Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tucson - Week 4

March 24-31. We’ve had such a wonderful time in Tucson. It definitely exceeded our expectations which were visiting friends, great hiking, seeing the desert in bloom, learning about desert plants and seeing hummingbirds (and a little golf for Sandy) all while enjoying sunny moderate temperatures. We’re sad to go.

This week we really took a good look at what we hadn’t done and what we really wanted to do. There are so many great places to visit we could easily have spent another month!

This is the view we had most days coming down from the foothills into Tucson. We often saw washes which looked like dry riverbeds but were areas where the heavy summer rains flowed. Also, here's a typical house.

We had delicious vegan meals at a restaurant Julie told us about called Lovin’ Spoonfuls. It’s a small operation but had room for about 40 people. (The owner was the cashier the night we went and I was able to talk to her about the ingredients in the dishes.)

Hikes: (The temperatures have risen to the mid 80's so this week we started our hikes in the morning.)

1- Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls. This was one of our most enjoyable hikes (about 8 miles round trip). We were told at the Visitor Center that we might have to cross streams of ankle deep water so we brought a small towel. In reality there were stepping stones across all the crossings. This made it a really fun hike! The falls were very dramatic. We came around a mountain and began to see the falls starting at the top of the mountain. We ate lunch in a great spot above the bottom 2 falls and cooled off our feet in the water. It was very cold mountain water!!

The wildflowers were out in full force. Here also is a picture of a fleabane.

We saw the first of the new prickly pear pads. We keep trying to find a saguaro with many arms. This one could be up to 150 years old!

2-Saguaro National Park East, Tanque Verde Ridge Hike. We signed up for a guided hike not knowing which trail we'd use. It turned out to be a hike we had already done. It was a bit different than what we expected. We thought we'd learn about some of the plants and flowers but the leader gave us little information except which mountain ranges we were seeing. It was fun, though, talking with the others, many who lived in Tucson. One woman lived summers in Portland, ME. One woman was a third grade teacher from Indiana who was on spring vacation and staying at a vacation house of her brother who lived in Boston. One woman brought up “Mad Men” and 2 other people said they loved watching it. They thought it was pretty cool that Julie was in it.

3-Saguaro National Park East, Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls. This was a very pleasant, not too strenuous 5 mile round trip hike. On the way we saw a desert iguana, horned lizard, an unidentified bird taking off, a mallow, and a bush dalea.

We had no idea whether or not there would be any water in the falls. As it turned out there was just a little water. A woman we met there said she had come 6 weeks ago after a good rain and there was lots of water there. One interesting sight was 2 saguaros which had been brought down by heavy rains.

On the way back we had a terrific view of the blooming brittlebush (yellow is the predominant wildflower color).

4-Saguaro National Park West, Wasson Peak (4687’ el.). This was our very last hike in Tucson. It was a very comfortable and breezy day to do this pretty strenuous hike. But at the saddle and again at the top the views were the best! We felt like it was New England day in Saguaro West. First we met a couple from Holden, MA who had fond memories of taking their kids to the beach at Ogunquit, ME. At the saddle we met a young woman from Wells, ME whose sister had gone to Hampshire College. Near the top we started talking to a man who was originally from Manchester, CT and was now an architect in Tucson. It was fun talking to other people. The architect was especially helpful in pointing out sights from the top. The orange flower is a mariposa lily. The yellow is a desert mallow. I couldn't identify the others. It was also interesting how this saguaro found a place to grow in the rocks.

Missions. The Mission San Xavier del Bac was founded in 1692 and built to really wow the Indians with an elaborate structure and colorful paintings. Its mission was to "civilize" the Indians and get them to be loyal to Spain. The priests couldn't quite understand the Tohono culture moving with the seasons but over the years they converted many to Christianity. It's the only mission that still preaches to the Tohono O'odham nation. An interesting video showed the painstaking repairs made to the building and paintings. It's ongoing. The exterior adobe plaster was made with sand, lime and prickly pear juice! (This is similar to the tabby plaster in Ft. Myers, FL and Savannah, GA made with sand, lime, and the local seashells.)

Farther south in Tubac was the Tumacacori National Historic Park which consists of the remains of a mission to the Pima Indians. It was established in 1687 but the actdual church was built in the early 1800's. Besides Christianity they brought different food: wheat, cows, horses, sheep and fruit trees. There was a very interesting replica of an adobe home that a Pima family would have lived in. The 4 corners were mesquite tree trunks and the ceiling was ocotillo branches. The sides were adobe bricks plastered with more adobe. It was amazingly cool inside.

Baseball, Wetlands, Gardens. George got us some free tickets to a 1 PM Diamondbacks vs. Rockies game. We got to go to the Rockies stadium which, unfortunately, has little shade. The game was fun to be at but it was so hot that we had to leave early.

We read in the paper that there were a lot of birds at the Sweetwater Wetlands so we had to check it out. It’s a lovely area in west Tucson, near Interstate 10. It’s used as a secondary effluent for wastewater and has lots of trees and 3 ponds. There were lots of ducks but we really didn’t see many birds except a yellow headed blackbird. But it was so pleasant, about 75 and breezy.

Sonora Desert Museum (Trip 2). This time we we went to a demonstration to see the raptors fly and eat and learn a little about them. That was really fun. We saw a great horned owl (eating and taking off), barn owl (see his tongue in picture 2), and ferruginous hawk (which only winters in AZ).

Then we saw docents holding a kestrel and a screech owl. Here's also a roadrunner which we saw everywhere but I was never able to get a picture of until now.

Zoo and “Boneyard”.
The Reid Park Zoo is a town zoo with a lot of animals for a city of its size. It was really cute and great for kids to see wild animals up close. We loved seeing the giraffes, an elephant getting a shower, the scarlet ibis, and an albino peacock (that was a first for us).

The Pima Air & Space Museum, next to the Davis-Monthen Air Force Base, has tons of aircraft and also offers a tour of an area which basically is a junk yard for planes, military and commercial. We chose to only do the boneyard tour since we had already been on the Smithsonian tour of planes in Virginia. We got on a bus and had an interesting live narrated tour of the area. This area was chosen because of the hard clay soil and dry climate. There are about 4000 planes with more than 20,000 parts sold each year. The guide said that it was run very efficiently. For every dollar spent on the facility they make $10. (Run by the government and efficient? Isn’t that an oxymoron?). Here is a picture of a fighter being towed to its parking space and another of a bunch of planes. They all have their windows covered with white protective plastic.

Friends. We had a wonderful visit to Larry and Helene Feldman's in Tubac. Helene, a co-worker of Sandy's who worked in the library at Fort River School, retired here with her husband 2 years ago. They have a beautiful new typical southwest adobe home in a new neighborhood. And of course I loved the hummingbirds that had just begun to visit her feeders.

We met her husband, Larry, at a restaurant in the nearby town center. (It's really an artist's mecca.) We had a lovely lunch with them before heading to a nearby ranch to see Larry's new hobby. He's helping to start a business with mini horses used as therapy for people of all ages. The horses were very cute. Helene keeps busy volunteering as well.

Sunday breakfast was at Rigo’s in South Tucson, a predominately Mexican community. The Ruopp’s took us there for their great breakfast buffet and mariachi singers. It was delicious and really fun to hear the band. We’ve had such nice visits with them that we hope we see them again in Amherst or Ft. Myers.