Tucson. Even the name has a bit of a romantic ring to it. I will always associate it in my mind with one of my favorite books by Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal Dreams”. I imagine the heat before the monsoons come because of the way she described it, not because I have actually lived it. I imagine coyotes in the washes and the wet dust smell when the rains hit the dirt and flood the washes. Barbara Kingsolver left Tucson behind for a more sustainable life in Appalachia, her original homeland, but I will always think of her as a product of the Southwest, just because that book and “Pigs in Heaven” were the first books I read that she wrote.
Tucson from the viewpoint on the Catalina Highway to Mt Lemmon
Our friends love living in Tucson, or maybe love-hate I should say. They say the summer heat is almost unbearable, and for a moment they thought about relocating to the Hill Country of Texas, but it was hot there as well, and humid, and a LOT more expensive. Still, the early mornings even in summer are beautiful and the evenings give them the opportunity to enjoy their shaded porches.They love the monsoons, and would always drive back to Tucson from Rocky Point in time for the big rains with amazing skies. Their beautiful desert style home in the suburb of Sauharita looks toward Madera Canyon and there is a wash in their back yard that is home to many critters, although Wes said that there are fewer humans creeping through the wash than they saw a few years ago.
Their gardens are walled and manicured, planted for 15 years now with desert plants, cactus, and mulched with rock and gravel. Wes is meticulous and his gardens are beautiful. On our first day visiting with the two of them, we sat outside in the sunshine at the umbrella shaded patio table and had another one of Gayle’s glorious meals. Gayle can take anything, even simple store bought pulled pork, and make it seem as though you are dining in a fine restaurant. Lovely dishes, beautiful presentation, little condiments to accompany the meal. I try to emulate Gayle quite often when I make dinner for someone.
Mo’s long time friend Joan, who once lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco when Mo lived in Monterra, has relocated to Tucson in her retirement as well. She and her husband settled in to Green Valley, in an area insulated from so much, including any residents under 55. It is a beautifully manicured community, and now that Joan is without Joe, she says it is a perfect place for her to be in her 80’s. She loves the heat, loves her desert garden, her life and her community.
We travel to Tucson to be with these friends, not so much to visit Tucson. There are some amazing things to see and do near and around the city, though, and each time we go it seems we find something new to enjoy.
After lunch at Wes and Gayle’s, the four of us thought, “Why don’t we go to Tubac?”. We had been there in the past with Joan, but there was an art show going on, and I had a bit of an ulterior motive. Mo and I were still cruising for some outdoor art pieces for the house back home, and Tubac is a plethora of all kinds of art, indoor and especially outdoor art with that colorful southwest bent.
It was a warm afternoon, and even though the crowds were big, Wes found a place to park and we slipped into the paths and walkways meandering around the galleries and restaurants of Tubac. The area has been populated by humans for millenia, first by the mammoth hunters, then the Hohokam, followed by Pima and native O’odham, who greeted the Spanish when they arrived in the early 1700’s. The Jesuits built missions there, and there is an historic presidio in addition to the Tumacacari Mission ruins which we visited later in the afternoon.
The galleries were wonderful, and with the addition of all the art booths for the juried show, we had lots of eye candy to peruse. I looked long and hard at several pieces for the house, but it was Mo who spotted the very best one on an upper exterior wall of Michele’s Gallery. We bought the sun sculpture, and Wes dutifully carried it back to the car for us. We also found a colorful metal sculpture of sunflowers, toned down a bit from the bright southwest colors, but still pretty for our home back in Grants Pass. Wes also carried that one back to the car for us as well.
We took Mattie on a leash with her halter, and it was a bit challenging to say the least. So many little dogs! And of course she wanted to play with them all. Some of them she thought deserved a bark and she was really a pain in the neck. Mo spent a lot of time holding her in and scolding her. I think our big mistake was letting her play unfettered with the big old red bloodhound that lived near the apartments in Klamath Falls. He was her best buddy and would let her jump and climb on him, and drag him around by the lip. She didn’t have to learn manners playing with Red. Now she needs some manners and it takes constant attention.
