Arizona Part Three

I ended the last post describing our brush with the law and an unexpected lesson on the importance of dental hygiene and basic geography while traveling south to Tucson.  Overall, our interaction with Apache law enforcement was surprisingly pleasant – but it was also prolonged, so we didn’t get to our AirBnB in Tucson until after dark.

The next day we followed the recommendation of our hosts and drove about 30 minutes west of Tucson to visit The Desert Museum.  Even though it was expensive at $30USD per person, it was a pretty interesting and unique place to learn about the desert ecosystem.  My impressions before this trip were that the desert is a hostile place with a smattering of plants and animals amidst a hot, mostly lifeless, environment.  Not so. It’s packed with life.

We learned about lizards, snakes, coyotes, javelinas, hummingbirds, bees, and bats (that’s my version of Batman).  But mostly we learned about the plants.  Those prickly little barrel-shaped decorative plants we see lined up in pots at Home Depot grow to super-sized proportions in the Sonoran desert.  And they have friends.

Linds’ favourite was the Ocotillo.  A plant that fires straight spiny wands 15 feet into the air.  Most of the year they’re bare, but with some rain, they can grow leaves within 36 hours.  And if you’re really lucky, you’ll be treated to tips of red flowers.  Hummingbirds love them.

My favourite was the jumping cholla, a nasty-looking mass of spikes so dense you can barely see the green below.  Apparently, these plants can sense the vibration of approaching footsteps and will drop pieces of itself in your path.  It’s a plant with a personality disorder.

But the most majestic plant of all is the Saguaro.  Some of these giants are over 200 years old.  They can grow up to three stories tall and their shallow root system extends the same distance in all directions, soaking up all available moisture which is then sucked up into the body of the plant.  The body is so huge and the “arms” so heavy, I wondered how it could support itself.  A few dead specimens revealed a circle of long woody ribs extending from the ground up – Saguaro’s skeleton.

The Saguaros are iconic and important to the Indian tribes (they call themselves Indians here).  They play a pivotal role in the ecosystem, not just as a food source (the fruit, in particular, which is eaten by animals and harvested by Indians to this day), but also as shelter for various animals that burrow into the flesh of the Saguaro and make it their home.

The best way to get to know the Saguaros and the desert landscape, in general, is to hike in Saguaro National Park west of Tucson – which is what we did the following day.  We decided on a 3.6-mile hike called Sendero Esperanza.  The first mile or so was nice and flat with a wide path which made staying away from the ubiquitous prickly pears relatively easy as we gawked at the thousands of Saguaros that surrounded us.  As the path got steeper, it also got narrower, but we were rewarded with more and more frequent clusters of desert wildflowers as we ascended.  I thought one of us would surely get a spine in the leg at some point but the worst injury we received was our sunburns.  Totally worth it.

On our final day in Arizona, we opted to stay out of the sun (mostly) and embark on a drive to Mount Lemmon.  This took us about 1.5 hours northeast of Tucson up into the mountains.  Yet again we were treated to a day of sunshine and sparkling blue skies.  And yet again, we enjoyed Arizona’s infrastructure of well-maintained highways with frequent pull-offs for spectacular pictures and awesome hikes.

This was one of Linds’ favourite parts of the trip because there were numerous chances to crawl up onto huge boulders perched precariously close to the edge of the sunny abyss.  She would stand up, look over the edge and scare the crap out of her husband.  I try to let her have her fun – I really do – but on one of these boulders, she really did lose her footing for a second.  I was ten feet away and all I could do was watch her pinwheel her arms until she regained her balance.

I almost threw up.

She couldn’t stop laughing.

After that, she took it easy on the daredevil shenanigan shit – if only not to shorten my life expectancy any further that day. At the next stop, I tried to demonstrate how to approach high-altitude photo opportunities if you don’t want to leave your loving spouse a single parent. Of course, she found this even funnier and insisted I include it in this blog post.

I think I prefer keeping her close.

Mount Lemmon

I’m finishing this blog post from seat 32K on the plane ride back to Toronto.  We miss our boys and pretty much everything about home, but we absolutely loved our trip to Arizona and would highly recommend it to anyone, particularly if they haven’t been to the Southwest before.  Rent a vehicle and don’t be afraid to drive a lot.  There is so much to see and the driving itself is half the fun.

For Linds and I, this trip was a happy reminder that one of our favourite things to do together is to explore, especially when we can combine driving and hiking.  Some couples prefer to lounge on a beach or be entertained on a cruise ship, but we love seeing, feeling, tasting, and learning new things and doing it together.  Long hours on unexplored highways, listening to a podcast, pausing it whenever we had a thought or a question, excited for our destination, but content with every minute it’ll take to get there.

Sometimes – often, actually – I am viscerally struck by how stupendously unlikely it is that someone could be lucky enough to be born at this point in Earth’s history when the planet is in a Goldilocks era between ice ages, can hop on a giant aluminum mechanical bird that will take me safely across a continent before my next meal, have the freedom to explore strange and wonderful new landscapes, foods, and experiences, to do it all with the best person I’ve ever known, and to type all of it into a device that will share it with all of you, no matter where you are.  

It’s nothing short of magic.

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