Saturday, March 14, 2020

Touring Tucson Before Some Tourist Attractions Closed Due to COVID-19

It is so difficult to comprehend how life has changed so dramatically for all of us in the last few weeks.  Tom Paine’s quote comes to mind: “These are the times that try men’s souls…”  I hear the resounding voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt telling the American public, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  And, of course, the most comforting words from God, “Fear not, for I am with you.”   I send special thoughts to all our fellow RVers that they get to land somewhere safely and soundly to “shelter at home”.  Most importantly, I have faith that the sun will shine brightly after this storm passes.  God bless us everyone, God bless America!

And now for my regular post in which I am rambling about our travels the week of March 9.  It represents my mindset prior to widespread coronavirus in the U.S. and the “shelter at home” guidelines/mandates.

With our next destination Tucson, we left Quartzsite to sunshine and comfortable temperatures.

As we pulled away, I waved goodbye to our desert home for the last 8 weeks.

As we approached Phoenix, Gretchen (our Garmin 770) went absolutely bonkers.  You see, we took Loop 202 to bypass the City.  Gretchen’s mapping software wasn’t aware that Loop 202 is open.  So, Gretchen was yelling at us to “turn left” where there was no left turn.  The screen was flashing, depicting us driving through unknown terrain rather than on the road! Every few seconds, Gretchen would give us a new road instruction—but no road existed to correspond with her instruction.  And that, my friends, is why you should NOT rely solely on Artificial Intelligence.

We arrived at Pima County Fairgrounds, our “home” for the next several days.  It is not the most well-maintained fairgrounds at which we have stayed, particularly the field and trail areas, though we did enjoy seeing the cacti start to bloom.  Perhaps they will start sprucing things up for the upcoming FMCA rally to be held here later this month (the  rally was eventually canceled due to the pandemic).  And we absolutely despise being in a confined site surrounded by other rigs rather than being parked in the vast, open desert.  But the Fairgrounds RV Park is inexpensive at $25.50/night (including tax) with our Escapees discount for a full hook-up site, and it is centrally located for our visit to Tucson.  Luckily for us, no races were going on at the nearby Speedways, so things were rather quiet, too.  And the location of our site came with a nice view of the mountains since no one was in the boondocking section.  

One of our reasons for visiting Tucson was to reunite with our fellow RV volunteers from New Jersey’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  Bill/Rena live near Tucson while Johnny/Tina are work-camping an hour or so away.  We had a wonderful time reconnecting, enjoying the beautiful natural setting, and marveling at Bill/Rena's creativity and artistic talents.   Besides viewing the magnificent scenery, this nomadic lifestyle avails us the opportunity to meet and form friendships with people from different geographic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds, an experience that is priceless.

Since this is our third time touring Tucson, we wanted to visit attractions that we had not seen previously.  Hence, a hike at Madera Canyon within Coronado National Forest was in order.  This is a popular place for bird-watching, and we saw a contingency of enthusiastic photographers lined up to catch a glimpse of an Elegant Trogon that was supposedly visiting the area.  Me, I wouldn’t know an Elegant Trogon if he landed on my head.  I am happy just to see sparrows and ravens!  We did encounter quite a bit of wildlife on these trails, including various types of woodpeckers, Mexican jays, nuthatches, turkeys, hummingbirds, and even a white-nosed coati, which we thought was a badger until we got schooled.

This guy was looking at me kinda funny. Me thinks he was eyeing this Rambling RV Rat up as dessert!

Time to test your eyesight. Can you find the coati in this photo?

Visiting Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains was just the spirituality we needed amidst the scary news of a coronavirus pandemic overseas that has found its way now to the U.S.  I was comforted to be in these majestic, tranquil lands.   The towering peak of Mt. Wrightson at an elevation of 9,453 feet became my cathedral.  The diversified flora and foliage, from cacti, to grasslands, to woodlands of oaks, pines, and aspens, became my Garden of Eden.  The running springs and creeks provided my drink of salvation.  What a blessing to be in such natural, unadulterated beauty, embraced by the magnificent works of a Supreme Being.

A cute B&B hidden away in Madera Canyon.

Gray storm clouds rolling in create a dramatic contrast to the earth tones. 

