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I just returned to Cleveland from a quick vacation in Phoenix, Arizona, and this trip was just a bit different from the others I’ve taken to the Southwest. Specifically, I mean the fact that December temperatures are not what I’m used to. Here are three things I learned this past week.

When you’re in the desert, you can’t pack according to the “highs.” The 10-day forecast called for 60s and 70s, and usually I dress for the highs and bring some layers to add as the day turns to night. Well, the dry air doesn’t hold its heat like here in Ohio. No sun means a drastic drop in temperature, even just in the shade. I was acting like a true cold-blooded reptile, constantly trying to seek a sunny patch.

Mountain hiking is my favorite form of exercise. Treadmill? Forget it. Trendy classes? I don’t have time for that. But parking at the base of a mountain and winding my way to the top is a good workout and provides a sense of achievement. My last visit to Phoenix was in September, so we would wake up early and get to the trailhead by sunrise to beat the heat. In December, a long-sleeve layer was necessary in the late morning until the exercise got our blood pumping. Of course, the views are spectacular from 2,889 feet, too! I’ve tackled South Mountain, Pinnacle Peak, Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) and more.

I love a good Syrah. No, not all Syrahs are the same, and not every blend will be an automatic winner. But vacationing with my wine-obsessed mom, there was a whole lot of wine tasting. And just about every Syrah I tasted I liked — definitely something to keep exploring. The benefit of wine flights is that you’re opening your palate to new tastes. It’s a quick compare and contrast method. I learned that I generally enjoy whites over reds, but if there’s a mineral quality to the white, no thanks. I’ll take a fruitier option instead.

These are just a few fun things I learned on my first wintertime visit to Arizona. A photo diary of my quick vacation will follow soon!