The Road to Tuscon

We drove south to Tucson today. Highway 10 just south of Phoenix crosses what must be one of the most barren stretches on the face of the earth. A picture taken from the car window is below. But all of a sudden you come to irrigated pecan orchards. This is a productive agricultural area. The soil is fertile and when water is applied things grow well. There is the added advantage of weed control. To get rid of weeds, all you have to do is not provide water and everything is wiped clean so you can start again. Arizona is also a big producer of corn, cotton and watermelons, among other things.

We stopped in a small city called Casa Grande and ate at Taco Bell – the boys’ favorite restaurant. I took a picture from the parking lot. If Clint Eastwood was to make a class b western in the 21st century it would be set in a place like Casa Grande. The funny thing is that there are all kinds of stores and facilities here in the middle of nowhere.

Just before Tucson, we set out for “Old Tucson”. It is an old movie site used in many of the western movies we all know and love. On the way, the desert is beautiful. Pictures are included. The terrain is very steep and the pictures don’t do it justice. We climbed to a little stone shelter. Out of the sun, it is cool. Actually it is still 100 degrees, but the breeze is nice. Old Tucson looks familiar because I have seen it so often. Many John Wayne movies, “Gunfight at Ok Corral”, “Tombstone”, episodes of “Bonanza” & “The Big Valley” and many others were made here. Unfortunately, much of the set burned down in 1997.

Near old Tucson is the desert museum, which is sort of a park and botanical garden. The desert is still strange to me. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I would ever learn to love the treeless landscape. It reminds me of a giant construction site, piles of dirt and rocks laying all over the place. All the plants live precariously. At least that what it looks like to me. And many of the plants look like giant houseplants. The big ones are the kinds you find in offices and hospital waiting rooms. I saw various lizards scampering around, but no snakes. The absence of snakes does not upset me. The rattlesnakes are bad enough, but at least they sometimes warn you by rattling their tails. There is a little, fortunately rare, snake called the Arizona Coral Snake. It is a two stepper. It bites you; you take two steps and you die. It looks just like a non-poisonous “milk snake”, except its stripes are different. They both have red, black and yellow stripes, but the sequence is different. The rhyme goes, “Red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; red touches black, you’re all right jack.” I think it is better to avoid all snakes like that rather than count the color rings after being struck by one.

The only mammals were some wild pigs sleeping under a stone bridge. I smelled them before I saw them. They are pigs after all. The only unpleasant part of the visit was the “true cave” experience. They have a dark cave you can crawl though. I bumped my head on the stalactites, tripped over the Stalagmites and generally felt claustrophobic. Big guys like me are not meant for cave dwelling. Fortunately, it was a short visit. My digital camera helped. I took flash pictures and then could consult the lighted panel. Saved by technology.

We got to Tucson in the late afternoon. It is a very pleasant city, with clean, wide streets and some nice landscaping. It is still a desert city, but there is a lot more green and nature seems kinder here than in Phoenix. The elevation is higher and it is cooler. Even when the temperature is hot, the thin air feels cooler. I like it here. We are staying at Towne Suites. They are nice for the family because we have two bedrooms and a sofa bed.

Near the Tucson are “sky islands” – mountains with high enough elevations to support forests. These islands extend south way into the Sierra Madre in Mexico. You can literally walk from the Sonora Desert to the climatic equivalent of Hudson Bay as you walk up the slopes. They call them sky islands because they are like islands of forest is a sea of desert. It is an apt comparison. The nicest part is the “montane” about halfway up the hills, which is mostly ponderosa pine. Unfortunately, it has been a dry year and the area is suffering forest fires. We can see some of the smoke from the road. It was coming up a notch in the mountains.