After deciding that driving in the RV to Tucson in January would not be advisable, and too expensive given gas prices, we decided to fly and spend just over a week here to see if we like it. So the day finally arrived on Wednesday the 11th. This however, was the same day that FAA grounded all flights in the morning in the US due to a massive computer failure, there was a power outage in the Vancouver airport, and a storm in Denver. Without going through all the gory details of waiting in airports, dealing with cancelled and late flights, this triple whammy of a perfect storm lengthened our travel time by a full day. But we got here, late Thursday evening, and so far we are loving it.
Looking at the forecast for the next several days showed rain coming on Sunday. Wait, we thought Tucson was in the desert?? So we decided to make the most of the great weather on Friday, and since it was my birthday, we thought a horse trail ride through Saguaro National Park would be fun. It was awesome. We revelled in the blue skies and mid 20’s temps, a welcome respite from the gloomy rainy days we had at home. We rode from the ranch, through a ‘wash’, which is a dried up river, and then made a loop through a very small area of the eastern sector of the park, where we got up close and personal with a lot of the desert vegetation. The horses were beautiful and very chill, and I’m glad they had to walk in the several inches of rocky soil, rather than us. The outfit we went with is a family-run ranch and Tanner, one of our guides, is a 3rd generation cowboy from the rodeo circuit. He shared his knowledge of the landscape and country, especially about all the different types of cacti, and was a real gem.
Here is some of the things we learned about cacti from Tanner.
Because if their shape, saguaro are the most iconic cacti. They grow one foot every 7 years. So if you see tall ones you know they are very old. If they have arm(s) from the main stock, that took 80 years, and if there are arms from the arm, that took 160 years. So understandably, the large ones you may see could be 100’s of years old. They are a protected plant species in the US. You can transplant, with an expensive and costly permit, but that’s it. They store any water they can get inside the stock. If you see any with arms pointing down, they likely froze at some point, but didn’t fall off. We saw the ‘carcass’ of several dead ones and there are long ribs of ‘wood’ inside, like a skeleton.
Barrel cacti are short, stubby ones, and they are called ‘direction’ cacti because they always lean to the south.
All cacti, and almost all trees and shrubs, have barbs to help protect themselves from being eaten. There is a wild pig in these parts that will eat the prickly pear (flat ones), barbs and all.
The landscape of Tucson is almost the exact opposite of home. The city is incredibly spread out in a flat valley, with mountain peaks all around. The wide open vistas of desert and mountains, with fascinating shapes of so many different cacti is different than the rain forest of the Island. Winter here is the dormant season so everything is pretty brown and dry looking vs our lush, wet winters. Tucson gets only 11” of rain per year, (compare that to 46” in Ladysmith or 129” in Tofino) and locals consider summer the ‘wet’ season; apparently it’s pretty green. Temps are over 35C in the summer, but it’s a dry heat 😉 So we will miss the blossoms and blooms of the many plants and trees, but what we have seen so far has been wonderful. It’s refreshing to be in an environment so different from what we are used to.
One of the ‘perks’ of delayed flights is finding people going to the same place as you. We met several going to Tucson, and we met up many times at different parts of our journey. One couple were coming here to stay for a couple months in their trailer, and recommended going up “A” Mountain (Sentinel Peak) to get a good view of Tucson and the surrounding area. This had not hit our to-do list, but since it was pretty close to our house, we decided that a picnic dinner at the top, to celebrate my birthday and to watch the sunset, would be pretty special And it was. We had great views, watched the sun set, and we were settling in for the more intense colour once the sun set below the horizon.
Then we heard a ranger call out “Gate will be closing” and we realized that the park must close at sunset so we hastily packed everything back up and rushed down to the parking lot, and made it out just in time.
We are so glad the ranger made the ‘last call’ and we had to appreciate the colours in the sky on the way home. It was still a pretty awesome way to celebrate being another year older and looking forward to more years!
Today we rented some bikes and cycled a small part of the loop trail. Tucson has 130 miles of paved, dedicated pathways around the city, and we did just a small portion. We enjoyed the views; mountains to our left, and a dry river bed to our right, for most of the trail. If the forecasted rains do materialize on Sunday/Monday, we will be curious to see how quickly the dry river beds fill up and what will happen. There are signs on many of the road that say something like, “Dip; do not enter when flooded”. So even though we don’t love rain, we will use the days to see some museums and also observe what happens to this dry dessert landscape when inundated with rare rainfall.
So just two days into our trip, we have loved what we have seen and experienced so far. We look forward to more adventures; stay tuned.