Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wet Desert

Wet Desert
This has been a banner year for rain in the Tucson area, and the desert is misty green with tiny plants that have waited years for just this moment. The iconic saguaro cactus, which has to be 65 years old to grow its first arm (!), is fat with stored water, and the first of what promises to be a whopping year for desert blooms are already showing.

I parked in the driveway of friends from the North Rim, in a 1960’s subdivision on the northern side of Tucson. Every yard here looks as though it was carefully landscaped with cacti and agave and palo verde in proper xeriscape manner, but a walk down the right of way for the power lines shows that this is what was here before the houses. Anywhere there is a tiny bit of water, the Sonoran Desert produces this wonderful thick thorny, 7 foot high tangle of prickly pear, palo verde, saguaro, creosote bush and who know who the others are. You can walk along the dry washes, but you can’t see much.

One evening the dog and I were walking at dusk and the local coyotes began their evening sing. I love this wild sound, it reminds me that the wild is right there, hiding under a bush, watching us and hoping we will leave something yummy to eat. Since one favorite snack is small dog, Pepe and I made a retreat.

A day or so later, the pack of 10 or so came galloping down the middle of the road, chasing something. They are tawny and sleek and very fast. Some came back up the road, ran back down again, and it dawned on me that some lovely young thing must have come into heat. Thrilling to see them.

The great sight of Tucson, besides the excellent mountains (you can ski up there!) is the Desert Museum. This is actually a zoo of sorts, with great attention to building natural habitats for the desert creatures that let us see them up close, but with minimal bars. A cougar lies blinking in the warm sun, two bobcats sit side by side peering down from their cliff, a band of javelinas ( NOT pigs says everyone, but well if it looks like…) sleeping in a heap, and a coyote posing in a rock and ignoring the attempts of everyone to get him to turn around for a photo. As humming birds are everywhere in this desert, and Tucson is on their flyway, they are given their own net house where you can walk among them, see a nest sitting mom, and get dive bombed by them as they chirp. The paths and exhibits are along a hillside over looking the Avra Valley, with distant mountains beyond.

This is a do not miss. If you love the desert, you will love it, and if you don’t have time to just go meditate out in the desert, this will give you a taste.

Another local sight, Sabino Canyon, was a great treat with all the water. A CCC built road takes you up the canyon on a tram and back down, with the usual guide remarks. Very scenic anyway, but the road has been designed to become a spillway when there is lots of water, so the tram drives right through the water, and the creek is rushing and leaping while the saguaro look down from the rocky walls. I took the tram up and walked down, taking off my shoes and wading through the water rushing over the bridges, I think there are 7 of them. I took my time, stopping to visit with flowers, and just looking up at the stony headlands above me, like a little kid soaking up sunshine in no hurry.

I found a museum of doll houses and spend a happy time looking at every one. I once had a doll house set up in a lawyers’ bookcase, I made a lot of the pieces, and love tiny foods and flower arrangements. I even sold some in a store back in MA. I sort of miss them, wonder if they are still in the attic of my old house. But what would I do with them now?

Tucson is a vast sprawl of subdivisions, mile after mile of them and every two miles or so another Mall and shopping cluster to serve that area. So the folks who live there don’t have to go far, but when I went to visit friends across town, it took forever, and looked like reruns over and over. The mountains are terrific, and the weather in winter is terrific, but it’s still a city. I will come back, to see my friends and do some other things

The friend in Yuma has company, so I will see her next time, I just spent the night and next day drove to Campo, to the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum, where Don and I spend two wonderful winters. It seemed odd to set out without planning my route, but this is sort of home.


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