Monday, April 5, 2021

A Week of Full Hook-Ups in Tucson Then Back to Boondocking in Cienegas Natural Conservation Area in Sonoita

 

 After a brief deviation, I am returning to my travel journal...

 

Now that our e-bikes arrived (FINALLY), it was time to hit the road again.  Farewell to Quartzsite—see ya next year!

 

We arrived at the Pima County Fairgrounds.  The RV Park there is nothing special, but a full hook-up 50-amp site costs only $150/week, includes free Wi-Fi, and it is good proximity to Tucson attractions.  This is our third time touring Tucson, but with its diversity of cultural, recreational, and entertainment venues, we found plenty of new stuff to do and see.  And we got in some good e-bike riding nearby, with minimal use of peddle assist (after all, we are doing this for exercise).  We determined during the test run in Phoenix that the manufacturer’s bike seats were mighty uncomfortable, despite all the extra natural padding on our posteriors. So, together with locks, mirrors, horns, cell phone holders, and blue tooth helmets, we purchased some big butt gel seats.  Our tushies were thrilled with the results.

 

The next day we headed to the Tucson Botanical Garden.  We bought our $15/adult tickets on-line and were assigned a specific 2-hour block of time for our self-guided tour.  Though most of the exhibits were outdoors, we were required to wear our masks.  We could have purchased tickets in person as well, but with the number of people allowed on the premises limited, we may have had to wait to enter or have a reduced amount of time in the gardens.  Though the area is small compared to botanical gardens we have visited in other cities, the gardens are laid out beautifully, with good flow.  Many of the cacti bloomed already, but the aloes were gorgeous with their vibrant orange and mustard-hued flowers.  I loved the Cacti Car.  It is an older model Volkswagon Beetle that has been transformed from car to garden.  I think the botanists/landscapers must have been contortionists to maneuver themselves and huge cacti within the confines of the car, but the results are super cool.  I enjoyed the iris blooms as much as the local hummingbirds, one of whom I coerced to pose for a photo.  The Children’s Exhibit as well as the Butterfly/Orchid House were closed due to COVID.  But I got acquainted through the window with a queen owl butterfly while she enjoyed a refreshing lunch.  Inside the family home of the Porters, who donated their property and gardens to the City, was an intriguing photography exhibit that portrayed India’s captivating culture.  We finished up our interesting tour just as the predicted rain showers arrived.

   

 










We experienced 35-45 mph prevailing winds, with gusts up to 50 mph!  So, we spent several hours the next day visiting the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, 10 acres nestled in the historic district of the Catalina foothills. Though he came from humble beginnings, Ted DeGrazia became quite a talent, producing a series of unique collections utilizing a variety of mediums.  In fact, UNICEF chose DeGrazia’s painting Los Ninos for the design of their 1960 Christmas Card.   And the German company Goebel used some of DeGrazia’s images to create collectible figurines.  Despite his claim to be secular, DeGrazia had several religious themes like the Stations of the Cross, the missionary work of Padre Kino, and celestial musicians.  Not only did he create beautiful works of art, he built his own adobe home and a detached chapel on his property.  DeGrazia was a man of principle.  He once burned 100 of his own paintings to protest inheritance tax, and he established the DeGrazia Foundation to ensure his art would be preserved for future generations to view.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this man, his ideals, and his distinctive works of art.  In fact, I really took a liking to his sketches of rodentia and was compelled to use some of my cheese money to purchase a notecard that completely captured my rodentia family’s cuteness!  A visit to The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun comes highly recommended from this Rambling RV Rat, earning one of my coveted 5-cheese awards!

 






Part of the Celestial Musicians collection


The final Station of the Cross, DeGrazia's depiction of Jesus's Resurrection








DeGrazia cared enough about my species to create this image, which captures with acute accuracy our cuteness!


We enjoyed an early dinner at El Charro Ventana, which offers regular and plant-based Mexican.  The food was flavorful and plentiful.  Dad thoroughly enjoyed his guacamole-stuffed mushroom appetizer and his hemp tamale entree.  Mom and I enjoyed the best beef fajitas EVER!  It was an entire steak cooked perfectly to medium rare.  We noticed lots of folks purchasing El Charro Ventana’s picante sauces/salsas.  We can’t attest to how tasty they are since our server forgot to provide us the complimentary chips and salsa!  This is a major faux pas, almost as sacrilegious as an Italian restaurant not providing complimentary bread!  For this reason, El Charro Ventana receives only a 4-cheese review from this rat. 

Dad's entree in background and take a gander at Mom's/my fajitas in the foreground!  An entire steak!


