Things to Consider Before Relocated to The High Desert

by rabbitagent99

For four years I have traveled and live throughout the southwest ranging from elevations of 3000-7000 feet. The conditions are rough, extreme and not for the faint hearted.

This article is based on living and traveling in the California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and the Colorado Deserts. I currently live in Joshua Tree California. Three years in the Morongo Basin has inspired my own personal saying: "To live here, one has to be insane to avoid going insane."
While it is true that the cost of a house or apartment, whether renting or owning, is significantly lower in the high desert, the unfortunate reality is that desert conditions create numerous expenses. The typically eccentric unconventional desert culture appeals only to a small minority. If I had to describe desert life and culture in just one word it would be extremes.

The desert is not like the mountains where you are cradled and sheltered in various varieties of fragrant evergreen trees and surrounded by lush green undergrowth forming a gorgeous palette of earth tones. The desert is not the suburbs with manicured front lawns, tulips, picket fences inviting sidewalks and unique architecture representing a variety of cultural and time period’s influences. The Desert is most assuredly not the coast with meandering sea walls and a vast body of water for esthetic, therapeutic, and recreation purposes. Let us not forget the coastal sightings of sea lions and occasional dolphin sightings for the lucky few. The desert can’t possibly be compared to any of these regions; the desert is in a class by itself.

So what is it the view in the desert and how does it affect one’s psyche? I had an odd feeling that I could not explain when I settled here. Within the first month, of my arrival, I happened upon a documentary “Test Site” that helped me put this into perspective. It was copacetic to find this documentary, since it explained in perfect detail everything that was happening around me.  I recommend watching this if considering a move to the desert. As explained in the documentary Test Site, the Desert is vast and seemingly endless. There is no clear beginning or end and space and sky appear infinite. The landscape and the sky extend further than the eye can see with no borders or boundaries. This is unsettling for most people, especially folks who need a logical predictable order in their surroundings.



During a storm the sky takes on a life of its own and one can feel very small and powerless surrounded by it. In parts of the desert, especially Nevada the desert is rocky and monochromatic. This lack of physical boundary and logical patterns powerful and for most humans disorientating. For only a small minority, it is intriguing, mystical, magical and spiritual and these unusual folks are the ones that stay. I have lived here three years and have seen numerous people leave, after considerable effort, for places they consider to be far better.

In my naïve early 20s, I believed that the desert temperatures never dropped below 80 degrees, even in the dead of winter. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is the low desert that averages warmer temperatures in the winter and the cost of living reflects this as does the snowbird economy. Contrary my previous assumption, the weather, in the hi-desert, (where the cost of living is low) can drop as low as below zero, in the winter, depending on elevation. A common misconception is that it does not snow in the desert. It may be hard to imagine, but snow covers the ground and the cati in the hi-desert. Each winter is unique but the snow can be intermittent and light or cover the ground entirely for several days. The heat, in the summer, soars to unimaginable heights anywhere from 105 to 125. Summer and winter are harsh and embody the extremes that are the Hi-Desert.

In June and July the temperature is hot and can reach the triple digits almost daily. Even in springtime the weather can climb into the mid 90s. The increased cost of cooling starts as early as April and is necessary throughout the month of May. By June, a fully functioning swamp cooler and fans are essential. Swamp coolers make the heat bearable and consume water and fuel. Though swamp coolers are efficient it is still an essential cost that needs consideration. Since the temperature experiences drastic extremes, a swamp cooler has to be disconnected in the summer and reconnected in the winter by a professional.


Hi-desert Cacti have to be frost hearty
Hi-desert Cacti have to be frost hearty

The time of year that presents the greatest difficulty and even debilitation is August. August is hotter and extremely humid. It is not unheard of for the temperature to surpass 110 degrees and can rise as high as 125. The humidity of a desert summer makes any temperature feel 10- 20 degrees hotter. Swamp cooling is counter- intuitive in high humidity so many find it necessary to buy and use an air conditioner.

Extreme heat can cause power outages that will eliminate any cooling sources.

Swamp coolers have to be connected by a professional at the beginning of the hot season and disconnected for winter. If the swamp cooler is not disconnected in time for the first frost of winter, serious damages will occur that are costly to fix.



Winter is the opposite extreme of harsh, but is a little easier. The temperature can drop to the low 20s and in higher elevations below 0. Furthermore, it is a different kind of cold then most region. It is a biting bitter arid cold. Snow is common and will stay on the ground in higher elevations. The cost of heating, bursting pipes from freezes can be high. The coldest month is January with nightly frost and frequent snow.

