When Anglo settlers from the United States first arrived in the southern area of what is now Arizona and New Mexico, they faced two situations which differed from those in any other section of the American frontier and which influenced their first shelters: (1) protection from the sun was as necessary as protection from cold, and (2) there were already residents of European origin in the area. In some periods and places, another factor had to be considered, a home had to afford a refuge from hostile forces.
Southwesterners learn early to respect the sun, to a degree perhaps hard to conceive by inhabitants of regions with less ferocious heat. I remember as a child in Austin trying to fit into the shadow of a telephone pole. I also remember a summer day a few years ago when my dog Cocoa and I hiked to the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, some 2,000 feet down. At the bottom, Cocoa had a drink from the river. He was luckier than I who had neglected to bring a canteen. The sun was hot during our descent; on the climb back up it was excruciating. Cocoa devised a scheme for survival.
As I trudged up the trail he would crouch in the shade of one of the greasewood bushes which dotted the canyon wall. When I reached his bush, he left its shelter and dashed ahead fifteen or twenty feet to the next patch of shadow where he waited, panting, until I drew even and he could repeat the maneuver. Shade was, and is, necessary for man and beast.
Early residents of the Southwest Borderlands, both Native Americans and European- origin settlers, arrived at solutions to the searing temperatures. For shade, a ramada—four poles supporting a roof of sticks and brush—was fairly easily constructed and might be the difference between life and death. The next step, protection from the heat itself, called on the only widely available building material, mud—the invaluable adobe. Adobe, though vulnerable to moisture and therefore inappropriate for most areas, affords excellent insulation against both heat and cold, an ideal material in a desert of extreme temperatures but little rain.