We visited Saguaro National Park, utilizing our America the Beautiful Pass that we received last year for volunteering for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) at Dworshak Dam in Ahsahka, Idaho (you can read a summary of our experience here Volunteering At Dworshak Dam)


We headed first to Saguaro East within the Rincon Mountain District.  We bicycled along their 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive, which turned into an 11-mile trek for us due to backtracking.  You see, we had to park at the picnic area, the only place where Big Boomer (our medium duty truck) would fit.  The ocotillo were all bloomed and we saw our first crested saguaro!  In the distance, we viewed snow-covered mountaintops.  We peddled back to the Visitor Center hoping we could enjoy the exhibits or possibly even view the film.  However, it was all off-limits to guests except for the gift shop, where it is OK to spread COVID germs as long as the Park makes a sale.






We enjoyed lunch at Great Village, an old school sit-down Chinese Restaurant like the one in Christmas Story.  Lunch specials were $6-8 with portions so HUGE even my family of hefty eaters couldn’t empty our plates.  We topped off our day with a delicious visit to Cashew Cow, which features frozen non-dairy dessert treats made with cashew milk (which I prefer over soy and almond).  All three flavors we tried were delectable!   A tasty ice cream alternative for vegans as well as lactose-intolerant folks. 

 

The following day we visited Saguaro National Park West within the Tucson Mountain District sans the bicycles.  The area within the West was much more colorful and natural than the area in the East, with significantly more species of cacti and other flora.  We hiked several trails, including Signal Hill to view the petroglyphs, Wren Trail, and Manville Trail.


Petroglyphs from afar...


...and a close-up of some of the prehistoric rock art.





We refueled our bodies at Charro-Vida, a Mexican restaurant with indoor dining, bar, and patio seating that offers tons of plant-based options for Dad.  Since it was so windy out (again!), we opted for the dining room, which kept folks socially-distanced by utilizing clear shower curtains.  We ordered the guacamole and hummus as our appetizer.  It contained all fresh ingredients and excellent veggie nacho chips sourced from a local artisan bakery.  We all enjoyed build-your-own bowls as entrees, with Dad’s main base as jackfruit while Mom and I opted for grass fed beef.  Terrific service and excellent food!  Another winner!

 

                                                                    

 

We all agreed the following day would be devoted to chores:  Dad washing the rig, Mom cooking, baking, and cleaning, and me looking cute and trying to catch up on my blog.  That evening we attended Tucson Speedway, where they race Pro Stocks, Modifieds, Thunder Trucks, and Hornets.  Since it is only a mile away from the RV Park, we thought we would walk over, accessing the Speedway from one of the back gates at the Fairgrounds.  No dice--all of those Fairground gates were locked, forcing us to return the way we came.  Screw getting exercise, we jumped into Big Boomer and drove over, arriving at 6 p.m.  Races were scheduled to start at 6:30, so we had plenty of time—or so we thought.  But the COVID gods were not looking favorably upon guests that evening.  It took 45 minutes to get temperatures taken, purchase tickets, and sign a bazillion waiver forms, and we were toward the front of the line.  By the time we got to the stands, opening ceremony occurred already, qualifiers were completed, and the Hornet Race, one of the main events, was ready to start.  Not much of a race, though, since it only had 2 participating cars.  In a flash, it was already intermission.  We went to check out the vendors, but we learned quickly there were only a few open.  One food vendor had a big menu and diverse offerings.  But after waiting in line and placing our order, we learned that most of the menu items offered were not available.  How insane is an eatery with virtually nothing to eat!  We were also shocked that there was still a backlog of folks awaiting COVID protocols to enter the track, even with half the race activities completed.  No wonder the grandstands were so empty!

 






We had a wonderful day visiting with friends Dan/Lisa and their cutie canine companion Yoda in Green Valley, where pecan trees abound.  We wish them many years of happiness in their new home!

 






Our week at Pima County Fairgrounds had come to an end.   We departed and drove just 37 miles to arrive at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Cienegas Natural Conservation Area.   This is a gorgeous, high desert boondocking area within the Santa Rita Mountain Range offering large and level sites, pastural views, and magnificent sunsets.  Nothing beats having moo cows grazing in your backyard, viewing pronghorn, or watching a modern-day cowboy, cowgirl, and herding dogs rustle up a bull!



 







We got our L’ectric ebikes out and rode to the site of the historic Empire Ranch, which is located within the Conservation Area just 2 miles from our campsite.  This was an operating cattle ranch from 1876 to 1975.  We took a self-guided tour of the buildings, giving us a glimpse of the life and times of cowboys and ranch hands, who, back in the day, worked 7 days a week with 1 day off per month.  The site has been the set of nearly 40 movies, too, including The Outlaw Josie Wales, Red River, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, to name a few.  Check out this cool video of the Ranch.

