Monday, March 24, 2008

Tucson - Week 2

March 8-15. Wildflowers, snow, desert life, more mountains, and hot springs! We had a great visit with our dear friend Jim Rubins from Napa, CA. He arrived on Saturday and we went directly to dinner and then to the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium on the University of Arizona campus. We were lucky to get in on 2 shows: the mission to Mars and the current night sky. Both were excellent. We also got to see a great view of Saturn through the telescope set up on the roof.

Sunday we decided to take Jim to a very popular hiking area only 5 minutes from our condo called Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. We took the scenic and narrated tram up the mountain to hike from there. It used to go up almost 4 miles. But then there was a flood in July 2006 which wiped out some of the bridges. Until all the bridges get repaired it now only goes up 2 miles. We hiked up the Historical Trail and then the Phoneline Trail. At one point the water went over the bridge. It was only about an inch so you didn't really need to take off your shoes.

It was beautiful scenery even with the partially washed out road.

There were a number of places where there was sand created by the broken rocks. It was a neat area for kids to play in.

We learned that it was the best showing of wildflowers in 5 years because of the rain in the last couple of months. We were really lucky. Some favorites were: Evening Primrose, an unidentified white flower, Mexican Gold Poppy, and Tangerine Poppy.

George Sierra said to definitely go up Mt. Lemmon so that was our next stop. It had interesting rock formations and lots of viewing areas on the side of the road. We even saw some rock climbers.

We learned that there was a fire last year which destoyed almost all the buildings at the top where there's the small town of Summerhaven and a ski resort. (We wondered why it looked like everything was just being built.) At the very top (7840' el.) kids were playing in the snow!

Monday we headed to the famous Saguaro National Park (West). What great views! At the top there was a closed mine shaft.

Some interesting plants we saw were: saguaro, blooming ocotillo, teddy bear cholla, and fish hook barrel cactus fruit.

Some beautiful flowers we saw were: Wild Hyacinth, Wild Heliotrope, Desert Chicory, and Silverbell.

Here I am among the beautiful Mexican Gold Poppies and Jim pretending to be a cactus.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was excellent! It was mostly outside: plants, animals, birds, and insect. There were special hummingbird and bird aviaries. It was well laid out and great information. My camera battery ran out, all the demonstrations are in the morning, and we didn't get to see everything so we'll have to come back. (This was another 2 for 1 with the Tucson Passport.)

We said goodbye to Jim and had a fun dinner with Doug and Sarah Ruopp. We hadn't seen them since they moved from Amherst 8 years ago. We had a lot of catching up to do!!

One day we drove about an hour and a half to Bisbee, a mile high city. We first heard of Bisbee from the J.A. Jance books about Sheriff Joanna Brady. It's an old copper mining town, now a tourist town. It's in a dry, small valley and the town is built up on the sides of a mountain. The town has more than 300 kinds of minerals in it, more than any other town in the US!! In the early 1900's, when copper mining was at its height, the town had the largest population between St. Louis and San Francisco. We toured the quaint Copper Queen Hotel with rooms named for J.A. Jance, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lily Langtry (turn of the century entertainer). It's reported to be haunted and there is a ghost log book where you can write your experiences. That was fun to look through. They have a really cool pool on the 2nd floor built into the hillside.

We opted to not do the Copper Mine tour since we had done a tour of a silver mine in Colorado and the operation is similar. We did tour the very interesting Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. The mining section was created by the Smithsonian.

The San Pedro Riparian Conservation area was really a nice change for us: water!! (Riparian refers to an area along a stream or river.) They had some really informative displays. We took a nice self-guided nature walk with a pamphlet. We saw 2 vermillion flycatchers like we did in Belize. It's a gorgeous bird - red and black. We also saw a Harris Hawk, yellow warblers, towhee, and other birds we couldn't identify. We enjoyed seeing the leafing Cottonwood trees along the San Pedro River and the wide plain surrounded by mountains.

One day Doug Ruopp took us to some favorite areas of his: the beautiful Buenos Aires National Wildlife area, where we saw a great blue heron, vermillion flycatchers, and a few other birds and Madera Canyon in Arivaca where we hiked Mt. Baldy. Mt. Baldy was covered with pine trees. It was a great hike from 5600' to about 7000'. It was refreshingly cool as we hiked up. As we passed through Sahuarita we saw acres and acres of pecan orchards. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the orchard store to buy some they were closed.

Agua Caliente (hot springs) State Park had a short guided walk that we were so glad we took. The park is gorgeous! It was a former hotsprings resort with lakes. It was a refreshing change from the desert plants even though we knew the palm trees were not native. We saw a number of birds and signs of a bobcat and javelina. There were very cute pintail ducks in the lake and it was fun to see the great horned owl perched in a palm tree.

Here's a picture of the Craycoft Drive, on an unusually partly cloudy day, which takes us up to our condo. And here's a typical house in the Ventana Foothills - lovely, isn't it?

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