Before pulling out of Patagonia State Park, I checked one more time to see if there had been any cancellations, thus allowing us to extend our stay.  No such luck.  So we stuck with the original plan and hit the road with Tucson, Arizona, as our destination.Tucson MissionsTucson AZA few days earlier, I made notes on a couple of places to stop and explore along our route, but after indulging in a little too much of my “special” lemonade the night before, I was fighting a mild hangover headache and wasn’t in the mood to do anything but find our next home site.

Gosh, I’m such a lightweight.  I guess that can be viewed as a good thing.

The mission in Tumacácori and the cute town of Tubac will just need to wait until next years excursion.

Two hours after leaving Patagonia, Arizona, we  pulled into a boondocking area known as Snyder Hill near the far southwest side of Tucson.  We quickly found a level spot and proceeded to set up home.  While nursing my headache the rest of the day, Al and I discussed the things we wanted to see and do during this stay in Tucson.Tucson Arizona

It turns out, we had only two things on our want to do list.  This was our third visit to Tucson and on both previous visits, Mission San Xavier del Bac was a place I wanted to see yet eluded our schedule.  Not this trip!  I visited not once, but twice.historical sites in Tucsonhistorical missionsI shared a few of my morning photos of Mission San Xavier del Bac via a previous post and today I’m sharing my evening shots.

During this late afternoon visit, I entered the mission as it was being readied for the evenings service.  I hadn’t realized the mission held a Saturday evening mass.

I took a couple of quick interior photos but didn’t linger as I didn’t want to seem disrespectful.  I’m sure it was fine as there were plenty of other folks snapping away, but for me, I felt a little uncomfortable doing so.

About a half hour later folks started arriving for Mass and by 5:30 the mission was packed allowing for standing room only.

Spanish architectureSpanish Colonial architectureSpanish Colonial architectureWith my desire to visit and photograph Mission San Xavier satisfied, our next ‘must do’ on our list was seeing our friends.  Mike and Linda originally planned to boondock with us at Snyder Hill but a heat wave had rolled in requiring them to use the air conditioner for pooch, Lucy, while they were out and about all day exploring.  Thus, they were staying at the Gilbert Ray Campground just up the road with electric hook-up.

Al, Ingrid, Linda, Mike, and Lucy

We invited Mike and Linda over to our place instead of going out to eat so Lucy could join us.  We had a great visit and realized our travels will be overlapping a few more times in the next couple of months just as they did last year.boondocking with friends

I’m assuming there could be a few more happy hours accompanied by more amazing sunsets in our future.  And by the way, I stuck with water the entire evening.  This lightweight couldn’t handle even the thought of an alcoholic beverage 😉boondocking dry campingWith both items checked off our list, we bid farewell to Tucson. Until next time!Spanish Colonial ArchitectureFYI…. This visit took place during the 3rd week in February and I know all you folks to the north are dealing with severe snowstorms and record low temperatures.  I feel for you and although all the photos of snow are beautiful, I don’t miss the shoveling or bad road conditions.  Yet another reason why we love our RV –  we follow the weather.Spanish architecture

Boondocking at Snyder Hill southwest side of Tucson

Collapsible Silicone Party Platter and Serving Tray with Lid by Cood Cooking
Folding Chat Set

More on the Saguaro

A week ago we left Tucson and took a five-hour drive to Elephant Butte State Park in New Mexico.  We stayed two nights then headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico for another two night stay.  We are now resting in Southern Colorado.  Although its sunny, its cold, and I long to be back among my beloved saguaro cacti.Saguaro

Mind you, our four-month trip meandering around Arizona was abundant with inclement and unusual weather.  The rare snowstorm in Tucson was stunning.  This Colorado gal is used to snow, but seeing the saguaro and the desert topped with snow was a special sight to behold.Tucson Tucson

I would have enjoyed it even more if I had brought the proper attire along.  Who would have thought I could have used my snow pants in Tucson, Arizona?

Gilbert Ray Campground
Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson
Gilbert Ray Campground
Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson,  Arizona

I’ve talked before how the desert appears to come alive after a rainfall.  This was very true the day after the snowstorm.  During a heavy rain, or in this case….snow, a saguaro cactus will absorb as much water as its root system allows.  To accommodate a potentially large influx of water, the pleats of a saguaro expand like an accordion.  I was fascinated with the plump texture of the saguaro after the snowfall.  You can literally see the water trapped below the skin’s surface.

The pleats are plump with moisture

Because the majority of a saguaro is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh as much as six tons or more.  This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.  The number of ribs inside the plant correspond to the number of pleats on the outside of the plant.

the skeleton of a saguaro

Saguaro cacti are host to a great variety of animals.  The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.

