SUMMERHAVEN, Ariz. High above the desert floor, this little alpine town has long served as a natural air-conditioned retreat for people in Tucson, one of the so-called sky islands of southern Arizona. When it is 105 degrees in the city, it is at least 20 degrees cooler up here near the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon.
But for the past 10 years or so, things have been unraveling. Winter snows melt away earlier, longtime residents say, making for an erratic season at the nearby ski resort, the most southern in the nation.
Legions of predatory insects have taken to the forest that mantles the upper mountain, killing trees weakened by record heat. And in 2003, a fire burned for a month, destroying much of the town and scarring more than 87,000 acres. The next year, another fire swept over 32,000 acres.
"Nature is confused," said Debbie Fagan, who moved here 25 years ago after crossing the country in pursuit of the perfect place to live. "We used to have four seasons. Now we have two. I love this place dearly, and this is very hard for me to watch."