Desert Plants and Wildlife

Prickly Pear

Prickly pear

Have you ever had your mouth water while you looked at a prickly pear cactus? Perhaps it should!

Prickly pears, spiny cacti of the genus Opuntia, are native to the Western Hemisphere but have been shared around the world. For hundreds of years, they have provided nutrition and medicine to people wherever they grow.

In the spring, the plant flowers and then the colorful fruits begin to grow. In Spanish-speaking areas, the fruit is called tuna and the pads are called nopales (plural of nopal). Both are edible.

This plant can be used in almost any kind of dish you can imagine. The flat green pads are eaten like a vegetable and are a staple food in the Mexican diet. When cooked, the taste is like a green bean and the texture is like okra. The fruit is popular as candy, jelly, or syrup for beverages and desserts. They have a slight bubble gum or watermelon flavor. The darker the fruit, the sweeter the flavor.

When harvesting prickly pear, use caution to avoid contact with the glochids, the hairlike prickles that stick to the skin. Wear thick gloves or use a long pair of tongs. To get rid of glochids, use a potato peeler or a flame. You can also purchase pads and fruits at a Mexican supermarket or Sprout’s.

Prickly pear

In addition to food, prickly pear pads can be processed into an environmentally friendly leather replacement. A red dye is extracted from an insect that lives on the cacti and the red dye betanin can be extracted from the plant themselves. Essential oils from the flowers are used to make perfumes and the seeds are a source of oil.

Prickly pear has played an important role in Mexican folk medicine. One of its most popular uses is as a hangover cure. It is also used to treat burns. Both fruits and pads are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers and has long been used to keep blood sugar stable, reducing the need for insulin. However, studies on this are ongoing and there are no scientifically proven results yet. You should consult a physician before using prickly pear medicinally.

Around Arizona

Arizona Monsoons, Haboobs, and Downbursts

Monsoons and Haboobs

Arizona has unique weather patterns compared to the rest of the country with terminology that is not used in other states. When it comes to summer weather, most year-round residents look forward to the monsoon storms that cool the stifling desert heat. But what causes this unique weather?


The word monsoon comes from the Arabic word “mausim”, which means “season” or “wind shift”. During the winter, Arizona’s wind comes from the west or northwest. But in the summer, the wind shifts, coming from a southerly or southeasterly direction. This brings moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California.

Combine the shift of the wind, the increase in moisture, and soaring daytime temperatures, and the result is the monsoon season.

The official start of the monsoon season occurs after three consecutive days or more of dew points of 55°F or higher. For a monsoon storm to form, the temperatures in Phoenix need to be between 100-108°F. The monsoon season usually runs from July through September.


The word haboob comes from the Arabic word “habb”, meaning “wind”. These occur in the second stage of thunderstorm development.

In the first stage, called the updraft stage, warm, moist air is lifted and condenses to form cumulus-type clouds. There is little to no precipitation in this stage.

The second stage, called the mature stage, has both updrafts and downdrafts. Downdrafts form at the leading edge of a thunderstorm when the air is pulled downward by precipitation. As the air descends, it often hits the ground and is forced out ahead of the storm in a gust. The gust picks up large amounts of dust and sand and creates a wall of dust we call a haboob. With wind velocity over 30 mph, haboobs can rise to heights of more than 3,000 feet.

The third stage is when the storm finally dissipates and leaves us with cooler temperatures for the rest of the day.


Intense pockets of downdrafts can create severe weather conditions called downbursts. These are bursts of damaging winds that slam into the ground. A large downburst, called a macroburst, can be 2.5 miles long with winds lasting 5-20 minutes. A microburst is smaller with peak winds lasting just 2-5 minutes.

Most smartphones offer severe weather alerts. Check out your phone’s Settings and look under Notifications.

Around Arizona

Water Conservation: Preserving the Future of the Southwest

Water Conservation

Have you ever turned on the tap in your home and wondered, “Where does this water come from?”

That water takes a long journey from Lake Mead on the Colorado River to reach your home. It begins with rainfall or snow in the mountains, trickling down to streams, to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and through hundreds of miles of canals. When it reaches the EPCOR system, it is filtered and tested before finishing its final miles to your home.