Gila Woodpecker
nest cavity
Gila Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker

Large birds like hawks also use the saguaro for nesting and hunting platforms.  Their stick nests are constructed among the arms of a large saguaro.  In mid summer, the saguaro cacti provides a source of food for animals with its ripening fruit.  Jackrabbits, Javelinas, Mule Deer and other animals will eat the saguaro’s flesh during dry summer months, providing these animals with a water source.

Desert Museum
A sleeping Javelina – Desert Museum

No trip to Tucson would be complete without a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  This 21 acre parcel of Sonoran Desert is a fusion of; zoo, garden, museum, and aquarium.  Visitors will walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the remarkable ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert region.

Desert Museum
Owl – Raptors in Flight show at the Desert Museum

The “Raptor Free Flight” was highly recommended by LuAnn of Paint Your Landscape and it did not disappoint.  Birds soar completely untethered and fly close overhead…. what a unique experience

Desert Museum
Falcon in flight
Desert Museum

The Hummingbird Aviary alone was worth admission.  A volunteer, otherwise known as a Docent, was passionate about these little beauties.  She pointed out the tiny nests and shared details on their habitat.  Al had one flutter within inches of his face.  It was tough pulling ourselves away.

Desert Museum
Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum

We spent almost three hours strolling the Desert Museum and would definitely return.  Our time in Tucson was way too short and Al and I promise each other a longer stay next winter.Tucson

Saguaro Cactus

I find the Saguaro Cactus intriguing.   As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I thought this three armed cactus was a fabrication of cartoonists.  I remember watching cartoons like the Road Runner, Huckleberry Hound, and of course Bugs Bunny.  The background contained scenes of Red Rock, Cactus, and the ever abundant tumbleweed…..all foreign to a young gal growing up in Illinois among cornfields.Saguaro Cactus

Each saguaro cactus is unique and appears to have a personality of its own.  It took me weeks of living amongst these beauties before I was even able to pronounce the name saguaro correctly…. pronounced:  se’warou.

saguaro cactus
note the bicyclist on the trail between the saguaros – sense of scale

The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters).  It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, some parts of southern California and northern Mexico.  Saguaros have a relatively long life span, averaging 150-175 years of age with some living as long as 200 years.   It can take 50 to 70 years for a saguaro to develop a side arm.  Arms are grown to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity…..more apices lead to more flowers and fruit.saguaro flower

Saguaros are very slow growing and may only grow an inch or two its first eight years.  The growth rate is determined by climate, precipitation, and location.  Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater and the cactus will visibly expand.  This might explain why the desert feels so alive after a rainfall.  The cacti are doing a happy dance!

Yeah…let’s party!

saguaroAt Cave Creek Regional Park, we hiked the Quartz Trail.  As we came up over a hill, I stopped in awe.  It was like a forest of saguaros.  I use the term ‘like’ not as a valley girl but because I’m not sure if it’s correct to use the words forest and saguaro together.  All I can say….. I’d watched one too many Scooby Doo cartoons as a kid…..zombie  saguaro apocalypse.  This army of cacti were watching us….making sure we stayed on the trail….each with its own personality; some cute, some not, some look like proud soldiers, some like a cartoon character, and others look tired, twisted, and weathered, but no two identical.saguaro

AND then there is the rare crested saguaro.  Why are some crested?  Saguaros rarely grow symmetrically and often grow in odd or mis-shapen forms.  The growing tip on rare occasion produces a fan like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.  Biologists disagree as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form.  Some thoughts; genetic mutation, lightning strike, freeze damage.  Fascinating to say the least for whatever reason!

What are the holes in the saguaro?  Stay tuned…..

This was going to be the end of the post……..BUT……..

I have more to share……….  We left Phoenix Tuesday and headed south to Tucson.  We settled into a nice campsite at Gilbert Ray Campground, just south of Saguaro National Park.  How fitting to do a post about saguaro cactus from Saguaro National Park!  We knew a storm was coming and we were prepared with an RV full of food and fuel.  Wednesday around noon, just as predicted, the snow started falling.  SNOW in TUCSON???Gilbert Ray Campground

Oh, what a sight to behold.  The flakes were large and plentiful.  Al and I sat in our cozy warm RV drinking some nice hot tea and watched the scenery unfold.  This is rare for the area.  The Accenture Golf Tournment was put on hold…..poor Tiger.Gilbert Ray CampgroundThere were times I could not help myself……I’d put on my winter boots and winter coat and run around taking photos.  Sure wish I had packed my snow pants….I could have stayed out longer.  Oh well, this Colorado gal knows how to improvize…..two pairs of knit pants kept me warm and kind of dry.Tucson

The next day, the snowstorm was but a mere memory.  The cacti were swollen and happy from all the moisture.  With clear skies and warm temps returning, we were off to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum…..