Tough Times in Tucson- AZ

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It’s been more than three months since my last post.  We’ve been on a self-imposed blogging hiatus, as I just haven’t been motivated to write.  We’ve been plenty active, it’s just that we were thrown a curve ball that forced us to re-focus on the more pressing issue – Steve’s radiation regimen.  At this point he has completed 33 treatments and is gradually recovering.  Click here for the story of his cancer journey thus far.

The mask Steve wore during his treatment, and his certificate of completion…

Awesome friends and family

Being sick in a town where there are no family or friends around can get a bit lonely.  We can’t thank enough all of you who have reached out to check on Steve’s progress.   The wonderful soup that Suzi (Belugas Excellent Adventure) sent us was perfect when Steve was on a full liquid diet.  Ingrid (LiveLaughRV) obliged him with cake and cookies at the beginning of his treatments, and John and Pam’s (oh the places) regular cheer-up messages always brought a smile to his face.  The virtual hugs that Laurel, Sharon H., Gloria C, Judy G, my sisters and so many others have left during the past few months have been very comforting during some tough times.  Thank you all so much!

We also had guests visit: my friend Wilma and her family from Alaska stopped by for a couple of days, and Vic, Steve’s BFF from California flew in to cheer Steve up during his radiation “blasts”.


The weather

Dealing with the medical circumstances was even more challenging while living in the summer heat of Tucson.  We endured the second-hottest June on record, and one of the wettest July monsoon months ever recorded.


During late July through August, the summer monsoon (considered to be the “fifth season”) set in.  We rode out dramatic thunderstorms, spectacular lightning displays, flash floods and dust storms on a daily basis, along with humidity often in the 90% range.  Not something we’d ever do if we didn’t have to!

Blowing clouds of dust usually preceded afternoon thunderstorms…

…and when they arrived Betsy was rockin!

Retrieving the windshield cover blown off by the wind, which rarely happens

We sometimes woke up to see beautiful shrubs blooming after all the rain

Empty campsites adorned in violet

One of many gorgeous sunsets!

Unusual formations like this one amazed us

Viewing a storm at a safe distance

Afternoon light shows

We have tons of dramatic cloud photos

Highlights of our heat reprieves

Working around Steve’s radiation sessions, we fought cabin fever and sought out cooler temperatures.  Our goal was to break the monotony of our daily 5:30AM walks around the RV park, where I completed my 10k steps and Steve knocked out his 3 miles.  This had to be done by 7AM because the heat was already stifling by then.

A change of scenery was required to avoid complete boredom, so we took some short trips when Steve was up to it.  Here’s a summary of some of our explorations:

Mount Lemmon

One place locals go to escape the heat is Mt. Lemmon.  It’s the highest mountain in the Catalina Range north of Tucson.  The drive up the mountain is via the Sky Island Scenic Byway.   To enhance our experience we downloaded the Mt. Lemmon Science Tour app, which we recommend to anyone who wants to take the trip.  The app is well done, paced to match the scenery along the way.  When we left the RV park it was 101º, but up on the mountain it was a “cool” 83º.



Hazy view of Tucson as we drove up the mountain

Tonto Natural Bridge

At an elevation of about 5000′, Payson, Arizona was our home base to explore Tonto Natural Bridge.  It’s believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, standing 183′ high over a 400′ long tunnel that’s 150′ at its widest point.  We followed three trails that led to the creek bed and the tunnel, where we saw the enormity of this natural bridge.


Tonto Natural Bridge

North view of Tonto Natural Bridge from the top with Pine Creek flowing through the tunnel

Tonto Natural Bridge

We also went to the north side of the bridge and tunnel along Pine Creek

Tonto Natural Bridge

End of the Gowan Trail at the south side of the natural bridge

Theodore Roosevelt Lake

On our way home from Payson, we took a scenic route on Hwy 188 heading south.  This allowed us to stop at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and Dam.  They are at the eastern end of the Apache Trail which is 40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road that passes magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains.

Theodore Roosevelt Bridge

Theodore Roosevelt Bridge seen from Hwy 188

Theodore Roosevelt Lake

Theodore Roosevelt Lake viewed from the observation point

Roosevelt Dam

Theodore Roosevelt Dam, built of bricks in 1911, is the world’s largest masonry dam


A fun place that’s higher and cooler than Tucson is Sonoita, some 45 minutes south.  Surrounded by rolling, grass-covered hills, it’s Arizona’s premier wine country and shares land with area ranchers and farmers.

Rolling hills of Sonoita

Arizona Hops and Vines vineyard

Arizona Hops and Vines vineyard

Steve wondered what took me so long inside the restroom at Arizona Hops and Vines.  I told him to take a peek to see for himself:


Here’s a nice place to enjoy cooler temps!  I liked Dos Cabezas wine, too

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Another nearby refuge from the heat is 363 steps below ground, where one can enjoy the constant 70° cool of a cave.  For about an hour we listened to our tour guide and learned the history of the Colossal Cave and Mountain Park above it.  He claimed this is the largest “dry cave” in the U.S.  A dry cave is one where the water that deposits limestone has disappeared and the formations are no longer active or growing.  We’re not sure if his claim is correct or not.

Colossal Cave

This is called an upside down Saguaro formation

Main room

Mountain Park above the cave

The CCC boys built the headquarters building and the hand rails in the cave


As Steve’s pain and fatigue eased, he tackled some projects on Betsy:


Tucson is certainly not a nice place to be in the summer when your home is a fiberglass and metal box.  Four months stationary was by far the longest Betsy has been parked.  Looking back at those days we’re very grateful to have that unpleasant summer behind us.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but we have a lot to smile about!