The next day we decided to take a walking tour of the City of Tucson.  Following the Turquoise Trail line painted on the sidewalks/streets as our guide, we meandered about 2.5 miles, learning the history of this fair city.  Our timeline started in 1775, when the Spanish began building the Presidio San Agustin Del Tucson, an 11-acre fortification that became one of the first European structures in Tucson.  Upon its completion in 1780, it consisted of 10-foot-high adobe walls and two towers.  None of the original Presidio exists, but a small portion of the northeast corner has been reconstructed and is home to the Presidio Museum.  We received a terrific tour of the reconstructed site for admission of $7/person.  We learned about the vast opportunities afforded soldiers who left their lower socio-economic status in Spain to come to Presidio San Agustin del Tucson.  As New Jersey residents for most of our lives, we generally associate the history of the time period with the Revolutionary War with Britain.  So, it was fascinating to learn more about Spain’s activity in these parts of North America during the same time frame.

Mural depicting life at the Presidio for its various residents.

Soldiers' quarters exhibit.   Soldiers had to pay for their uniforms, food, weapon repair/replacement, and maintenance of their horses, too!   

The reconstructed site contains a pit house found on the premises, dating back to the ancient Sonoran desert people  as well as a 150-year old fig tree.  But something of great interest to me was learning about the cochineal bug and carmine dye.  Apparently, the natural red dye originates when the female bug sucks the nectar from the pads of the prickly pear cactus.  The female then produces a white coating known as carminic acid to protect herself and future offspring from predators and the desert sun.   The cochineal bug is scraped off the cacti, dried, and then ground.  This dye was a huge money-maker for the Spanish.  In fact, it ranked second only to silver as the main export of the Presidio.  It was used widely across Europe to dye robes for kings and even dye uniforms for British soldiers, AKA  “redcoats”.  Carminic acid is still in use today for cosmetics, fabrics, and food products.  Who knew?  

That white stuff on these prickly pear pads is the cochineal bug!

Some of my favorite stops along the Turquoise Trail tour were Pima County Courthouse, a classic example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture located within the walls of the original Presidio; El Tiradito (which translates to “The Castaway”), a community shrine typical of Mexican culture; and the Sosa-Carrillo House, representative of Sonoran architecture from the 1870s.

Pima County Courthouse.

Unique murals like this one adorn many building exteriors.

"The Castaway" Mexican shrine.

Some typical Tucson architecture.

After completing the Turquoise Trail, we stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane in Tucson’s Mercado district.
Lying on a battlefield during World War I, the artist Felix Lucero made a pact with God:  get him out of there alive and he would dedicate his life to creating art depicting the life of Christ. All the statues are constructed of concrete, sand, and debris recovered from the nearby Santa Cruz River.  Sadly, the garden and sculptures are not well maintained, despite being moved here from another location.  Nevertheless, the visit was a source of spiritual nourishment to me.

Well, we worked up quite an appetite by the time we finished!  Just in time for vittles at Beaut Burger, a vegan/vegetarian eatery at The Annex.  The Annex is ultra-cool—it consists of retail shops, bars, and eateries that operate out of renovated cargo containers.  Most of the seating venues are outdoors.  It is a unique way to reuse and recycle--we loved the concept!  It was even more special since we got to visit with Dan/Lisa, friends from back East who have retired here in Tucson.  The end of a perfect day, me thinks!

Another day's adventure brought us to the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.  The first of Arizona’s State Parks, Tubac features a small portion of the underground ruins of the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac.  Founded in 1752 and built in response to the Pima peoples’ revolt a year earlier, the site represents the oldest Spanish military complex within Arizona.

An underground exhibit features excavated artifacts and part of the original Presidio foundation.

I really enjoyed visiting the one-room Territorial schoolhouse.  Built in 1885, it is one of Arizona’s oldest schoolhouses.  The chalk board listed the rules to which students must adhere.  It also gave fair warning of the corresponding punishment for non-compliance.  Misbehaving to girls was worth 10 lashes, swearing earned 8 lashes, and you would get 8 lashes for telling lies.  Wow, that teacher and switch certainly got a workout!

