Wow, Deb and I have had an unbelievable time in New Mexico and as we were winding down our stay, we were faced with the decision of where we were going to slow down for the winter. Texas was always our goal and we had been looking forward to spending more time at the places we briefly visited around Austin, San Antonio, Waco and the Dallas area. Well, Mother Nature helped us decide! The Texas rains and flooding that occurred in Sept/Oct were in the areas we wanted to stay, then there was a stretch of snow and ice in the same vicinity. Deb suggested we go back to Tucson for awhile until Texas dried out a bit and we could see more southern Arizona. It was 110 degrees when we stopped here in May and there were many things left to see on our bucket list.
So…..here we are, it took us a couple of weeks to decide that we were going to stay here until February ’19. The weather has been fantastic and it will be nice to “roost” for a few months to learn from our experiences over the past year and start making plans for next year’s adventure.
There is no shortage of things to do and see in the greater Tucson area. So far, we have visited National Parks, Missions & Museums and taken some spectacular scenic drives.
A trip to Tucson without visiting the Saguaro National Parks (East & West) is a big mistake. These giants of the Sonoran Desert are a sight to see! They live over 200 years, grow to a height 30-40 feet, typically do not grow arms until they are roughly 70 years old, seldom seen above 3500 feet in elevation AND there are no two alike. We have visited both parks (more than once) done some hiking to get up close, its quite an experience to be amidst these cacti sentinels.
On the southwest outskirts of Tucson is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, nicknamed the “The White Dove of the Desert”. It was built in 1797 and the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Quite a majestic complex out in the middle of nowhere. The interior is covered with original murals and statues. There is a small museum that has a nice collection of artifacts detailing the mission’s history. While we were there, we purchased and lit a smokeless candle for Mom. We learned that they won’t harm the paintings, frescos, and statuary. This is a photography hotspot with the morning light and shadows cast throughout the grounds.
Another significant point of interest south of Tucson, along I-19 is the Titan II Missile Silo Museum. Now a National Historic Landmark, this preserved Titan II missile site is the only one left. 54 Titan II ICBMs silently sat in their underground silos for almost 24 years, maintaining peace through deterrence, a grim reminder of the cold war. Deb and I took the “Beyond the Blast Door Tour”. We were able to witness the sequence of events in the Launch Control Center, that had to occur to launch a missile and the exhaustive steps to ensure that a crazed person could NOT accomplish it alone. The icing on the cake was being on the bottom of the missile silo looking up to see the 100-foot Titan II.
Roughly 25 miles further to the south on I-19 is the Tumacacori National Historical Park. We noticed that this interstate corridor does NOT use mile markers but utilizes the metric system down to the border. What is left of this mission, was initially established in 1691 by the Jesuits and later expanded by the Franciscans. The National Park service provides a self-guided tour pamphlet that is very helpful with the many landmarks throughout the grounds. The ruins reveal the harshness of the Sonoran Desert and the struggle to maintain a sustainable way of life.
The University of Arizona is in Tucson. It has several museums on the downtown campus and so far, we have been to the Museum of Art and visited the Center for Creative Photography.
It’s always refreshing to visit a place that honors its military veterans. It sets the tone for a positive experience. There were two exhibits at the U of A Museum of Art that were stunning. Burhan Dongancay’s “Picture the World”, which had an excellent series of black and white shots of the Brooklyn Bridge and the iron workers in early New York City. The other was Frohawk Two Feathers (the alias of artist Umar Rashid), his detailed sketches of fictitious characters and storytelling were spectacular.
The Center for Creative Photography had several exhibits on display, the most prominent one was the Heritage display which had many of Ansel Adam’s historic images. “The Longer Ways to Go” exhibit was my favorite. Vintage photographs of the American Road brought back many memories when traveling as a child, looking out the back window of our 9-passenger station wagon. It’s cool that Deb and I are retracing previous memories and making new ones as we continue our journey across America.
We have a passion for road-trips! Some short, some long, some we have a destination in mind, others we make it up as we go along. Many of our adventures take us off road, that’s why we got the Jeep, to see and experience places and things that aren’t in tourism brochure and seldom show up on a printed map. The Tucson area has many opportunities to see what’s “out” there.
Mount Lemmon is a winter ski destination which has a scenic road to the top. This is where you get a Birdseye view of the Tucson metropolitan area, saguaros line the canyon walls, there are scenic turnouts to view the geological formations, hoodoos, and vista views of the San Pedro Valley. Molina Canyon, the Seven Cataracts of Willow Canyon, Windy Point Vista, Geology Vista Point are some of the major highlights.
Redington, Arizona is a mark on the map about 30 miles east of Tucson. We found Old Redington Road at the edge of town and decided to go exploring. Initially, we thought this would take us to Mount Lemmon, (the back way) via forest roads, etc. The paved road was short-lived, and the gravel road gave us a slow trek. The payback was seeing territory right out of a John Wayne movie, gulches, arroyos, mountain passes and river washes that made for an interesting trip. By the time we got to Redington, we realized that “back way” up to Mount Lemmon would have to be another day. We continued our journey and circled back to Tucson via Oracle on Hwy 77.
Tombstone, Arizona is tourist town but has immense historical value and well worth the drive down there to see the reenactment of the famous “Shoot out at the OK Corral”. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday were the stars of the show. The actors put on a good performance and encouraged audience participation. Many tourist shops line the main street, but it was nice to see historical markers in front of the buildings that were landmarks of the key events that took place there in 1881.
Out west of Tucson, about 50 miles, past the Saguaro National Monument on HWY 86 is the Kitt Peak Observatories located on the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation. At least a dozen Telescopes and a VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) are on the peak with many college institutions and national agencies represented in the study and research of the heavenly skies. We had a nice picnic there, was able to give the dogs a walk and made a brief stop at the visitor center. We plan on a return trip (puppy free) so we can take the walking tour and go inside some of the telescope facilities.
South of Tucson off I-19 is the Madera Canyon Recreation area. That was our short-term destination. We found a trail that was suitable for a morning dog hike. We saw deer, the hounds did not, they were way too busy with their noses in the ground tracking rabbits and squirrels. A well-kept park with multiple trails for hiking, beautiful picnic areas, a bird watchers paradise and a nice campground that could accommodate a 40-footer… (duly noted). The long-term destination is right up around the corner. Box Canyon Road, Hwy 83 – 13 miles…. let’s roll! Single lane, washboard gravel road until we got up to the canyon, then the views of the canyon and the scenic drive up and over the pass, made up for any bumpy inconveniences. Another off-road experience that catapulted us back to the days of “Bonanza” or “Wagon Train”. A true testament to the wild wild west.
Our December adventures are ongoing and we will share those with everyone early next year. We hope that everyone has a safe and Happy Holiday season.