You have orders to Southeast Arizona! Living out west may be going home for you or, like many military families, it might be a brand new adventure. Living in a desert climate can be quite a different experience if you have never done it before. Knowledge of Arizona geography is usually limited to the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and maybe Tucson. In fact, if you have orders to Fort Huachuca (Sierra Vista), you might have to really search the map. Southeast of Tucson you say? Is there really something southeast of Tucson in the US? Sure enough, and it's called "High Desert" which is something you may not even know exists! We have put together some information we hope will help you learn more about this desert area you are about to call home!
Snowbirds – Arizona has a huge retirement community. From military retirees to golfers, there is a definite influx of an older generation when the snow starts hitting the northern states. It isn't a huge deal as rush hour traffic isn't that bad to start with in most areas, with the exception of the Phoenix area. The real challenge is that the base pharmacies are not staffed for these military retirees, so starting in October there are generally longer lines. Oh, and for those who are looking for off-season tee times, that happens in July in Arizona.
Weather – Yes, it's hot. Very hot in the summer. Average temperatures in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca in June hit 100. You can easily watch the temperature rise 10 to 15 degrees as you drive north towards Tucson. Sierra Vista is about 5,000 miles above sea level and it makes it much cooler than Phoenix. And it is, in fact, a dry heat. Some folks prefer the dry heat to humidity, but it can be a real adjustment for some people. Staying hydrated and taking care of your skin is a must when you live in any part of Arizona. And sunscreen? It is an absolute requirement year-round. You will burn fast in this part of the state as there is little shade and the sun is intense. Many playgrounds are covered for this reason… but please, lather on that sunscreen
Does it ever rain, is it ever cold? Actually, yes… in some parts of the state more than others. Monsoon season lasts from mid-June to mid-August. It rains almost every day, bringing in some cooler temps and greenery. You will experience more frequent rain in Sierra Vista and Tucson than in Phoenix, of course. In the high-desert area of Sierra Vista it snows in the winter, but usually not until after January. It's not uncommon to see snow on the beautiful mountains in the distance, and it might even snow in your yard a couple of times… as late as mid-March. Snow in Phoenix is not likely, and in Tucson it might happen briefly.
Wildlife – The farther south you go in Arizona, the more interesting wildlife you see. Bugs, spiders (and yes, tarantulas during monsoon season!), snakes and the most talked about animal: the javelina. These wild pig like creatures are particularly amusing to those of us non-locals. They are pretty ugly, smell bad, and are not scared of anything. They torment the dogs and are smart enough to know when trash day is. They work together to knock over the trash cans so they can root through and make a huge mess. They can even get bungee cords off of the cans. But when you're safe inside watching them walk down the street, it's a treat. They are pack animals and can be aggressive, so steer clear.The Javelina!
It is also not uncommon to hear about sightings of "urban wildlife" on the bases here. Wildcats, bears, deer… many of them come down off of the mountain at certain times of the year, especially if wildfires have impacted their habitat. It is why folks are encouraged to keep trash cans inside your garage in this area, and why it is important to keep an eye on family pets. Yes, small dogs have been known to disappear when a large bird swoops down and yanks them right out of their yard!
CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
Food & Beverage – You're going to see a lot of wine in Southeastern Arizona. Yes! The desert is good for growing something! Vineyards stretch from Tucson east to Wilcox and south through Sonoita. Wine tours, wine tasting and festivals are popular throughout the late spring and into the fall months. Sierra Vista is also host to a fantastic wine tasting shop, owned and operated by a military spouse! Even if you're settling in Tucson, it's worth the trip down 90 to try out Hoppin' Grapes. Tell Kristine we sent you.Prickly Pear, sold in grocery stores for cooking!
You will also get to experience different food items while you are here. Arizona is home to some of the oldest documented food traditions in North America. Meats are often smoked with mesquite wood, giving it a unique flavor. You might find syrups and jellies made from the Prickly Pear Cactus, you won't want to miss eating a Sonoran Hot Dog (dog wrapped in bacon and topped with beans and other condiments), and of course Mexican cuisine is popular in the area. Yum!
