A Taste of Tucson

Another side trip from Phoenix last winter was an overnight in Tucson.  We drove south to Tucson in the afternoon, arriving at the Saguaro National Park before the sun set.

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There are two parks.  We drove through the West Park.  The East Park is on the other side of Tucson.  Together they preserve over 91,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert.  We took the five-mile Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, a graded, unpaved road.  A lot of sharp rocks protruded.  Will was afraid we were going to puncture a tire.  A bajada is a gently sloping outwash at the foot of desert mountains where Saguaro grow best.

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The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest and driest regions in North America, getting less than 12 inches of rain a year.

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Saguaro grow very slowly.  At 15 years they may be only 12 inches tall; at 50 years, seven feet.  They send out branches that look like arms only after 75 years. The largest cacti in the U.S., Saguaro’s can live 150 years or more.  They grow up to 50 feet tall and weigh more than 16,000 pounds!

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At first I was disappointed that we arrived so late but the clouds and setting sun made for some great photos.

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The next morning we drove a little south of Tucson to the Mission San Xavier del Bac.  This is a national historic landmark that is still a working parish.  We took a tour led by a docent volunteer.

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The mission dates from 1692, but this building was begun in 1783 using 7,000 pesos borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. 

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Artists, master artisans, and the Bac villagers worked for 14 years until the money ran out.  The artists were laid off, one of the towers didn’t get its dome, but the villagers kept at work on the north enclosure and the plaza.

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More than $10 million has been raised by the Patronato San Xavier for continuing restoration and preservation of the church.

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We headed back to Tucson and picked up a map at the Visitor Center for a walking tour.

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Hotel Congress was built in 1919.  In 1934 members of John Dillinger’s gang rented rooms here.  The building caught fire and the gang paid firemen to carry their bags out.  The heavy bags turned out to contain submachine guns and bulletproof vests!  They were arrested soon after.  I mean the gang, not the firemen!

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The depot, built in 1907, has been restored.  This is a life-size sculpture of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday.  They were involved in a gunfight in 1882 that killed Frank Stillwell at this spot.

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Tucson has a modern transit center.

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The Fox Theatre has been restored and hosts both screen and stage events.

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The Old Town area

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The Pima County Courthouse is under renovation.

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The Mormon Battalion is a bronze sculpture that commemorates when Mormon soldiers entered Tucson on their way to CA to fight in the Mexican War in 1846.

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This is a Spanish soldier dressed for battle.  His armor was 7 layers of deerskin.

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This statue of Francisco “Pancho” Villa was given to Tucson by Mexico in 1981.

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This pretty mosaic hides an equipment shed of some sort.

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Tucson is an interesting mix of old and new with lots more to see than we had time for.  This was just a taste of Tucson!

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The Grand Canyon is Grand

Last winter we rented a house for a month near Phoenix.  One of our side trips was the Grand Canyon. 

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We drove north from Phoenix, through Sedona, where we met friends for lunch.

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We arrived in Tusayan, about 15 minutes south of the Canyon, in the late afternoon.  It was getting close to sunset and the park ranger at the Visitor’s Center suggested we go into the park to see the evening colors in the canyon, then walk the rim the next day.  Off we went!

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I had been here as a kid, Will never, but we were both breathless at our first sight!  You are standing right at the edge – no railings in most places!  (That alone took my breath away.)  It is just so big!  Grand!  It needs a bigger word….Grandzilla!

We had driven to Yavapai Point.  It is one of the closest places to the rim where you can park.  It was pretty chilly and very windy so we didn’t stay outside long.  The Geology Museum at this lookout has huge windows so you can get good views out of the wind. 

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The next day we stopped back into the National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan and watched the IMAX Grand Canyon movie.  It’s a good background for the visit, some geology and history.  In the Park we drove to the Grand Canyon Village where the centerpiece is the El Tovar Hotel. 

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This is a wonderful old lodge which opened in 1905.  Built from local limestone and Oregon pine, it was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 

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From here we drove north on Hermit Road, along the rim, stopping at many of the lookout points.  This road is closed in the summer.  Probably too many tourists to be safe.

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We could not have ordered a more perfect day, sunny and warm for winter.  It was so quiet, we could hear the Colorado river rushing through the gorge almost a mile below!

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Hermits rest is the farthest point west that you can drive.  We backtracked 7 miles to the “Village” and the El Tovar Hotel where we parked.   We began our hike along 2 miles of the canyon rim here, walking east.

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The path is paved and is fairly flat.  It weaves right up close to the rim in many places.  I would be very nervous to have kids along this trail.  There are very few barriers to a sheer drop off the edge!

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That’s a tiny little person standing up there (above).  This is as close to the edge as I would go when we got there!

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We ended our hike at the main Visitor Center where we had a snack.  The park runs a very handy bus service between the two major centers so we were able to get a ride back to our car.  We only waited a few minutes.  The driver said summer time is a totally different experience. 

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We finished up our time at the canyon by driving farther east, along Desert View Drive, to the 70 foot Desert View Watchtower.  Built in 1932 of stone and mortar, it was inspired by prehistoric towers found in the region. 

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Here is a cool picture taken by my son later in the month when he and his wife drove up to the canyon for a day.

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The Grand Canyon is truly grand.  It is so big you can’t take it all in.  I can only imagine the crowds in the summer.  No thanks.  We were so lucky to get such a perfect day to walk the rim trail.

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