Wes drove south just a mile or so to the Tumacacari National Park, where the ruins of the Tumacacari Mission are protected. We entered with our geezer’s passes, and Wes offered to stay outside the walls with Mattie so that Mo and I could both go in the park, where dogs are NOT allowed.
The history was fascinating, the stories were interesting, and the museum was very well done. I loved the light and color of the old mission ruins, especially the grain storage jars lined up in the rounded impressions in the old adobe. Recreating what the past must have looked like is an interesting pursuit, and I appreciate that curators do that for us.
That evening we returned to Wes and Gayle’s home for another meal, this time a fabulous dinner that was again one of Gayle’s masterpieces of flavor, color, and presentation, in beautiful dinnerware, with good wine, and yummy dessert, in their lovely dining room. Did I mention that it is always a treat to enjoy Gayle’s meals? We didn’t get back to our site at the base until very very late that evening.
The next morning, we had arranged for them to meet us outside the gates of the base to drive up the Mt Lemmon Road. There were choices, including hiking Sabina Canyon, something that is on our list and will remain on our list. Madera Canyon is another place to hike, but we only had time for so much, and with the beautiful, clear weather, Mt Lemmon was our first choice.
The road to the summit and the ski resort there is called the Catalina Highway. As we wound up that curving, and sometimes steep road, we were amazed at what it must have taken to build it. It was built around the same era ad the CCC roads we have so admired, but didn’t have quite the same characteristics of those roads, so we knew it had to be some other builder. I found this information on the internet:
“Construction on the Catalina Highway began in 1933, owing in large part to the efforts of Frank Harris Hitchcock, former Postmaster General of the United States. As a part of the effort, a federal prison camp was established at the foot of the mountains specifically to supply labor for the construction of the highway. During World War II, the camp was converted into an internment camp named the Catalina Honor Camp, and the internees were forced to work on construction of the roadway. One of the Japanese American prisoners at the camp, Gordon Hirabayashi, was later honored in 1999 when the site of the Honor Camp was converted into the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area.
The highway would not be completed until 1950, 17 years after it began. Upon its completion, the highway was named after Hitchcock, who had died in 1935.
The original paved road was narrow, in places had little or no shoulder, featured vertical drop-offs near the road, and was bumpy along most of its length due to years of patchwork repairs. It was long regarded as "one of the most dangerous roads in Pima County." In 1988, the Federal Lands Highway program began a series of seven projects aimed at significantly improving the roadway, with the assistance of the US Forest Service and Pima County. The projects were aimed at improving the quality of the roadway and increasing safety for travelers, while minimizing the impact on the visual aspects and natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. The final project was completed in 2007, at a cost of $15 million, and the road is now much wider and features adequate shoulders, passing areas, and extensive guard rails.”
The road is still winding and narrow, but there are several campgrounds and trailheads along the route that we explored a bit. Most of the trailheads are much like other hiking trails in the Catalina Mountains, very steep and very rocky, at least the parts that we could see without actually hiking them.
My favorite part was the magnificent view from the overlook area with stone walls, and pathways, old rock restrooms that were a bit like the CCC buildings, and open well worn trails that led to the best viewpoints. It was thrilling to look out over the canyons and mountains from the weathered granite boulders that formed this famous “sky island” in the desert. The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend are another example of this typical southwest landscape of mountains rising above the desert surrounding them and supporting a completely different array of plants and animals than are found at lower elevations.
After our day of touring, we settled on dinner for the four of us at the Texas Roadhouse on Broadway, not far from the base. The food was good, but oh my, the noise! It made it very hard to relax and enjoy our meal, much less have any kind of conversation. I don’t for the life of me understand this trend for big noisy restaurants. Gayle and I decided it makes you eat faster and talk less because you get all wound up inside and a bit frantic.
We spent Saturday visiting with Joan before returning to the base to dump tanks, take on water, checking everything in the MoHo, and taking long showers. We wanted to be sure we were ready for our Sunday morning exit north from Tucson.