Arizona Casual – The dress code down here in Arizona is pretty casual compared to the East Coast. Even in the business world, you'll rarely see a business suit. For starters, it's just too hot, and the atmosphere is much more casual. In fact, even casual is casual. Khaki shorts are very common in the summer and flip flops are a fashion staple. Office wear is generally closer to golf attire in the summer. Almost everything is more casual in Arizona.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Tombstone – Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Johnny Ringo liked Tombstone, and that should be reason enough to check it out. Staged gunfights fill the dusty streets, whisky flows from the saloons, and western legend look-alikes wander the streets in the most authentic western town left in the US. Visitors like to have old-time photos taken, visit Big Nose Kate's, and try out one of the many tours. This is absolutely worth the drive!
Sedona – One of the most naturally beautiful places in the country is a half-day drive from the Tucson area. Red Rock National Park, the famous Bell Rock, and Slide Rock "water slide" is open and ready for visitors. Pink Jeep tours are a highly recommended way to see the sites and one of the most popular restaurants is Elote, which is famous for its fire-roasted corn dip. Definitely add this place to your list and get there early, no reservations accepted.
Bisbee – Tucked into the Mule Mountains about 90 minutes from Tucson and 30 from Fort Huachuca, Bisbee is a unique world. Established due to the copper and precious metal mines, Bisbee is a blast from the past these days. It's well preserved as a twentieth century town and offers a cooler climate and creative spirit. Check out the Bisbee Breakfast Club to start your day off with a wonderful meal and stroll the streets for antiques, fun wares and wine-tasting. In October Bisbee hosts the "Bisbee 1000," which is a foot race spanning about 4 miles and 10 staircases throughout town… 1000 stairs total! It's a full-town event that you won't want to miss!
Phoenix – There is so much to do in Phoenix, it's impossible to pick just one thing to visit. The Zoo is wonderful, and can easily take a day to wander through. The Arizona Trail is a favorite here, which features the wildlife that are commonly seen throughout the state. There are also many options for hiking, sports, and museums, including the Hall of Flame Fire Museum and the Arizona Science Center. It may seem silly to drive a few hours for a weekend, but it opens up opportunities for lots of exploring time. In both Phoenix and Arizona you will find many hotel chains that are like mini-water parks! Multiple pools, splash pads, slides, lazy river rapids… all a chance to spend sometime in a "beach" environment despite the lack of water in the state!
Tucson – Reid Park Zoo is a favorite in the area, and can be seen in full in about 3 hours time. Military members can get a year-long pass that pays for itself in just a couple of visits. The Gas Light Theatre is a great place for a family dinner theatre experience, and there are many national parks, museums and canyons to explore.
Aircraft Boneyard – Beginning after World War II as a storage area for aircraft, this has turned into the largest aircraft boneyard in the world. Featuring over 4,400 various aircraft, this is a great place to wander around and see some old classics. Tours are available through the Pima Air & Space Museum (Tucson) and last about an hour and a half. Frequently throughout the year, there are special events held there, including a foot race in the spring.
A little bit further down the road – While you are stationed in this part of the country, there are a few vacation destinations you will not want to miss. The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the Hoover Dam are must-sees while you are here. Additionally, it may only take you 8 hours or so to reach the California coast where there are tons of places to visit!
Arizona is home to three active duty military bases and two of them are located in the Southeast corner of the state. Both are historic in their own way and both have large retirement populations, as jobs are specialized here and the weather (as we've mentioned) is appealing to many.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – Located on the eastern side of Tucson, Davis-Monthan, or DM as it's often referred to, plays host to A-10s. Housing is open to all ranks and the amenities include sports facilities, a roller hockey rink, and a splash park. A lot of active duty and retiree families make the trip to DM to use the large BX and commissary. There are two elementary schools on the installations, both of which are part of the Tucson Unified School District. Child care on the installation typically has a nine-month wait, and recreation facilities are plentiful.
