APACHE JUNCTION, Arizona — Snowbirds in the popular Phoenix metropolitan area have delighted in escaping the bitter cold spells and brutal blizzards that buffeted much of the nation this winter.
But they haven't totally escaped the bad weather: They've heard plenty of complaints from families and friends back home about the nastiest conditions in some three decades.
As first-time snowbirds from South Dakota, my wife and I almost feel guilty about missing the horrendous winter weather. In contrast to the record cold and snow in the North, we've enjoyed week after week of mild (and sometimes quite warm) days since Thanksgiving.
Veteran snowbirds at Sierra Del Saguaro RV (recreational vehicle) and mobile home resort, mostly from the Upper Midwest and Canada, tell us they've never experienced anything like it.
"This is the longest spell of consistently nice days I've seen since first coming here," said Jim King of Windom, Minnesota Jim and his wife, Lee, have basked here in the desert sun each winter since 2005.
Thousands of snowbirds flood this part of the country every winter, seeking the warm sun that evades those left behind in northern climates. There have been few days this winter when the high temperature in this area was not in the 65 to 70 F (18 to 21 C) range. In fact, January was the third-warmest on record in the Phoenix area.
Having spent six decades in cold-weather states, my wife and I are enjoying it immensely.
Selecting this resort after a 1,500-mile (about 2,400 kilometers) drive and a day-long search, we are incredibly impressed by the genuine sense of community we experienced at the instant of our arrival. Longtime snowbirds say the friendliness is heartfelt and common.
Jack Simmons of Cadillac, Michigan, has wintered here since 2006 with his wife, Sharon.
"The first year we came here because of what this place has to offer," he said. "The next year we came back because of the good people. Around here, you're only a stranger until you shake someone's hand. After that, you become family."
The contagious friendliness is highlighted each afternoon as small groups of snowbirds gather outside in lawn chairs for so-called "happy hour" sessions to relax and discuss daily activities, politics, sightseeing, shopping and other topics. All are welcome to pull up a chair and join in the camaraderie.
Local resorts provide a variety of amenities and group activities for snowbirds, including organized clubhouse events and entertainment, swimming pools, fitness centers, hobby and craft rooms, shuffleboard and tennis courts, libraries, and game rooms.
For many snowbirds, reading a good book in the warm sun on a reclining lawn chair is the perfect day. Others prefer more strenuous outdoor activities, such as hiking.
Group hikes are particularly popular. The Phoenix area has a plethora of hiking trails, ranging from easy paths on relatively level ground to grueling uphill hikes at the base of nearby mountains.
Or go four-wheeling through the rugged desert in an all-terrain vehicle or Jeep. Off-roading areas abound on the millions of acres of public lands.
Golf is also a favorite pastime in this desert area, and it seems as if there's a golf course around every corner. In fact, golf carts are a popular means of transportation in resorts for quick trips to clubhouses, tennis courts or just dropping in on friends.
No matter what your interest, the weather makes it incredibly enjoyable to do anything outside.
These two fledgling snowbirds from the Mount Rushmore State are forever hooked on the sunny Southwest. We're already making plans to fasten our fifth-wheel camper to the truck and return next winter for time with our new friends.