New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, California, and Nevada signed the Colorado River Compact in 1922. This paved the way for the construction of Hoover Dam that created Lake Mead and Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell.

Today, the Colorado River Basin is facing a water supply crisis. It began with flawed projections that overestimated the actual river flow and underestimated the water demand that was to come. After decades of growing demand, relentless shortage, and climate change, both reservoirs are now more than half empty.

Water conservation measures are the way forward for all the states that rely on this water source. Officials are meeting to discuss those measures going into 2022.

Meanwhile, we all know that we live in a dry desert. Water conservation should be a way of life for us with or without the water drama along the Colorado River. We can all begin to do our part today to reduce the demand we place on this stressed system.

On average, every person uses 100 gallons of water per day at home. That means a family of 4 averages 146,000 gallons each year. What can you do to lower that number?


This gives the feeling of having the faucet turned on full blast while lowering the amount of water that comes out.


One drip per second adds up to 5 gallons a day.


Say goodbye to the lawn and water-loving plants and say hello to low-water, low-maintenance landscaping.


This can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.


This action alone can save 1,000 gallons per month for each person in your home!

For a comprehensive list of ideas for saving water, visit


Education Choices for Fountain Hills


Thanks to increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated and the pandemic hopefully moving toward our rearview mirror, schools across Maricopa County are gearing up for resuming school as usual this Fall. No matter your age or educational needs, Fountain Hills residents have many options.


Our elementary school serves students in grades Pre-K through Third. Small class sizes allow teachers to give personalized attention. The art-infused curriculum encourages the joy of discovery while gaining academic mastery without fear of failure.


Students in grades 4-8 are offered a challenging academic environment along with well-rounded opportunities like clubs and team-building activities for developing leadership skills.


FHHS was awarded “Best High School” by U.S. News & World Report for three years. It is also an A+ School of Excellence. Academic opportunities include STEM programs, an AP Capstone program, 25 extracurricular clubs, Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, and the option to attend EVIT.


One of the top charter schools in the United States is just a mile west of Fountain Hills. Students in grades 4-12 receive a rigorous academic education. BASIS Scottsdale boasts a 100% participation rate in Advanced Placement courses.


EVIT provides job-ready training for high school students. Their hands-on learning environment can lead to dual enrollment credits through Mesa Community College, industry certifications, and internships to make them competitive in the global workforce. These programs are tuition-free.


One of the largest in the U.S., the Maricopa Community College System has transfer agreements with public and private colleges and universities for a seamless transition to four-year institutions. Some four-year degrees are now offered entirely at the Community Colleges.


Rated #1 in the U.S. for Innovation and Top 10 in the U.S. for First-Year Experience by U.S. News & World Report. Students have access to nationally and internationally ranked programs that prepare next-generation innovators to thrive while advancing pioneering research, strategic partnerships, entrepreneurship, and economic development.


GCU is a private, faith-based university. In addition to full-time campus life, they also offer a substantial online curriculum for part-time and graduate students. There are options for four-credit courses and fast-track programs to help you graduate faster and enter the workforce sooner with less debt.


If you have a student with special educational needs, there are numerous options. Arizona requires every public school to provide for the educational requirements of special needs students. Some public schools use the expertise and resources of nearby private schools and cover the tuition. Or parents can make their own choice. Our online Education Guide gives a list of options for various needs.

Visit our online guide at

Real Estate

Is a Housing Crash on the Way?

As you watch housing prices rise at what may feel like an irrationally fast rate, you may be tempted to assume there is another bubble on the horizon. But is that the case? Let’s compare the 2008 housing crisis with today.


In 2008, the world faced an economic downturn that devastated world financial markets along with banking and real estate industries. The Great Recession started in the United States because of a subprime mortgage crisis. A subprime mortgage is a home loan granted to borrowers with poor credit histories, and these loans are very high-risk.

