personally gone out on “rainy” days where you could look up and see the rain falling, but never got wet because it evaporated before it got closer to the ground! I am sure there may be rare occassions where such flooding might occur, but for the most part, what the air doesn’t reclaim, the thirsty ground will.

A significant amount of the wildlife in the Southwest is nocturnal. Daytime temperatures are too hot and require more energy than most native critters can gain back by being active. Try spending a night in the desert, though, and you will see all manner of strange and fiendish beasties.

So, whereabouts in GA are you? I’m smack dab in the middle…

  1. Single story ranch houses are the norm but two story houses are commonplace in higher density developments which are typically newer. Older neighborhoods tend to have larger lots than in other cities so there is less need to build a second story. TheLadyLion and I live in a two story townhouse.

  2. Undeveloped land is reasonably cheap but that doesn’t bring down the cost of developing it. Phoenix has a hot home market in part because because a lot of corporate jobs are located here. Phoenix has serious sprawl and the work commutes for some of my friends who live away from the central valley is brutal.

  3. You may have noticed this is a desert. Average rainfall in Phoenix is about seven to eight inches per year. Unfortunately it all seems to come on the same day which overwhelms the drainage systems. Seriously, flash flooding is a problem as the the heavy rain seasons comes in mid-late summer thunderstorms. We actually had to pass a law to make anyone who drives around a barricade into a flooded area to be liable for the cost of rescue. This is pretty common as rural roads often cross dry streambeds which can flood in a matter of minutes with storm runoff.

Right now we’re having unusually heavy rainfall but since we’ve been in a nine year drought it may take a few years of triple the normal rainfall to get back to normal water table levels.

  1. See question 3. We have lots of wildlife in Arizona but a desert doesn’t support large densities of big animals so you won’t see a lot on the road. Also many desert animals are nocturnal. We have deer, elk and bears but you have to look a bit further for them.

Ah that would be Macon if I read a map same way you do? I went to college in Macon. I grew up and now live in north GA, about 70 miles above Atlanta.

Dang. Yup, you win. If I’m going to drive 6 hours for anything, there’s going to be a hotel room and a holiday weekend involved at the minimum.

From what (relatively) little driving around I did out there I can see why that mindset develops though with all the open and unoccupied land.

That’s cool. I’d like to see that.

That makes sense. Maybe I was driving through older neighborhoods. It just seemed like the single story dwelling had about a 98-99% hold and I wondered what made it so ubiquitous.

See, this is what confused me. On a lot of the little roads we traversed, there were all these signs about flooding and I assumed that they were where the municipals couldn’t afford to do anything about the situation – other than put up a sign. But on 60, with 10-12 lanes of interstate I would have thought that for one they could have afforded to do something about it, and that secondly having an interstate crippled in that manner, even only once a year, would warrant fixing it.

I’ll play.

  1. Agree with Padeye in that most newer developments around town have a varied mix of 1 & 2 story homes. The areas you mentioned tend to be older or lower density, so single story homes are the norm. North Scottsdale & Carefree may have some sort of height restrictions in place in an attempt to preserve their highly valued mountain views and pseudo-rustic west appeal.

  2. Land has gotten ridiculously expensive, considering what you get, but Phoenix is still one of the cheapest housing markets in the western US. Especially when compared to CA. Out of state investors and unrelenting growth have been drivng prices up like mad over the past year. What is expensive is your utilities. Not so much the cost per kwh, but just that you use so much of it in the summer.

  3. I drive the 60 freeway frequently, and can’t recall any section of it ever being flooded. So the storm drains must be there. Maybe hidden under all the litter?

  4. Nocturnal wildlife, as others mentioned.

Just moved to AZ from CT with my wife. I lived out here before during grad school, and we owned a vacation home here for nearly a decade, and in that time the cities of greater Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa have grown exponentially. We are currently living on the south side of south mountain, and we love the area. The Gila Indian Rex to our direct south will prevent that area near the Estrella mountain from growing too big. The view should remain nice. My wife and I recently went under contract for a large parcel of land butting the Rez. Large being 4 acres. And in this area 4 acres is gargantuan. We’re planning on building in the next year or two.

As to your questions.