Fort Huachuca – About 40 miles east out of Tucson, you'll see a sign for Fort Huachuca. (Don't worry, it takes a while to learn the pronunciation: Wah-Chew-Ca) 30 miles south from I-10 is where you'll find it. Fort Huachuca, or Fort We-gotcha as it is affectionally called, is a training installation primarily training the next generation of intelligence officers and soldiers. Base housing is privatized and available to all ranks. Historic homes and new housing bring together a community that is close-knit despite the seemingly constant turnover. The school district on post is separate from the city schools, and has an elementary school for K-2, one for 3-5, and a new, technologically advanced middle school. Two off-post options for high schools are available, with transportation from the installation.
This post sponsored by PCSguides.
In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.
One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."
Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.
Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:
1. Housing reviews
Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.
PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.
2. Moving company reviews
Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.
PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?
3. Area guides
The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.
Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.
4. Network of realtors and resources
PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.
"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.
In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.
Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.
This post sponsored by PCSgrades.
Yeah! You got orders to (insert foreign country overseas)! You can already picture your kids in the international school, speaking with cute little accents and wearing local garments. Adorbs. You've got your housing picked out, adventures planned and passport photos taken. You're ready for your epic move ... except for that 13 hour plane ride. Have you wrapped your head around that yet? Before you grab for a paper bag and start hyperventilating, use our travel hacks to help make the emotional turbulence you're experiencing a little lighter.
We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.
But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.
WE ALL HAVE OUR SHARE OF HORROR STORIES WHEN IT COMES TO MILITARY MOVING!
Name the most disgusting item erroneously packed by your movers… for me it was used coffee grounds and of course, trash. For others, I've heard everything from wet towels to dirty diapers. I've caught movers raiding my fridge, lounging on my mattress in my front yard, and throwing out items that they've broken. Raise your hand (or have a drink) if you ever had packers show up late (or not at all). Ever had packers get into a shouting match among themselves as they were packing your china? Or have you caught your movers throwing boxes down the stairs to the basement? That would be me!
With each military move, there are "lessons learned". For instance, I won't go into great detail but let's just say after watching one packer go directly from using the restroom back to packing my kitchen without washing his hands, we now use gigantic ziplock bags to "pre-pack" all my kitchen utensils. A packers' bare flesh has never again touched one of my kitchen utensils.
My family's last military move was by far the shortest, only 1½ miles up the road. We were moving from a rental to a home we purchased. It was by far the worst in terms of damage and overall angst. I think because we were only "moving up the road" the pack job left a lot to be desired. I found one box of dishes which had not one piece of wrapping paper! Instead two throw pillows from my family room were used as a buffer! Amazingly, nothing was broken! Go figure!
When I heard glass shatter in the moving truck, I asked one of the guys what shattered.
There are any number of reasons why in a given situation renting might be better than buying or vice versa. For military families, it might make more sense to buy at one duty station and then rent at the next. Up for consideration with each PCS is whether to buy or rent, to stay on-base or off. In making these decisions, there are numerous pros and cons to consider.
PROS TO BUYING
- Purchasing the right home can be a great financial investment that can grow in value over time.
- Tax deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes can greatly reduce your overall income tax burden if you itemize.
- Being a homeowner can give you pride of ownership and a sense of stability, rare in the military life which can seem nomadic at times.
- A mortgage payment that is lower than your BAH can result in a boost to your savings.
- You can decorate however you want! Goodbye white walls! Hello, Color!
- Anyone can stay with you at any time. So it is not a problem when your Mom or sister comes for an extended stay during a deployment or following a PCS.
- You can do (almost) whatever you want….host a late night party, plant a garden, knock a wall down!
- There are no security or pet deposits when you buy a home.
- You have the opportunity to become a landlord when military orders arrive and you have to move. Your home can become an investment property, providing a source of income which can partially or totally offset your mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments.