All the hits: week twelve (in which we explore the Sonoran Desert)

Sorry for the lack of updates over the past few weeks. Two of Ben’s parents (he has four) came down to join our adventure, and we wanted to make sure they got to see as much as possible and not just us on our computers. We’ll try to fire-off a few posts this week to catch up.

Tucson, Arizona

We really liked Tucson. While it’s a large sprawling city, it had a surprising amount of culture and personality. We spent two weekends here, in between other explorations of southern Arizona. As we walked around the city, we noticed a local love of glass-blowing with different shops and even bars containing glass-blowing studios visible through large windows. Some of the creations were really intricate and impressive and it was hypnotizing to see them work.

Revolutionary Grounds: We immediately fell in love with this coffee/book shop. It had a great collection of radical books, excellent coffee, really fast wifi, a back patio, and delicious treats like prickly pear lemonade (made with prickly pear cactus) and vegan deserts. Revolutionary Grounds became our go-to hangout spot in the city and we returned over and over again and ordered the prickly pear lemonade each time.

Fourth Street: The “hip” street in town running from downtown to the university, we walked up and down it a few times to checkout the shops and bars. Lots to see and do. The second weekend, there was a massive street-fair. The street was closed off to cars and boy was it crowded. People were allowed to drink in the streets which was nice, but the booze and food were really expensive and none of the stalls really interested us. We sought shelter from the crowd at Revolutionary Grounds of course.

Tohono Chul Park: We visited this not-for-profit park first thing in the morning to participate in a bird-watching walk. Although it’s located in the city, it felt pretty isolated. We saw a tiny hummingbird’s nest, lots of birds, flowers, cacti, and other plants and wildlife. The park was a great primer on the local desert environment.

Saguaro National Park: Saguaro are the really tall cacti you see so often in cartoons and illustrations of the desert and this is the only part of the United States in which they grow. There are two parts to the park (one west and one east of Tucson, but we saw them both). The cacti are like large trees and take a long time to grow – if one has an arm, it’s at least 60 years old, and many are well over 100 years old. We watched a presentation on local lizards that was fascinating and learned about the Zebra-Tailed Lizard (which pretends to be a scorpion when threatened), the Gila Monster (which scientists thought was rare but just spends 90% of its time hanging out underground), as well as a species of lizard that are ALL female and clone themselves to reproduce.

Bonus: The Baja Café, the many Tucson farmers markets, Café Passé (had delicious vegan sausages), The Big Short (so this is a movie you could see anywhere and probably have already, but we saw it at The Screening Room in Tucson and if you haven’t seen it, you need to), Savaya Coffee Shop (they had amazing music playing the entire time and “science coffee”), Café Marcel (hung out here while the van had some work done and enjoyed some great crepes), Tania’s 33 Mexican food (super delicious and unpretentious), Nimbus Brewing Company (while not the best beer, the giant warehouse interior was great and you could sit on the patio and watch jets from the airfield next door take off), Food Conspiracy Co-Op, Antigone Books (an awesome feminist book store).

Southern Arizona

Chiracahua National Monument: Lucky for us, there was a last-minute cancellation, so we got to spend the night at Chiracahua. While doing dishes at the campsite, we were surrounded by a half-dozen Mexican Jays, and treated to a performance by an Acorn Woodpecker. The next day we explored the park. It was a bit challenging because the main road in was under construction, so there was only one trailhead into the park from the visitor’s center which everyone was using (people were parked everywhere). It also meant that we had to hike an hour into the mountains to get to any of the other trails. It took us 4 hours to hike 12 km and ascend 1500 feet up into the “Heart of the Rocks”, but it was worth it. Chiracahua is filled with amazing rock formations, many with rocks balanced atop one another. While they’re hidden away up in the mountains, the formations and views of the surrounding wilderness were spectacular.

Bisbee: This little mountain town is like something out of Europe. With tiny, winding, steep streets, houses and businesses are stacked beside, and almost atop each other. Formerly a mining town, Bisbee now attracts a lot of (apparently older hippy) tourists. We spent a night in the van at the Queen Mine RV Park which had great showers and is across the highway from the main street and perched right on the edge of a giant open-pit copper mine. In addition to a lot of hotels, the town is home to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company (where we enjoyed a sampling of the local offerings with free popcorn), Thuy’s Noodle Shop (where we enjoyed delicious vegan pho), and the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel. The Brothel is part store and part bike museum. The owner gave us a tour that included the fascinating history of pretty much every bike and frame in the shop.

Coronado National Memorial: This park is located right on the Mexican border in southern Arizona. On our way, we stopped to make coffee when two strange things happened. First, it started to hail. We had barely seen precipitation in the previous two months, so hail in the south of Arizona seemed very out of place. Next, we were passed by a giant convoy of probably a dozen border patrol trucks – we assume it was a new shift starting, or something. Deciding to forego a long hike given the nippy and haily weather, we drove up a steep dirt road to Montezuma Pass Overlook where we could see miles and miles in every direction. It was an amazing view, but we weren’t the only ones enjoying it. On both sides of the parking lot there were large border patrol trucks and trailers setup to continually monitor the border in both directions.

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