The city is not built on your average eastern terraforma or earthen soil. The city is on a type of clay, and run off is a huge problem. You will not see too many drains like you do back east. Instead, you’ll see small, medium and large washes, to direct the water over the land, and eventually into a drainage system of sorts, or into simple open desert.

As for the wildlife. Driving through Tonto NF, I’m not surprised you didn’t see much. You need to get away from the byways, and into the bush to see anything. It’s a common tourist mentality to think you’ll see tons of animals slithering around the desert from the comfort of your car. My wife and I travel up to the Mogollon rim to see wild life, and even then we have to hike just to catch a glimpse of an elk or if we’re really lucky a Big Horned Sheep.

Lets narrow down the expensive land comment.

Around here to buy an acre lot that’s nothing special, you’ll pay 10-15K, more $ for less acreage in a development with underground utilities and curbing etc. To get it ANY cheaper, you’ve got to buy a larger tract. How about AZ?

Sorry – not trying to touristy about the wildlife. If I had logged as many miles in a national forest around here as I had out in AZ, I would have seen several white tail, and possibly the odd fox, rabbit, etc. I guess it has to do with density of wildlife supported per acre.

One more question about PHX, and AZ in general. Why are the air conditioners on the roof? I’m not talking about swamp coolers (I recognize those when I see 'em), I mean the coils, fan etc. Everywhere else those units are beside the house, on the lawn. What gives?

Land in Arizona – what’s the price now, or what was it three months ago? Seriously, although I know little about specific prices, they’re rising like mad. That $300,000 house you saw in Tempe was probably $100-150k ten years ago, maybe less. People at work talk about how their homes have doubled in value over five years. It’s madness.

And air conditioners beside the house? I don’t recall ever seeing that. Guess I’ll have to look when I travel somewhere else! (Never having known anything but A/C on the house, I have no idea why they are on the roof.)

Also, if you go out at night in an area less well-traveled than Tonto NF, you might see more stuff like javelina, coyotes, etc.

You’ll find both set ups in the Phoenix area. Remember, cold air falls easier. I guess they were thinking, generate the cold air on the roof, and just let it fall into the house. Less work for the air handler. Plus, it’s up out of the way, out of the yard. However they’ve found that the unit had to work harder, being in the sun all day. In new construction, most systems are ‘split’. The compressor and condensor are on the ground, with the air handler and coils in the attic.

Oh yeah…what was that big white sphere perched on a mountain top in Tonto outside of Carefree?

Uh, no, it’s not to reduce load on the air handler. As to why it is on the roof, I guess it depends on if it is a rooftop system or a split system, although either one of those could be on the roof or the side of the house.

So what is it that determines where it goes? I’ll bet money that it is cost. Whatever costs less is what is installed. Most buyers are willing to spend extra cash on something like granite counter tops, but almost no one will spend extra money on a properly installed HVAC system.

I hadn’t thought about height restrictions, but they do exist in some neighborhoods to preserve mountain views. I live in a two-story townhouse (as do Padeye and LadyLion). These are very common in newer neighborhoods, as a larger house can thus be put on a smaller piece of increasingly expensive land. Interestingly, I can’t remember ever seeing a house taller than two stories. I don’t know why not, but they just don’t seem to exist here.

Another point about single-story houses: they are much easier to sell to the elderly, who often avoid houses with staircases if possible. Phoenix attracts a huge number of retirees who would only buy a single-level home.

The land out by Carefree/North Scottsdale is expensive because it’s in a nice new upscale neighborhood. Comparable housing is still cheaper here than most cities I’ve seen.
I’ll see if I can find out what that White Sphere is.

Glad you enjoyed your visit!

Regarding wildlife, it really depends on where you are. I live in the foothills area of Tucson, and routinely see wildlife. Coyotes are a daily to weekly occurance, and javelina are at least once per month. Daily sightings of cottontails (but jackrabbits are less common)…and I’ve seen several deer, a fox, and a multitude of reptilesand rodents in the local area. I had a bobcat and her two kittens hanging out in the neighborhood this last summer; they enjoyed drinking from the birdbath.

But if I go into the center of town, there is little wildlife to be seen.

Additionally, most of the wildlife is nocturnal as mentioned by previous posters, but critters are much less visible in the winter months.