Empire Ranch                   







On another day we took a tour at the Titan II Missile Museum.   Part of the Cold War arms race, the Titan II was an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), the largest and heaviest missile ever built by the good old U.S.A.  With a range of 9,000+ miles and a velocity of 16,000 miles per hour, it took approximately 58 seconds from initiation to liftoff, and 30 minutes from liftoff to detonation.   It was part of the U.S.A.’s nuclear triage: air (missiles), land (B-52s), and sea (submarines), and it was considered a retaliatory weapon.  Its mission was peace through deterrence.  It was a very informative and interesting tour, but the Museum's COVID rules were perplexing.  Obviously, there was a mask mandate, which was expected for an indoors tour.  We all were temperature checked and had to wear gloves.  Then they put 20+ people in a small room with just 6 chairs to watch the movie.  Therefore, the majority of patrons were forced to stand for the 15-minute film, leaving less than 6-feet between groups due to the size of the room.   Why take out the chairs at all?  No one had a fever and we couldn’t social distance anyway.  The lack of common sense just baffles me.  Or perhaps I was just perturbed that they were “all out” of the badge I should have received for completing the Junior Missileer Booklet.

 





Beware:  I've got my finger on the launch button!




                                    

                                        

After the tour, we decide to run to Sprouts for some produce and plant-based cheese and then we would patronize the nearby 2 Girls Pizza joint in Green Valley.  Based on reviews, they supposedly have the best pizza in the area, and it is New York style.  We arrived at 2:45 p.m. and there was not another customer around.  The place was not busy at all, not even with take-out orders.   Like every pizza joint we frequent, we bring our own plant-based/vegan cheese with us and request they substitute our fake cheese for the real deal.   Just within the last COVID-filled year, from pizza joints in Indiana, Arizona, Texas and beyond, this request has been granted graciously each time—until now.  2 Girls Pizza refuses our request because they “only utilize products purchased from their purveyor”.  I told my parents this place was not worthy of receiving my cheese money.  So we returned home and Mom rustled up a nacho skillet dish made with tempah and beans that was tasty, satisfying, and topped with—you got it--our vegan cheese.

 

Nothing is a better motivator for exercise for my family than the reward of good grub afterwards.  Therefore, the next day we peddled through the BLM trails to The Café, a cute little bistro with plant-based options in Sonoita along Highway 82.  Unfortunately, they were all out of mushrooms for the grilled portabella sandwich we were all eyeing.  Fortunately, they had a black bean walnut burger as a substitute for Dad.  Mom and I had a burger made from local cattle stock.   Add a side of onion rings, and we were all quite happy with our selections.  We took Curly Horse Road as an alternate route home.  Not a smart idea.  The road was a washboard.  Mom nearly gave herself a black eye!  But it was a lovely 20-mile round trip journey nonetheless, with sightings of pronghorn deer and cattle (sure hope none of the cattle smelled their cousin on my breath!).

 





      


The next morning we awoke to some ferocious winds.  We hopped into the truck and traversed along Highway 82 also known as the Sonoita Patagonia Scenic Route.  We wanted to visit Patagonia’s Hummingbird House, but alas it was closed due to COVID.  So, we continued on to Tubac, an artsy, cultural village that we enjoyed visiting last year.  Sadly, many shops that we frequented in 2020 were no longer in business, and there were significantly fewer patrons shopping within the Village than last year at this time.  We personally didn’t make any purchases.  Oh, we saw lots of pottery and outdoor furnishings we would have acquired if we still had our nearly ¾ acre property in New Jersey.  But since we are traveling full-time RVers, we traded having “stuff” for “experiences”.  We opted instead for a nice lunch at Habaneros.  Dad had a grilled veggie sandwich, with zucchini, eggplant, avocado, hummus, and red pepper on Dave’s Killer Bread.  Mom and I, never ones to deviate from our norms, enjoyed our usual steak fajitas.

 




We celebrated Easter with our traditional viewing of The Ten Commandments and King of Kings.  Mom made us an entrée of vegan baked ziti and meatballs with plant-based apple crisp and carrot cake for dessert.  I was all set to color eggs until Mom learned a valuable lesson:  don’t hard boil them in the microwave!



An eggs-traordinary disaster!


We also celebrated my “birthday”, which is the day Dad rescued me from the toy store some 30+ years ago as a gift for Mom (You can read about my rescue here My Story).  I was looking forward to my birthday cake. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but as the Rolling Stones always said, “you can’t always get what you want”.  Let's just say it tasted way better than it looked!

 

The cake I asked for, which would meet all my dreams and wishes...

The cake I got, what nightmares are made of.



Well, I’ve chewed your ear off enough for today.  I’ll talk to you again real soon!