The long road to recovery – Tucson, AZ

Comments 31 Standard

First off, a big THANK YOU to everyone, family and friends who have reached out to us, left supporting comments, sent texts and private messages extending warm thoughts and virtual hugs for Steve.  We continue to feel the positive vibes from prayers sent our way and we couldn’t ask for more.

Just when my stress level was at an all-time high after Steve’s operation, Jim and Diana of exploRVistas arrived in Tucson to give me a warm hug and much needed emotional boost. It was our first meeting, and they came at the right moment.

Explore vista

With Jim and Diana

Steve had a 4-hour minimally-invasive robotic surgery that went well.  He was so curious about the robotic surgical system da Vinci used for the surgery that he talked the surgical team into showing him the machine before they put him under.  We learned that the da Vinci system is named in part because Leonardo da Vinci’s study of human anatomy eventually led to the design of the first known robot.

Steve is taking it one day at a time.  With the challenge of surgery behind us, we still have a long way to go.  In a few weeks he will begin his radiation therapy to kill the bad stuff that the surgeon could not remove from the base of his tongue.  At this point we’re glad that chemotherapy won’t be needed – he gets to keep his hair!

Lowes Travels

Following surgery we take twice-daily walks around the RV park

What this means is we’ll be in Tucson through the summer.  It may be sizzling hot here, but Betsy is parked under a towering 28′ high “Power Parasol” solar system, keeping her in the shade at all times.

Lazy Days KOA

Betsy is comfortably tucked in under the solar arrays

The good stuff

The reward for being in southern Arizona beyond winter is that we get to experience the progression of the desert wildflowers in bloom.  So while we were in waiting mode for Steve’s doctor appointments and surgery date we hiked daily to enjoy the remaining cool temps and desert landscape.

Staghorn ChollaWe would usually miss seeing these flowers, as we would be somewhere north by now. Unlike other wildflowers, cacti don’t bloom together in great masses of color.  Different species dominate at different times and vary in their showiness, depending on weather conditions.

Beyond this point the post becomes flowery, so if you don’t like flowers or cactus now is the time to end your reading 🙂

In  March the Ocotillos were showing off spikes of crimson red flowers, to the delight of many birds:


House Finch

House Finch snacking

In early April, the Palo Verde trees turned the Sonoran Desert landscape into a sea of yellow, covering the area with dense blooms:

Palo Verde

Palo Verde

Palo Verde

This tiny bright yellow flower is what covers the Palo Verde trees in a blanket of yellow

The yellow creosote bush blossoms from late February turn into white wooly seedlings ready to be scattered by the wind:

Creosote Bush

The creosote seedlings give an iridescent glow when viewed against the light

Each time we followed a trail we were amazed how plants as spiky and homely as cacti produce such spectacular flowers.  The first one that caught our attention was the Engelmann Hedgehog for its bright beautiful fuchsia flowers:

The Prickly Pear were showing their best as well:


We’re seeing many colors in the desert in mid-April.  The Chollas are starting to display their blooms that range in color from bright red to yellow, pink, green, orange and peachy hues.  During our hikes in past years we never saw a single bud, much less a flower, and we just overlooked these Chollas as just another thorny desert plant.  But this spring we stopped, scrutinized and admired their colorful flowers.

The fuzzy Teddy Bear Cholla has a yellow-green flower

Staghorn Cholla

The top section of this Staghorn Cholla had red flowers, while the lower half had green ones

On the trail we came across the various hues of  Staghorn Cholla blooms:


Jumping Cholla

The nasty Jumping Cholla or Chain Fruit Cholla spreads a bright pink flower!

And now in May, the Ironwood Tree unfolds its beauty with lilac-colored blossoms which are abundant at Tucson Mountain Park.

Iron wood tree flower

Isn’t it pretty!

The Sonoran desert is alive with splashes of colorful desert flower blooms in the spring.  But admiring this beauty comes with a caution.  As temps warm up, the rattlesnakes that have been dormant are awakening, and one of them was waiting for us on the trail:


His appearance reminded us to stay alert!