The Park’s museum did a great job of depicting Tubac’s various cultures.  There were exhibits offering insights of life for the Pima people, the Spanish in the New World, the influence of the Mexicans, and settlers during the Territorial period.    The museum also houses the printing press that published Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859, the Weekly Arizonan.  I found this whole printing exhibit of great interest.  You see, working as a typesetter was one of the three jobs my human grandpa held simultaneously to support his family back in the day.  Hard to believe that paper was first manufactured in the year 500 AD/CE!

We finished touring the museum and historic park, and this Rambling RV Rat highly recommends you visit in the future.  It is well worth the $7/person admission for adults for self-guided tours.

We then took a stroll through the streets of Tubac.  It is one of those places that has changed little through the years.  Although many historic properties are privately owned now, including the old burial grounds, you still get a flavor for the area.  

A lovely Tubac retreat, Secret Garden Inn.

St. Ann's Catholic Church

Very good guidance from Mother Teresa.

We visited Tubac’s many artisan shops and boutiques, which were the local hangouts for javelinas.  No, not live javelinas (wouldn’t that be exciting!), but sculptures painted in colorful patterns and designs as unique as the artists who created them.   (Many places do this, picking a subject representative of the area.   For example, bison are the topic of the colorful sculptures on display in Custer, SD).   We saw lots of terrific creations that we surely would have taken home if we still owned the sticks and bricks with our ¾ acre property.  However, since we downsized our real estate to a home on wheels with finite storage 8 years ago, we restrained ourselves from purchases and remained true to our more minimalistic lifestyle.

Well, my tummy was telling me it was time to dine.  After speaking with the docent at the museum, we decided to patronize Habanero’s Tubac.  Since there were several people inside the dining room and it was quite warm inside, we opted to eat at a table outdoors which offered tranquility and scenery.  Mom and I shared the chicken fajitas.  They didn’t have any vegetarian option for Dad on the menu, but they were very willing to accommodate his special request for vegetable fajitas.  We all were more than satisfied with our selections.  They were nice, big portions and tasty, too!  Good service and reasonable prices made this a pleasurable experience, indeed.

The views from our outdoor table at Tubac Habanero's.

We decided to walk off our meals along the nearby Juan Bautista de Anza Trail.  Juan Bautista de Anza was a Spanish military officer tasked in 1774 with finding the first overland route from Mexico to the Pacific Coast of Alta (Upper) California.  Successful in his task, subsequently he was responsible for leading 240 men, women, and children along this trail to establish the first mission and Presidio at San Francisco.  I was excited to traverse along the same route as those on this very expedition!  Since we were going to Tumacacori later on, we opted to just do a 3-mile round trip on the Trail.

We stopped at the Santa Cruz River along the trail.

Nearby was a small animal farm, so I stopped to make some new friends.

Tumacacori National Historic Park is home to the Mission San Jose de Tumacacori established by Padre Eusebio Kino in 1691 (I first learned about him at Casa Grande).  The Mission is just about 5 miles from Tubac along Route 19.  We could have hiked all the way there from Tubac via the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail, but it was already late in the day to do almost a 10-mile round trip of the entire trail length (not to mention we walked all over town earlier in the day and 3 miles along the Trail at Tubac).   Instead, we traversed 1.5 miles round trip at Tumacacori, giving us a flavor of the topography and scenery along the Trail at both places.

Peach orchards on the Mission grounds.

I walked away so much more knowledgeable of Spain’s foothold in the West than which I arrived.   I am grateful for the opportunity to visit historically significant places like Tubac and Tumacacori.

We hopped back in Big Boomer, our medium duty truck.  We  decided to drive the short distance to Nogales and check out the local Walmart since we were beginning to hear stories about people hoarding toilet paper.  We needed a few things like bananas and kitty litter anyway.  Well, apparently the rumors were true.  Not only was there no toilet paper, there were no napkins, paper towels, or tissues.  I may need to ask our tabby cat to share her litter pan.   Seriously, it is a frightening thing, but we need to keep calm.  The human body is resilient.  The Man Upstairs has a plan.  And sure as the sh*# presumably pouring out of everyone’s butts, this, too, shall, pass.

Stay well, my friends.  Speak to you again soon.

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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