I drive everyone to the Sonoran Desert Museum this morning, which is 15 miles west of Tucson. We stop to charge the Tesla for 20 minutes at the Tucson Supercharger, which is just east of the city. We then drive another half hour bypassing the city westward into the beautiful Sonoran desert.
It rains lightly while we are at the Sonoran Desert Museum, which keeps the daytime temperature down to the point we are wearing light coats for most of our time here. Since we arrive just after noon, first stop for most of us is to have a snack and drinks at the coffee shop before we walk the trails. We spot a beautiful Bobcat, nesting hummingbirds, a Peregrine falcon in flight, and lots of other birds, animals and of course all kinds of cactus. Our last stop before departing is the caves and a breathtaking mineral display.
After driving back into the city, we meet some friends for dinner at the well-rated El Charro Cafe restaurant in old town Tucson. Being Valentines Day the place is busy, however the Mexican food is terrific. The drive back to Dragoon Ranch starts out with pouring rain as we leave the city, but it thins out by the time we pull into Benson for a quick shopping stop at Safeway. I wash the ranch road mud off the Tesla outside before I park in the garage and plug it in to charge.
It is a bright day but some high clouds are coming in at Dragoon Mountain Ranch. After breakfast, we drive 10 minutes to the nearby Conchise Stronghold and climb the Council Rock area. The series of protective ramparts of granite domes and sheer cliffs were once the refuge of the great Apache Chief, Cochise, and his people. They held out against the US government troops at this location, and were never conquered. We find a cave with ancient pictographs on the walls, and a lovely canyon to explore further into the mountains. After an initial climb through huge boulders with striking turquoise and bring green lichen on them, it is an easy walk into the canyon, where we see a woman climbing a sheer rock face.
After spending a week with my astronomy buddies in the high desert of the Dragoon Mountain Ranch area east of Tucson, I take five more days to explore the Tucson area before returning home. I have some time to drive around Tucson to experience the city and the sights by taking day trips from where I’m staying in the Oro Valley (20 minutes drive north of the city). I go to see the Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon Park and Catalina State Park, Biosphere 2, as well as the aircraft bone yard. As I drive around Tucson, I can appreciate why this city is so popular with Snowbirds, since at this time of year the sky is clear and sunny, and yet the temperatures are moderate. It would be a wonderful place to spend some time to escape the winter for those of us who live in more northerly climates.
February 25, 2017 – Carrabba’s Italian Grill
I walk up the street from my hotel to have dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Since I am there early it is Happy Hour, so I order a $3 martini and have an Italian salad and Cioppino main course later. The Cioppino is a bit watery, but very tasty, so I use the bread to soak up the juice. Cost is only US$24 include tax and tip! I return on my last night in Tucson to enjoy another Happy Hour Martini and have their Proscuitto-wrapped shrimp with broccoli. JoeTourist recommended!
February 26, 2017 – Saffron Indian Bistro
I walk up the street from my hotel to the Saffron Indian Bistro for dinner, which is located in the same mall as the Italian restaurant I went to last night. I have vegetable Pakoras with Tamarind sauce to start, and Chicken Biryani for my main course. The rice with the chicken is very fragrant, and of course, I can always make a meal of Pakoras when there is Tamarind sauce to dip them into! I bring half of the Chicken Biryani back to my hotel, since it is too much for me. JoeTourist recommended!
The above two restaurants are located in the Oracle Crossing Shopping Center in the Oro Valley, a half hour drive north of Tucson. Urban art sculptures by David Voisard are featured in the mall’s outside spaces, which I find to be quite creative and fun!
February 26, 2017 – Houses in the desert hills
When I drive out to the Arizona-Sedona Desert Museum southwest of the city, the route takes me through some areas where houses are on larger lots than in the city, and their property has beautiful cactus and other desert foliage surrounding their houses. Since this is my first time in southern Arizona, these areas seem to fulfill my preconceived notions of what living in the desert should look like!
The Tucson train station is located in the older part of the city (as most train stations are), however this area is well worth a visit in any case. Many of the classic hotels in the area are upgraded, there are brew pubs, fine restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Presidio showcasing old Tucson’s culture and history. The train station also is the location for the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, Maynard’s Market restaurant, and other interesting shops. The station itself is classic architecture – worth a look even if you aren’t taking the Amtrak train.
Catalina State Park is on North Oracle Road – another park just a few miles from where I’m staying. The entrance fee is $7 for a day pass. I park the car in the lot at the trail head and then start walking. There is a small stream flowing through a wash which has to be crossed, but I manage to step and balance on rocks, not getting wet in the process. The first trail I try is the Canyon Loop Trail, but it proves to be too much for me given that the sun is shining and I have no sunscreen on.
So after 20 minutes, I turn back and choose the Birding Trail. It is flat, has some shade, and is a whole lot more interesting. There are indeed lots of birds on this trail, including a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls. I also come across a huge number of bees swarming on a blooming tree. They are all up at the top of the tree, but I can hear them buzzing. Even this trail is a mile loop, which is somewhat strenuous on such a warm day, so I return to the car, leaving the park by 10AM. There are lots of local people at this park, and there is a campground.
The Sabino Canyon Recreational Area is close to where I’m staying in the Oro Valley, so I drive over to have a look – $5 admission. There are some people walking, but it is a long uphill trek to the scenic canyon, and it is threatening to rain, so I pay another $10 to take the tram. There is narration on the way up, and there are nine stops along the way, so people are picked up or dropped off at many of the stops.
It gives me an interesting peek into the Catalina Mountains that are north of Tucson, and the Riparian areas in the canyon. The Bajada Loop is a very short walking trail right next to the Visitor Center, and it has a wonderful variety of cactus and bushes of the desert. The half hour drive there and back allows me to see how people live in the suburbs of Tucson. I’m back at the hotel by noon.
After having breakfast at the hotel this morning, I drive to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is in the western part of Suguero National Park. The desert landscape in this area is spectacular, and the museum presents very interesting displays of the various ecosystems found in the desert. The two captive Coyotes are quite active, and bark like dogs for awhile, getting everyone’s attention. Several docents are displaying birds of prey on their arms and describing their respective features and behaviour, so I take some wonderful closeups of the Peregrine Falcon, Spotted Owl and Barn Owl.
I have some lunch at the little cafe off the gift shop, although there are two other restaurants on the site. The museum has a surprising number of live birds and animals on display in enclosures, including Javalinas (wild pigs), snakes, prairie dogs and squirrels, lots of birds, and some cats. The caves are fun to explore, having stalagmites and stalactites and a gallery of nicely-displayed minerals that are found in the area. So it isn’t just cactus on display, although there are endless varieties of those as well!