Next up:  The superstar of the Sonoran Desert


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Ajo, Arizona

Comments 17 Standard
Organ Pipe Cactus

We are back in the good old USA, alive and well and recovering from sipping a few too many margaritas and eating a few too many burritos and tamales in Puerto Peñasco. Crossing back into the states was a non-event, except for an approximately 30-minute wait at the border.  Imagine a line of motorhomes as far as the eye can see waiting to cross!

The officers didn’t board Betsy, but they did ask if we had meat with us.  We answered truthfully that we had some frozen chicken and several pounds of seafood, and they seemed OK with that.  A quick check of our passports and we were on our way.


The RV takeover of the border town begins!

Just five miles north of the border we pulled into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where we dry camped overnight.  We verified that our residential refrigerator could survive 14 hours on batteries, since we we weren’t allowed to run our generator for that length of time.  It was a good test, because we plan to do more dry camping this year.

We stopped here to explore the only small area in the Sonoran Desert in the U.S. where Organ Pipe cactus grows naturally.  We had seen them in abundance along the highway in Sonoyta, Mexico, but we wanted to take a closer look.

Organ Pipe Cactus national Monument

Of the two scenic drives in the monument, we took the Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive as soon as we got settled in.  The dusty and sometimes rough dirt road (better for jeeps, but our poor CRV managed to survive) winds up and down along the foothills of the Ajo Range.

We’ve been enjoying the beautiful desert landscape since November, but this drive was different and special as we viewed stands of Organ Pipe cactus that reside only in this area.


Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) is so named because of its multi-limbed growth habit which resembles the pipes of grand organs found in churches.  It is a columnar type cactus that can grow as high as 23′ and the second-largest cactus, eclipsed only by the majestic Saguaro.

Jo Mountain Scenic Drive

It can live over 150 years, and won’t produce its first flower until near the age of 35.  Organ Pipe cactus blooms in May and June, opening its white, creamy flowers only at night.  The flowers will close up again by mid-morning, and very rarely remain open into the afternoon – which means I won’t see one anytime soon.

The 21-mile drive offered up magnificent desert scenery, comprised of extensive cactus plains separated by imposing volcanic mountains that were also covered with many and varied desert plants of the Sonoran Desert.

At stop #9 we took a closer look at an abnormal growth on an arm coming from the center of a cactus.  Known as a “cristate”, it’s an unusual trait that also forms rarely on Saguaro cacti.


Dusky-capped flycatcher

While trying to avoid treacherous potholes, my eagle eyed-driver managed to catch a glimpse of a Dusty-capped Flycatcher

We noted that another desert plant, the Ocotillos which appeared to be just large spiny sticks during the past few months, are now growing leaves and blooming:

Ocotillo leaves


Its  bright crimson clusters of tubular flowers are a favorite perching spot for some birds:

After a long day of driving from Mexico and then through the Ajo Scenic Mountain area, Steve was ready to kick back and resume reading his latest book as fresh shrimp from Puerto Peñasco cooked on the grill.  Not a bad way to end the day!

Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus NM

After running the generator the following morning to recharge our batteries, we moved Betsy down to the visitor center parking lot.  Checkout was 11:00am and we didn’t want to be rushed on our hike.  From there we followed the Palo Verde Trail, and combined with the Campground Perimeter Trail we clocked 3.6 miles to get our legs warmed up.

The trails here don’t have any elevation gains to speak of, but it was nice walking across the desert on a cool morning before continuing our trek north.

Organ Pipe Cactus

Then I spotted a hidden crestate in the middle of a large Organ Pipe:

Crested Organ Pipe Cactus

Pam, I know you are smiling!

After the hike I was drawn to a garden near the visitor center, where a Costa’s Hummingbird was darting in and out of Chuparosas blooms:

Costas hummingbird

I patiently watched and waited until the light came at just the right angle to reflect off his purple head, while he perched on a branch:

Costas hummingbird

Ain’t he a cutie!

We had been desert rats for almost four months, and our overnight stay at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument capped our meanderings in the Sonoran Desert.  It may be a long time before we see the diverse flora and fauna of this area again, and we will definitely miss it!

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Till we meet again, Sonoran Desert!


Next up:  Flying high before leaving Arizona