fitness · hiking

Change of scene: moving through the desert in Tucson, AZ

This week is spring break at my university, which means I am either 1) somewhere warm; or 2) complaining about not being somewhere warm.  Happily for me (and the people around me), this year my friends Kathy and Janet and Steph and I made plans for biking and hiking/walking around in Tucson, Arizona.  Our plan also includes eating as much Mexican food as possible during the trip (this was my additional requirement).

I was supposed to arrive in Tucson last Friday, but a nor’easter changed my plans; I got here Monday instead.  No matter– I’m here now!

Tuesday was desert walking day.  Every time I come to a desert landscape I am completely taken by its beauty and otherness.  As a person raised in woodsy, swampy flat southeastern landscapes and who lives in woodsy rocky coastal New England, the southwestern desert is otherworldly.  And I’m also surprised by how varied it is.  You will see this for yourselves below.

Tuesday morning we went to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.  It includes lots of indoor exhibits about the history, geology, flora and fauna of the area over time.  However, most of its loveliness is outdoors– there’s a circuit of walks with info posted about plants and animals.  At the start, we were greeted with this:

yellow sign saying "warning!" and "welcome" (with a red line through it)
yellow sign saying “warning!” and “welcome” (with a red line through it)

I’d call that a mixed message– which is it, people?  The point of the sign is to remind us that the desert is hot, dry, and contains plenty of prickly and potentially hazardous things.  We should be careful.  Okay, got it.  And yes, I’m wearing sunscreen, sensible shoes and a hat.  Ready to proceed.

It’s not yet peak desert flower season, but there were some blooms to enjoy.

We saw a huge variety of agave, cactus, aloe and other plants. I mean huge.  There was hedgehog agave (Steph’s favorite), bonker hedgehog agave (nothing to add here), and my favorite, octopus agave.

An octopus agave, with multiple (actually, more than 8) green large curving tendrils.
An octopus agave, with multiple (actually, more than 8) green large curving tendrils.

 

We saw this intriguing sign:

Sign saying "raptor free flight"
Sign saying “raptor free flight”

There was some discussion about what that sign could mean.  Steph thought it was advertising free flights, courtesy of raptors; maybe we could just grab some talons and hang on.  I was wondering if it was a chance to fly with no raptors around.

We strolled, pointed at things, shared and compared our preferences, and took loads of pictures for a few sunny hours.  Being outside in short-sleeves at this time of year is such a privilege and a pleasure.

After leaving the museum to have a late picnic lunch, we drove over Gates Pass, a very scenic spot and well-known cycling climbing route in the area.  Here’s a view from one of the overlooks:

The side of a mountain, dotted with Saguaro cacti, at Gates Pass near Tucson.
The side of a mountain, dotted with Saguaro cacti, at Gates Pass near Tucson.

Then we headed over to Catalina State Park.  It has a very different desert profile.  We took a couple of easy loops (the trails vary from short easy stroll to long arduous climb).  Here’s a view along one of them:

A stand of majestic saguaro cactus against blue sky, on a hillside in Catalina State Park.
A stand of majestic saguaro cactus against blue sky, on a hillside in Catalina State Park.

I kept exclaiming, “this is so beautiful!”, at regular intervals, stopping to take pictures throughout our walks.  My friends were patient, but I believe wanted to get a move on at some point.

Steph, Janet, and Kathy, hands on hips, waiting on the trail for me.
Steph, Janet, and Kathy, hands on hips, waiting on the trail for me.

On the other side of the main road, we took the birding loop, and we were greeted with lots of unexpected greenery.  It had rained the week before, and the desert eagerly put on a show of color.

Walking through a woodsy, green area, headed up to more desert views.
Walking through a woodsy, green area, headed up to more desert views.

And we were not disappointed when we got there:

View of the Catalina mountains, with cactus and scrub bush in the foreground.
View of the Catalina mountains, with cactus and scrub bush in the foreground.

Today I turn to the bike– there is a 60+ mile system of bike paths around Tucson, and I’m off to explore.  We have cycling fun planned for the rest of the trip.  But it was nice to ease into movement on foot.

Readers, do you like multiple modes of activity and exploration when you go to a new or different place?  Or do you stick to one favorite form of transport?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Change of scene: moving through the desert in Tucson, AZ

  1. Awesome to see a post about Tucson on the day I am flying there! I’m psyched to ride on Friday, and would love to meet another fit feminist writer. Let me know if you want to ride together. Any distance, any speed is fine with me. Also, if you are still in Tucson this weekend, check out the Tucson Festival of books at the University. It is fantastic.

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