We always look forward to driving back into the Sonoran Desert for our winter stays. We feel like this desert full of Saguaros is waiting just for us – are we becoming desert rats after all these years? Whatever it is, being here makes us feel as if we’re in our “comfort zone”. I’ve published over 30 posts during our past stays, click here to view all we’ve seen and done in this area.
So where exactly is the Sonoran Desert, you might ask? Most of it’s actually in Mexico, with more than two-thirds in Baja California and the state of Sonora. Here in the U.S. it covers the southwestern part of Arizona and small areas in southeastern California.
The geography of the desert is interesting to note, as it’s located in two states – Arizona and California – and in two countries, Mexico and the U.S. The metropolitan cities of Phoenix and Tucson are within the boundaries of the Sonoran Desert.
Following our recent stay in San Diego, we took a roundabout route to Tucson. First we made a 3-day stop in Yuma and re-hiked the Telegraph Pass Trail, a 5.3-mile jaunt we first completed four years ago. It’s the most strenuous hike Steve has done since completing his treatments, and a good place to gauge his progress. He aced it!
Next we headed northwest to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, one of the few regional parks we’d not visited in the Phoenix area. With our Verizon signal in the pits (one bar only), we had plenty of time to hike the many excellent trails in the warm and sunny Sonoran Desert weather.
This park offers 30 miles of trails of varying difficulty. We hiked them all, from the easiest (Waterfall Trail) to the toughest (Ford Canyon and Goat Camp Trail), racking up over 47 miles during our 2-week stay.
It was our first time here, and we wondered about the history behind the name. I imagined there must have been a huge white water container constructed somewhere in the mountains. During some serious rock scrambling I learned that heavy rainfall rushing through the steep canyons scours out depressions, or “tanks” in the white granite waterways.
There was once a large natural water tank surrounded by white granite cliffs that spawned the name. It collapsed long ago, and its exact location has been lost. It was an important watering hole from 1863 to 1895, for it held water year-round. What we saw during our hike were many smaller tanks and watering holes. That explains why the name is singular White “Tank” instead of “Tanks”, despite the smaller features in the mountain.
One day between our hiking activities, we drove about 40 miles east to check out the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, which our friends Tom and Allison suggested we must see. I was initially hesitant since we had already been wowed at the National Music Museum (NMM) at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota. Click here to read about that hidden gem.
The Phoenix museum is massive (200,000 sq. ft. in two floors) and ultra-modern. Even for folks who don’t play an instrument this place is worth a visit, as there are also dozens of displays with the actual instruments and clothes worn by famous musicians, past and present. Instruments are organized by regions of the world, and the included audio headsets allowed us to hear the instruments being played as we read about their cultural context. That alone made us appreciate seeing the instruments played in their original settings.
This museum has the latest self-guided-tour technology we’ve seen. The audio device was activated automatically as we approached each exhibit – no buttons to fumble with. Watching and listening to instruments come to life was very entertaining.
We enjoyed a special exhibition in partnership with the Henan Museum of China, which displayed collections from its Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China. We were fascinated with the many Chinese collections of extremely rare instruments and works of art never before seen in the United States.
The museum has something for everyone, including the more familiar and current displays at the Artist Gallery. This area features instruments and concert footage of world-renowned musicians and music innovators. If you go, be aware that the museum is a popular field trip destination for kids, but crowding isn’t much of an issue because of its size. As with most activities, arriving early is key.
And of course we made social calls to our friends who were nearby!
The weather was so pleasant, warm and sunny that we felt like we were in an endless summer! And the sunsets!
Next up: Celebrations in Tucson