The area where I live has a lot of wild area that cannot be developed by local law. For example, in this area, 40% of the land cannot ever be developed or used except for removal of exotic vegetation. So there are corridors for wildlife to come in and eat our landscapes, which consists mostly of xerophytic plants (adapted to low water needs)

Prices are going up rapidly; I couldn’t afford my house if I had to buy it now.

When it rains, we can get local deluges of an inch or two (doesn’t sound like much unless you are in the middle of it) in just a few minutes, as the summer rains fall in conjuction with thunderstorms. Streets fill with water not due to drains, but because of the speed of the delivery and runoff…so the drains we have become overfilled.

And the young. When it came time to buy our current house, anything but a ranch was automatically out of consideration (yeah, we do have a furnished basement, but it’s not a regular living area). One story houses – foot by foot of living area – invariably cost more to build, and invariably have better resale values. I’m talking about my area here; your mileage may vary.

Two stories do go up in many of the new subdivisions, though – you know, those dispicible places (ex fam cum suburb) where they sell you a 40 x 50 lot for $100,000, and your house occupies basically the entire plot. With such little room, you can’t really fit a ranch there. It’s a shame, but at least they drive up the values of our traditional homesteads by even more :).

This is one of the things that blew my mind when I moved here. I had a friend that lived exactly 9 miles away from my apartment and wouldn’t even dream about coming over, even though he had a car. In fact, he had lived 9 miles away his entire life and had never even been to my side of town. As far as he was concerned it was the big scary wild wild west (59th avenue and Greenway :rolleyes: ) that he’d heard horror stories about while growing up and he had no business over there. I think it’d be really hard, if not impossible, to find a place within 30 miles of where I grew up that I didn’t know like the back of my hand.

This really killed my funnybone because, growing up in NC, I had an hour drive each way to high school every day! My parents, still in NC, both have ~hour drives each way to work every day.

My brother has hypothosized that this younger generation (say, 30 and under) of Vallyers has grown up with the mindset that whatever you’re looking for is probably within 5 miles, and if not then it’s not really worth going there.


When we first moved out to Phoenix (1972), we drove from Philly. As we got into town, my dad asked a local guy to directions to McDowell Road, and was shocked when the fellow asked him: “are you guys going to California?” Gee, we were loaded with luggage and had out-of-state plates, but this local guy thought NOTHING of driving to California! Wow! (Now that I’m practically a Phx local, this Philly attitude seems cute.)

We also found out that Oak Creek was a popular picnic area for Phoenix residents, even though it was a 90-minute drive each way. Back in Philadelphia, if you drove 90 minutes to get somewhere, you booked a hotel. When my relatives from Back East come out here, they are amazed that we consider Flagstaff or Tucson a fun day trip, each involving a 2 hour drive each way. They seem to get the vapors if they have to drive more than 1/2 hour.

Now that we’re sharing travel stories, I’ve got a good one. I was working my summer away in a gas station in Albuquerque, real close to I-40. A family comes in heading from Pennsylvania to either Phoenix or Tucson, don’t remember which. Anyway, this was probably 10 or 11 in the morning. We pull out the map for them, and give them basic directions (it’s either 40 to 17 or 25 to 10, piece of cake either way, I could do it without a map.) The mom asks about how long it’ll take, and seems shocked when I said seven or eight hours, depending on how fast they travel, so they’ll probably get there around six or seven PM. “But it looks so close on the map,” she said. Well, I didn’t know what to say to that one, other than to say, “Well, distances are big out here.”

I just want to add that Pennsylvania absolutely stinks when it comes to having to drive anywhere (and the entire East Coast, for that matter.) It takes me an hour just to go 30 miles to Altoona or State College or Lewistown and four hours just to get to DC or Philly or Pittsburgh. I could be better than halfway to freaking Denver (or Phoenix or Tucson or pretty much in Flagstaff) in that amount of time, or at least in Raton having lunch. I blame it all on the population density.

Hawkinsville, actually, but Macon’s close enough for gov’t work. :wink:

It still cracks me up…I do a lot of travelling for reenactments, driving 3 weekends a month usually, and most are at least 2-3hrs away, often more than that. One of my coworkers thinks I’m a lunatic, and says I’m the “drivin’est damned man he ever did see.”