Southern Arizona, the forgotten child

On January 27th, close to 3 weeks after arriving in Terlingua, Texas the forecast was looking dim … cold and windy which was an unusual event coming from the land of eternal good weather.   We took  that as our exit sign, packed up and headed down the road to Southern Arizona in search of  sunshine and warmth…. just  like lizards.

Our first night out was spent at a Loves truck stop in Van Horn, West Texas, only to wake up the next morning to 15 degree temps.  Not a good start.  Not at all.  The second night was spent camping just West of Columbus, New Mexico, a few miles North of the  Mexican border.  Sure, it was still cold, but things were looking up….. kinda.  Little did we know that we would spend about a week in all, hit or miss, in less than desirable temps and conditions and let it be known, we had little tolerance for it.

Camping just North of the Mexican-New Mexican border near Columbus, New Mexico

We spent a couple of cold and windy days exploring the Eastern side of Chirichauas, a place which deserved far more attention from us than it received.  Next time.

In the meantime we endured.  As we drove deeper into Southern Arizona we wondered why, so often, it feels like the forgotten child to us.  It’s so far away, so different from our usual haunts, yet we are stunned and awed every time with its brilliance.   We wonder how and why Southern Arizona ends up on the back burner only to be acknowledged when things get tough…. and cold.  We’re sorry.

Fields of tall, golden grasses.
Looking North from the hills outside of Patagonia, AZ

 We reached Patagonia, Arizona  a stunningly beautiful place with tall, tall grasses and long, rich, textured vistas, layers upon layers of them.   We also entered the Sonoran desert, a world unto its own and a close cousin to the Chihuahuan desert of which we had just left.  It’s differentiated, in part, by elevation, the Sonoran being lower and warmer than the Chihuahuan, and by the vegetation which lower elevations can host.

Still cold and getting colder  we lizards were contemplating hibernation, but we forged on, in hope.   We traveled 30 miles North of Patagonia to camp 2 nights at the base of Mount Wrightson outside of Sonoita, about 80 miles South of Tucson… it’s a part of the SW where the oak tees, Arizona sycamore and manzanita live.   These trees  resound with us on some deep, old, strong, steady, sturdy level.  Maybe there are past lives.  Maybe we were oak trees.  Both of us.

We start hop scotching our way North along the Arizona Trail (AZT) following these signs.
We set out for a ride along the AZT, North to South, at the base of Mount Wrightson.
Next day, skies are clearing off, riding along the AZT South to North, same area.
Looking West towards Mount Wrightson
A section of the AZT just south of Tucson..
And every single night provided stunning sunsets.

In all, we spent 4 days south of Tucson exploring the Arizona Trail (AZT) which, as many of you know, is an A #1 desert trail system, all 750 miles of it that runs  through Arizona, from the Utah to the Mexican border.  It’s flat out awesome.  We continued our journey North to Tucson, following the AZT as closely as possible.  It was still cold, but  an end was sight as the forecast was looking up.   We camped at Colossal Cave, close to Tucson which is actually on the forever elusive border separating the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts….. then all hell broke loose….. we were in a cactus jungle.  Really, it’s quite stunning as many of you already know.   And its 75 degrees.  Bingo!!!

The Saguaro, the Granddaddy of them all.
On the 50 Year Trail outside of Catalina State Park, Tucson

Tucson…….. it’s a city surrounded by beauty.  To the East and the West close to the city are The Saguaro National Parks and not many cities can say they are that close to National Parks.  To the North and the  East is the Catalina National Forest with peaks up to 10,000 feet and to the West and South are layers upon layers of mountain ranges which fade into the distance and are simply too numerous to name.  Within the city are various cactus jungle open spaces as well as trail systems and around the perimeter of the city are the foothills which are crammed solid with cactus and a few, sweet trail systems.  The textures are simply amazing.  And did we mention that it was 85 degrees???  Yuppers.

While in the Sonoran desert we turned into pseudo, wikibotonists and developed relationships with the cactus and plants.  We bought a book on cactus and read through all the info that the parks gave out and played the “name that cactus” game which passed the time.

The misleadingly named cactus, the teddy bear cholla  .                                         Photo by Amy Carr

While in Texas we thought we had met the meanest kid on the block, the cats claw.  Rightly named you can easily slide over its smooth, backward facing thorns only to get raked, nailed, big time on the retrieval.  But, in the Sonoran desert, we met the teddy bear cholla who won the  “Obscenity Recipient Award”.    It’s a jointed cactus that willingly releases  sections of itself onto any poor sucker who even looks at it wrong.  It does this by inserting it’s bad ass barbed thorns  one would swear  had been dipped in poison.  It hurts big bad!!   Many of you know what I’m talking about here don’t you???  You’ve called it naughty names before, haven’t you???   See???

Jumping Cholla on the left, saguaro on the right

Above, on the left is a jumping cholla, a close second cousin to the teddy bear cholla in both technique and effect.  With this big fella at least the name gives you a slight heads up, but I think overall, it pales in evilness to the teddy bear.

Professor Gary giving a cactus survival lecture
Patti studying.                                                                                                        photo by Amy Carr

While in Tucson our dear friends Dallas and Amy from Albuquerque came down to play with us.  As always, we love to meet up with friends.   Hint, hint.

Amy and Dallas from Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amy went to college in Tucson and liked it so she stayed 10 years so she was  equipped to school us well.  We spent Valentine’s Day with them and went on a hike where Dallas, impressively, came in rather handy.

The impressive Dallas Broad.                                                                                            photo by Amy Carr

And we watched the full moon rise.

Photo by Amy Carr

We were so sad to see them leave.

With their departure setting the tone we started working our way back North, camping, riding and hiking  here and there, through Silver City, through Albuquerque to see friends and family, then home, to our lovely little cabin, sunny 50 degree temps and lots of baby calves playing in our front yard.   Cute 🙂 See, it all works out in the end.

Sunset looking West over Tucson.

Southern Arizona,……. we promise that the gifts you gave will not be forgotten.  Like lizards., we’ll be back.  Next year.

Next stop…. we leave mid March for the Pacific Northwest to visit both of our families, friends and a new grand baby boy.   Yeah!!

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6 thoughts on “Southern Arizona, the forgotten child

  1. I just went to Tucson via Albuquerque for a fast trip to the gem show and haven’t come from the East in 2 decades probably. Sure is beautiful !!! Nice shots too Amy!!

  2. My whole being is touched by your experience. The pictures of nature and the connection to what is refreshes my soul. My heart yearns to be one of those friends that could come and visit, but then reality hits me smack in the face. Although our connection is but brief and not frequent, the sharing of this experience remains with me, revives me, and lets me know why Cal’s and my heart were so touched by AZ at a retirement place and home. There is a beauty throughout, a dessert beauty that differs from Mountainous beauty……that energizes. Thank you for the pictures, the full moon, the grasses, sunsets, plains. I am 2 years away from those experiences…..creating longing, and then a reminder that my present moment is leading me to my next soulful journey. Much gratitude for spiritual connection.

    1. Hi Kathy…. thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I know so much what you mean by the desert energy… I still can’t find the words to describe it. Yes, you are so close to retirement you can touch it. As for us, we don’t know what we’re doing for the rest of our lives, kinda only for the moment at this point.

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