To thrive in the desert means enduring extreme heat and cold
To thrive in the desert means endurin...
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Snow storm in the desert
Snow storm in the desert

Cost of Commuting:

Typically the high desert is remote and jobs are scarce and public transportation is minimal or even nonexistent. Commuting to work, especially for a specialized professional may be necessary. The cost of gas and wear and tear on a vehicle add up rapidly.


Desert Culture:

It is not an overstatement to say that there is a distinct culture. This culture is difficult for most to navigate, especially if one lacks spontaneity, expects social conventions, and is uncomfortable with the unexpected. The culture includes a seemingly infinite number of interesting creative characters; these characters can also be unpredictable and behave erratically, though never ordinary or boring. It is not usual to form relationships with people, over time and see them break from reality.

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The hi-desert attracts paroles, drug addicts, the chronically unemployed and uneducated; this is more due to the fact that rentals are inexpensive. If you are someone who is not used to incessant screaming of obscenities throughout your neighborhood it can be disturbing, distracting and disruptive. This element is present in every neighborhood. If witnessing drug deals discrete or completely lacking in discretion in the parking lot of your grocery store is annoying, shocking or offensive you are sure to feel uneasy on any given routine shopping trip. A shopping trip can also include a toothless hustler insisting that you pay him to fix your car and you have to pay him right now because he happens to have the tools in his truck. The same guy will approach you several times with the same story, but it could be worse; at least he isn't a rattlesnake, a reptile that thrives in the desert and is frequently sited in the desert version of urban areas. 


There are a modest number of responsible, trustworthy, and sophisticated folks in the high desert. Many of these folks are genius scientists interested in astronomy, physics and botany. A newcomer needs to be savvy at making this distinction. To meet like minded people, it is necessary to seek out special activities like a bridge club, art and cultural events, star gazing, or hiking club.


A Common High Desert Beetle nearly the size of a human hand
A Common High Desert Beetle nearly th...

Bugs are bigger, heartier and extremely prolific in the desert. 

Cockroaches thrive in the desert environment and do not need a dirty house to invade your home, indoors and outdoors. The desert has a cockroach population reminiscent of a Hitchcock film. By April, desert cockroaches roam in the thousands outdoors and thousands will enter the home regardless of cleanliness. Desert cockroaches are up to six inches long and can be found on the walls, crawling on the floor, on the rug, in drawers, under the fridge, on the walls, under furniture, in your bed and the ceiling or right out in the open coveting cat food bits. The female only needs to be inseminated once in a lifetime to lay countless eggs. Cockroach abatement is essential and because of the high numbers the cost adds up quickly. Diatomaceous earth is the most effective and economical abatement though the dust is unpleasant (though not fatal) to mammals including humans.



Fortunately the desert cockroach is not venomous; unfortunately there are several other bugs, like the sun spiders and scorpions that do bite. Black windows thrive in the high desert and can be found in corners of your house, in your garage or in your garden or under rocks. 

Miscellaneous Expense of the Desert

Finally, a minor expense that can add up is hair and body products. The dry climate can cause flaking dry skin. Lotion is often not enough and in summer and winter pure skin oil is needed. These conditions can also cause severe cracking in the feet making it necessary to purchase more products. Cracks in the feet are so severe that they can actually bleed and become infected. Wind and dust make it necessary to shampoo more often; the arid climate causes the scalp to be dry and flakey. It is not possible to go a day, any time of year, without eye drops.

In summation the desert life may appear to be less expensive, though compensating for the conditions can cost time, attention, comfort, health and money.

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Allergens: Dust is alive and well in the high desert and one day of not wiping down surfaces will create a thick layer. In the spring and the windy fall everyone needs some kind of allergy medicine.

Fire Danger

 In the high desert there are invasive weeds that thrive and grow to heights up to ten feet. These invasives push out natives. They become eminent fire hazard when they dry out and the heavy winds intensify this possibility and ensure that the invasive reseed. Cal Fire and Environmental Organizations work hard to pull these weeds but public interest is low. This is intensified and exacerbated inevitable wildfires in the surrounding mountains.

If the extreme beauty of the desert somehow outweighs the perils mentioned above, I have only to say good luck and mercy on your soul.


Updated: 05/03/2016, rabbitagent99
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