From 2004-2008, homebuilders optimistically built at an unprecedented rate, contributing to what eventually became an oversupply of homes on the market.  Soon enough, the financial strains reduced the demand, leaving thousands of homes unfinished and unpurchased.  Combined with the bankruptcies of major mortgage companies, this caused housing prices to plummet, and people ended up “underwater” with their loans, owing much more than the value of their homes.

As these events unfolded, the stock market took a plunge to less than half of its value, causing hundreds of thousands of Americans to suffer catastrophic losses in their life savings investments.

At the apex of the housing crisis, one in ten homes sat vacant in Phoenix. Some home values dropped as much as 50 percent.


If you lived in Arizona in the years leading up to 2008, you may remember the massive building boom across Maricopa County. Everywhere you looked, homes and businesses were under construction. All of that came to a screeching halt when the housing bubble burst.

Construction did not recover for another decade and has slowly increased again over the past few years, but this time is different. Instead of building more than the buyers are demanding, skyrocketing land prices and construction costs leave us facing an unprecedented lack of inventory to meet rising demand.

What is driving this demand? One element is Maricopa County’s spot among top metros for job growth. Ranked #1 for attracting and retaining jobs by labor-analytics firm Emsi, Maricopa County is also #7 for having a good environment for startups according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The variety of industries has created a feedback loop where existing talent attracts firms and investment, which in turn attracts more talent.

Another driver for housing demand is the Millennials.  As the time arrived for this behemoth demographic group to start families, they began purchasing homes in large numbers in 2019 and continue to do so.

Top it all off with the lowest interest rates ever and you have the perfect recipe for a housing boom. Except that new housing is not coming on the market fast enough to meet the supply.


In 2008, credit opportunities were too easy for people to buy homes they could not afford. Ninety percent of refinancing deals were borrowers pulling cash out of their homes to buy other luxuries. Foreclosures and short sale listings became excessively high.

The story on all counts could not be more different today. Today’s buyers are generally well-qualified. They have high credit scores and tend to make sound financial decisions. Currently, only 33% of refinances result in pulling cash from the equity in their homes, while the money often goes to reduce debt.  This trend greatly reduces the risk of homeowners losing their homes in the future. Distressed sales are at the lowest levels ever recorded according to Michael Orr of the Cromford Report.

It also seems that Arizona has become the darling of the West. Reasonable taxes and cost of living, an efficient freeway and transportation system, plus amazing outdoor recreation look pretty good compared to many previous West Coast hot spots.


The state of the housing market today is dramatically different than what we saw leading up to 2008. Even if inventory were to triple suddenly, there would still be more demand for homes than there is a supply. Development land in the Northeast Valley is scarce, construction costs continue to rise, and all of this will only make existing housing more valuable. Surely there will be some price resistance, but the demand will certainly favor those who buy sooner than later.

For the foreseeable future, our housing market will make things great for sellers and tough for buyers, with buyers struggling to get their offers accepted. But RE/MAX Sun Properties associates have assisted more buyers and sellers to create successful real estate stories this year than ever before. They can help you understand if now is the best time to act.

Around Arizona

5 C’s of Arizona


If you have never heard of the “Five C’s of Arizona”, chances are that you grew up in another state. This is a topic that grade school students are taught in their Arizona curriculum.

In Arizona’s early years, the Five C’s were the pillar of its successful economy. They provided many people with jobs in agriculture, mining, and ranching. Although their economic role is less significant today, they still play a strong cultural role across the state.


People have been digging for precious metals in Arizona for thousands of years. In the 1870s, copper mining drew people to Bisbee, Clifton, Globe, Miami, and Jerome providing jobs for about one-fourth of Arizonans. Copper is no longer Arizona’s leading industry, but the state is still its largest producer in the U.S.


Arizona was once an important source of beef to the nation with as many as 1.75 million heads of cattle in 1918 compared to the human population of 320,000. Today, that number has dropped by half, even though beef and dairy are still big businesses here.


In the early 20th century, Arizona became known for the new Pima long-staple cotton. In 2010, Arizona boasted that it grew enough cotton each year to make more than one pair of jeans for every person in the country. During the peak years, 800,000 acres of Arizona land was planted in cotton. Today, it is closer to 200,000 acres, yet Arizona remains a leading cotton state.


