The trip I was referencing was a 2010 journey we took to the Tucson area which predates the beginning of my blog. I dug out my notes and here is a recap, along with a few photos:
When I was a little shaver (1st grade) Sunday dinners were held at the home of my mother's parents in
addition to dinner with the grandparents, these evenings meant one
other thing: TV. We did not have a television at home but our
grandparents had a black and white set in their library. In addition
to a TV, the walls of the library featured quite a number of early color
photographs taken by and of my grandparents when they visited one of their
favorite places: Riverside, Illinois . Most of the photos were of
them standing next to large cactus by the side of the road. My
grandfather explained that the tall cactus were called Giant Saguaro and that
the frames around the pictures themselves were made of the wood-like
fibers in the cactus that made it possible for them to grow so tall.
The idea of such a place sounded pretty exotic to me. Tucson, Arizona
Pam had been to
for business years ago but I had never been there. We put it on our list
of places to see and the time was finally right. Our
bike trip to Tucson Death Valley last year probably
did a lot to spur us on to plan this trip.
The Sonoran desert covers about 120,000 square miles in southwestern
and southeastern Arizona , as well as most of California
and the western half of the state of Baja California . Giant Saguaro cactus are found only in the Sonoran Desert. Sonora,
Mexico is one of the
oldest towns in the Tucson and was originally a Pima Indian
village called Stook-zone, meaning water or spring at the foot of
black mountain. Hugo O'Conor established the Tucson Presidio in
1775. Spanish settlers arrived in the area in 1776. United
States officially became
part of the Tucson
with the United States Gadsden Purchase
of 1854 and served as capital of the from 1867 to
1877. Our mid-March trip meant that we saw the countryside just as it was
beginning to green-up to prepare for the spring blooms. A few wildflowers
were visible but the blooms will not really get going until April. Arizona Territory
We flew into
on a Tuesday and
headed over to the area surrounding the Tucson .
Locating a good bike shop in a university town is never difficult. FairWheel Bikes rents and sells all manner of bikes and we had ourselves
outfitted with a couple of mountain bikes made by Specialized in no time
at all. Loading them into the back of our rented Chevy Equinox wasn't too
easy but we did get them to fit (barely). We then made a quick stop to
pick up some fruit and a case of bottled water. We planned to be on the
go for most of our trip so we knew that hydration would be important, especially in this part of the country. University of Arizona
It was about a twenty minute drive into the foothills of the
Catalina range north of
to our hotel, Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.
This charming small hotel was a girls finishing school until sometime in the
late 1920's when it was converted to a hotel. Our 2-room suite in a
separate building overlooked a small valley. The foothills have been
pretty thoroughly developed so don't let the name of the hotel fool you
into thinking we were somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Still, the
view was nice and the many gardens and courtyards on the hotel
grounds were wonderful. Gambel's quail quietly skittered among the
cactus in a garden just outside our room and humming birds could be seen
visiting the blossoms from time to time. Tucson
Food is never far from our minds and after getting settled at the hotel, we found Blanco -Tacos + Tequila a short drive away. I had a couple of great fish tacos & Pam had a taco salad. The views of the sunset were very nice and we lingered over wine and beer and wondered how our day of cycling on the following day would go. We hadn't been on bicycles since September. We knew conditions would be warm and arid. We wondered if there would be hills.
On each of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we had breakfast at the hotel. Our waiter Joe gave us lots of great advice on daily activities. Saguaro National Park is divided into two major sections, one on the east side of Tucson (the Rincon Mountain District) and one on the west side (the Tucson Mountain District). The park encompasses one of the largest collections of saguaro cactus in the world. This tall, majestic plant is practically the symbol of the American southwest. As we drove through the park, it seemed like I had stepped into one of those photos on my grandparents' library wall. Although saguaros thrive in total exposure to the region's blazing sun and temperature extremes, they grow slowly and take up to 15 years to attain the height of just a foot and up to 60 more years before growing their first arm. In their first few years of life these cactus require the shade of a nearby plant for a part of the day before being able to stand on their own in the hot sun.
|The saguaro are easy to spot, even in a crowded desert like this|
Saguaro's Rincon Mountain District is higher in elevation (2,670 to 8,666 feet above sea level vs. 2,180 to 4,687) and a bit moister (12.3 annual inches of rainfall vs. 10.3 annual inches) than the Tucson Mountain District.
Drive is a one-way paved loop road that runs
through the Rincon Mountain District. In addition to a few cars, the road
is used by many cyclists and runners. We arrived, set up our bikes,
applied sunscreen, made sure we had plenty of water, strapped on our helmets
and hit the road. Death
Valley is wonderfully stark with very few visible plants and
wildlife that stays well hidden most of the time. The
in Saguaro is crammed full of cactus and many other desert plants.
