It’s that time of the year again when Arizona ranchers like to sit around discussing the dry weather. Each prevaricator likes to claim their particular ranch has the driest creeks, dustiest storms, least rainfall and longest drought. As a rule first liar doesn’t stand a chance. Some of ‘em are so good at it you can’t believe ‘em when they say they’re lyin’. O.D. Fuller once got caught tellin’ the truth and it took him thirty minutes to lie his way out of it.

Arizonans like to boast that their heat is a “dry heat”, something that probably helps to explain why most of the rainfall around here is a dry rain. I’ve known folks who prayed their family picnic would get rained on so the youngsters would have something to tell their grandchildren. Optimism soars and natives grab their umbrellas and raincoats when the television weatherman goes out on a limb and predicts a “slight chance of showers.” Waddie Culpepper once showed up at a bridal shower wearing a slicker.

I was headin’ west of Zuni, New Mexico in a driving rainstorm a few years back and the moment I hit the “Welcome to Arizona” the rain stopped, sun came out and the pavement was bone dry. Being a practical kind of guy, I stopped, put my pickup in reverse and backed into New Mexico just to savor a few more rainy moments before heading home.

My Uncle Charlie Gilpin was born in Bisbee but spent most of his life in Yuma. He swore that back in Ol’ Noah’s day when it rained forty days and forty nights, Yuma only got a quarter of an inch. When Shorty Logsden and his wife Sadie moved from Oregon to Gila Bend they went to buy an adobe house from an old prospector. The house looked like it would suit their needs but before committing Shorty looked up at the ceiling and asked, “Are you sure the roof doesn’t leak?”

The prospector got a puzzled expression on his face and replied, “Leak what?”

Down near Willcox is a huge, dry lake bed. Old timers claim that at one time its sparkling blue waters rivaled those of Lake Tahoe. That is until a group of German tourists held a picnic there a few years ago. They brought along a couple of kegs of beer and a barrel of pretzels. They guzzled all the beer but there was still a half-barrel of pretzels so they tossed the remainder in the lake. The fish started feasting on those pretzels, got so thirsty they drank all the water and there hasn’t been enough rainfall since to refill it.

The drought also had an effect on religion. The churches out in Salome passed a water-saving ordinance that until the drought ended the Baptists could only sprinkle; the Methodists used a damp cloth and the Presbyterians issued rain checks.

During the summer of 1990 a heat wave set all kinds of records in Arizona. The climax came on June 26th when the temperature hit 122 degrees—that’s in the shade and five feet off the ground. It got so hot cowboys out in Cave Creek were heatin’ their branding irons just by aimin’ ‘em at the sun and the bronze statues at the state capitol started sweating. A capitol police officer swore he saw the storied Jesuit priest, Father Kino spur his horse, and ride over to a large shade palo verde tree. I checked the other day and he’s still there. A man in Scottsdale wound up in the hospital with third degree burns after jumping into his swimming pool to cool off.

Mirages have been known to fool the saltiest of old cowboys. Hector Salazar tells of a time when he was driving a bunch of thirsty cows across the Sulphur Springs Valley, sometimes referred to as the “Sufferin’ Springs Valley.” Most of the water holes had dried up and it looked like they weren’t gonna make it but then he came upon a big pond where he camped for several days waterin’ his stock before he realized the pond was only a mirage……..but he insisted, “It kept my cows from dyin’ of thirst.”

During a long drought in 1889, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Convention met in Phoenix and rancher Daniel Houston Ming was asked to give the opening prayer. Dan was a salty old cattleman who normally accepted no man or beast as his master. But these weren’t normal times and he needed a big favor and he wasn’t too proud to humble himself before the Almighty.

He removed his hat and gazing towards the heavens began:

“Now Lord, I’m about to round you up for some plain talk. Lord, I ain’t like those fellars who come bothering you every day. Why, this is the first time I’ve ever tackled you for anything and if you will only grant this I promise I’ll never bother you again. We want rain, Good Lord and we want it real bad and we ask you to send us some. But if you can’t or don’t want to send us any, doggone it, don’t make it rain over on those ranges in New Mexico, but treat us all alike. Amen!”

And, that ain’t no bull.

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