When early irrigation efforts in the 1860s reconstructed ancient Hohokam canals, Arizona was able to grow citrus in the harsh desert climate. Citrus production really took off in 1928 with the creation of the Arizona Citrus Growers Association. Arizona is known for its citrus production in grapefruit, lemons, limes, and oranges.


With over 300 days of sunshine a year and an average rainfall of eight inches, Arizona is a major destination for “Snowbirds” who “nest” here for the winter. Tourism is big business for our state with 46.8 million visitors in 2019 who spent $25.6 billion and created tax revenue of $3.78 billion.

Outdoor recreation

Beat the Heat in the Water

Beat the Heat in the Water

As we enter the hottest part of the summer, water recreation is the Number One way to get outdoors without feeling scorched. Here are a few nearby places where you can stay cool while having fun.


Only 20 minutes east of Fountain Hills, Saguaro Lake features a full-service marina, boat rentals, and restaurant. The Desert Belle is a resort cruise boat hosting guests on a 90-minute tour of the lake. Be sure to visit the Gift Shop before or after your tour. Butcher Jones Recreational Site on the north side of the lake features a beach and a lake view hiking trail.


Fed by the waters of the Verde River, Bartlett Lake features shore camping, a full-service marina with boat rentals, and hiking trails. You can grab a meal at The Last Stop Bar & Grill located by the marina.


Get up into the cool pines above Payson on the Mogollon Rim just 90 minutes away. The Lake Store & Marina offers rentals of boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. They also sell fishing supplies and licenses so you can enjoy trout fishing. Have a picnic and meander along the shoreline trail.


The Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch is situated at the bottom of Saguaro Lake’s Stewart Dam along the Salt River. This historic ranch is one of the most scenic guest ranches in the southwest. Spend a night in one of their rustic cabins, attend a cowboy dinner, or rent a kayak with full-service pickup at the end of your trip. Or rent a tube with Salt River Tubing to float down the river for a 2-5 hour trip.


Tempe Town Lake is a desert oasis in the middle of the Phoenix metro area.  This lake’s water is supplied by the Colorado and Salt Rivers. Visitors can rent small boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. Other activities include fishing, biking, jogging, and picnicking.


This public facility offers a lap pool, high dives, a large tube water slide, lazy river, zero-depth entry play pool, and a spray pad. You can get a family pass for frequent visits.


Enjoy indoor water fun at the new Great Wolf Lodge. Featuring a 4-story tandem tube ride, splash-loaded treehouse, wave pool, several multi-rider tube rides, lazy river, and much more.

Things to Do

Learn How to Dance this Summer

Learn to dance

“The job of the feet is walking, but their hobby is dancing.” ~Amit Kalantri

According to research, dancing improves brain function and boosts memory. It is linked to a reduced risk of dementia. It also improves your balance, strength, and cardiovascular health.

But most people do not look at the science when they decide to take up dancing. Humans have probably danced before there was even a word for it. Rhythmic bodily movement is instinctive and connects people to nature. It gives people a way to express what they feel and provides a social connection with others.

No matter your reason for wanting to take up dance, there are some great nearby dance studios that will get you and the kids out of the house this summer while staying out of the heat. After being cooped up over the last year, dance classes are a great way to interact with real humans again. No matter your age or the style of dance that interests you, there is probably a dance studio nearby that will be a good fit for you.


Learn how to dance in an atmosphere of kindness and fun that is non-judgmental and truly joyful. Learn ballroom dancing or try something new and exciting, such as Argentine tango.


Enjoy an exciting, positive learning experience for dancers from age three and up. Choose from jazz, ballet, tap, hip-hop, and so much more.


The largest dance studio in Scottsdale offers classes, camps, recitals, and competitions. Get your kids active this summer with tap, jazz, hip hop, ballroom, ballet, and more.


KDA opened in Fountain Hills in 2006 to offer nurturing, fun, and technical classes. They offer an array of outstanding dance classes for recreational dancers to the serious student. Students range from 2 ½ years of age to adult.