Snow-capped Sonoran Desert in the distance made it an
even more scenic landscape. About three miles into our ride we started up
a gentle incline that went on for more than a mile as we climbed 500 or so
feet. I will admit to having to get off the bike at a particularly
steep spot about three-quarters of the way up the incline but after a
quick rest it was not too hard to get back on and make it to the
top. Seeing this sort of scenery from a bike is a real treat. Mt. Lemmon
|Words like "colorless", "barren" and "lifeless" don't describe this desert|
|Pam surveys the road ahead and the view of snowcapped Mount Lemmon|
|Cactus Forest Drive is a great biking route|
On Wednesday afternoon we wanted to see the Tucson Mountain District in the western portion of
. It was about a 40
minute drive from the hotel and seemed more remote than the Rincon area in
the east. This part of the park seemed closer to the foot of the
mountains and was definitely drier with a lower density of cactus
growth. We hiked three separate trails here but our total hiking distance
was less than two miles so it was not a challenging afternoon.
Our legs were sore from our previous efforts so we were grateful for the
shorter distances and more gentle terrain. We saw gila woodpeckers,
desert cottontail rabbits and (from the car) we watched as a coyote crossed
about 50 feet down the road in front of us.
Saguaro National Park
We'd made reservations at the dining room at our hotel for dinner Wednesday night. I started with a skillet-seared Mexican cheese over a house-made focaccia bread with a pear compote and a strawberry-habanaro chutney with tamarind followed by a veal chop with house-made chorizo, Basmati rice, haricot verte, brazed Swiss chard and a saffron butter sauce. Pam enjoyed artichoke hearts with house-made lamb sausage followed by pecan spit-roasted Cornish game hen with toasted orzo, Tanque-verde garden greens and organic vegetables. For dessert we split Hacienda's signature chocolate cake with chocolate and caramel sauce and a scoop of locally made vanilla ice cream. I thought the meal was top-notch and while Pam did not give it the high marks I did, she enjoyed it as well.
|Hiking up the Bear Canyon trail covered lots of dry ground...|
|... and required seven stream crossings each way|
|Seven Falls in the Coronado National Forest|
We hustled back to the hotel because we wanted to go into
for dinner that evening and we had symphony tickets. Cafe Poca Cosa is located in downtown Tucson in an area that (I
hope) is improving. It has sort of a modern vibe and is clearly popular
with locals and tourists alike. The menu changes daily and is inspired by
food from all over Tucson . I
had the pulled pork and Pam had the chicken mole. Both plates came
heaped with great salad greens and veggies. Rice, beans and corn
tortillas were served as well. Pam said it was the best meal of the
trip so far and I gave it high marks too. The Tucson Music Hall was not
far away and we very much enjoyed the performance by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (in its 81st season),
the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the
Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus. They performed Leonard Bernstein's Chichester
Psalms for Chorus and Orchestra and his "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide.
After the intermission they performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor,
Op. 125. Well-exercised, well-fed and well-entertained, we fell into bed
and slept like rocks. Mexico
Forty-five miles south of
you will find the
town of Tucson , Tubac . In 1726
it was the site of the first European settlement in what is now Arizona .
It is now a popular art colony. I can't say it's crammed with genuine
native artists selling nothing but handmade items but it is a community with
lots of pleasant side streets with shops that sell everything from furniture
made of the locale mesquite wood to all manner of souvenirs. Don't simply
stroll the central part of town taken up by a modern mall-type structure.
Get out on the surrounding streets and see it all. Arizona
Friday afternoon we drove up
in the Santa Catalinas north of Mt. Lemmon .
At 9,157 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest peaks in the area and
boasts the southernmost ski slope in the continental Tucson The community of
Summerhaven at just over 8,000 feet is where the road essentially ends.
By the time we got up there we noted two feet of snow
on the ground, although the roads were clear. The temperature at
the top was 43 degrees. There are any number of places to pull off the
road and take pictures of the valley below. Unfortunately, the Mount Lemmon Cafe that used to be up there and we are
told was a great place to stop, is now closed. Still, the drive was worth
it to experience the climate change and the views. U.S.
|View from about 9,000 feet above sea level near the top of Mount Lemmon|
We were ready for a relatively simple meal for dinner on our last night in town. Zinburger a little north of town was our choice and was it a winner. Try the
burger with cheddar
and wild mushrooms along with a kobe
beer or one of their wines. This may rank as one of the top burgers ever. Corona
|You could tell our trip featured a wide variety of activities by the footwear Pam required|
Saturday came all too soon and we headed back to the airport. We returned to the
area and an inch
or two of new snow but I didn't care. I have a much better understanding now of the beauty
my grandparents saw in this part of the world and I wondered whether one of the towering cacti Pam and I saw might have been no more than an inch high and hiding in the shade of a mesquite bush in one of those photos I saw years ago after one of those family Sunday dinners at the home of my grandparents. Chicago