Next Up:  The healing and fun continues in New Mexico


The long road to recovery – Tucson, AZ

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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


An unexpected extended stay – Tucson, AZ

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Palo Verde

Yellow blooms blanket a Palo Verde tree

We are continuing to enjoy a pleasant springtime in Tucson.  We’ve been wandering through the desert daily as early as possible to avoid the unbearable daytime heat – wow, the sun is hot down here!

During those wanderings we’ve been able to view the progress of the desert flora blooming on a daily basis.  This is our first spring here, and we’ve been enthralled by the various cacti and other desert plants displaying their colorful beauty.

Between those walks/hikes we’ve checked out a few attractions that have been on our to-do list for years.  We were happy to get them done during the past two months, with plans to head north any day now.  Or so we thought.  But doctor’s orders have changed things, and now we’ll have plenty of time for more fun in the sun.  More on that later, but what have we managed to get done so far?

Just as we thought all of our friends had moved on to cooler temps, we got a message from Debbie and Steve of Down the Road.  These folks are avid hikers, and Debbie proposed a hike together earlier this year which we never quite put together.  We’re always eager to meet new friends, and despite short notice we met at Thunder Canyon Brewery for some good conversation with food and beer.

Down the road

Two Steve’s, Debbie and I

Tucson Botanical Garden

A visit to a botanical garden is always refreshing and inspiring for me.  I just love being surrounded by the vibrant colors and fascinating plant collections at the many exhibits I’ve visited.  On this day I came early so I wouldn’t have much competition taking pictures while admiring the flowers, the cacti collection, the butterflies and of course the fascinating birds.

During my visit, the garden was featuring the New York Botanical Garden’s blockbuster exhibit – Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.  The centerpiece of this exhibit is the re-creation of the gardens that Frida Kahlo maintained at her home in Mexico City, La Casa Azul. Within this space was a replica of the Meso-American inspired pyramid, which showcased a diverse collection of cacti and succulents:

Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life

A replica of a Meso-American inspired pyramid

I was  attracted to the Paper-Spined Cactus shown below, something I’d never seen before:

Paper-Spined Cactus

I wouldn’t hesitate to get close to this cactus, no thorns at all!

And then there were the butterflies!  Unfortunately, a group of brats (I mean cute little children) were at the butterfly greenhouse on an early field trip.  I quickly took as many pictures as I could of the beautiful butterflies before leaving the high-humidity building full of excited screaming kids.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

One of the landmarks visible from just about anywhere in the Tucson area is the Mayall 4-meter Telescope that juts out of Kitt Peak at an elevation of 6,875′.  The telescope is one of a group of astronomical telescopes collectively known as the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It’s a national astronomical observatory that is permitted to occupy the top 300′ of one of the most important mountains in the cultural heritage of the Tohono O’odham indian nation.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

The Mayall 4-meter telescope crowns Kitt Peak and can be seen from many miles away

The drive up to the peak is along a narrow twisty road, and of course it gets cooler as you ascend the mountain.  With a 20-degree difference between the city and Kitt Peak, it’s a great place to visit on a hot, clear day.  There’s a picnic area near the top with an awesome view, so don’t forget lunch when you go!

Mayall 4-m Telescope

A large collection of telescopes here, with the prominent Mayall 4-meter installation on the right

We took one of the guided tours that visits three telescopes.  Having toured the McDonald Observatory in Texas previously (click here for that post), we wanted to see something big and were excited to visit the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, the world’s largest and most sophisticated solar telescope.  It’s the only ground-based solar observatory capable of studying the sun at mid-infrared wavelengths, due to its all-reflecting huge mirror design.

McMath -Pierce Solar Telescope

Standing under the wedge-shaped 200′ above-ground portion of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.  There’s another 300′ of tunnel extending down into the mountain.

The telescope’s tower stands nearly 100′ high and connects to an angled shaft that protrudes into the ground, where the imaging is collected.  A 3-mirror heliostat system collects light and reflects it through the tunnel.

Several mirrors installed in the shaft are placed at angles to reflect the convergent light into the underground observation room

We weren’t able to get into the observation room to view the collected image, but at the end of the tour we observed the sun from another small observation dome.  There were two telescopes here to view the sun; one was a filtered visible-light unit which revealed the presence of sunspots, and the other allowed viewing of the solar atmosphere in a very narrow range of red light (Hydrogen-Alpha) which showed several large prominences that were currently occurring.

Getting a great look at the sun

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

My visit to Buenos Aires NWR was a bust because a) the visitor center was closed, and b) there were more Border Patrol agents in the area than birds 😦

Well, it was still a beautiful drive to a remote, quiet and peaceful place.  I guess that’s never a bust!

The refuge is less than a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border

There are two areas here that can be explored.  One is near the visitor center, where the Pronghorn Scenic Loop leads around a grand expanse of rippling grasses and mesquite groves stretching far and wide toward majestic Baboquivari Peak.  I was alone on the road here, and with only the tinkling notes of a Horned Lark and the whistling of a light breeze I was in perfect tranquility.

Baboquivari Peak

Baboquivari Peak, a sacred mountain to the Tohono O’ogham, towers over Altar Valley

Horned Lark

A Horned Lark fleets from branch to branch

A family patiently waits for me to drive by and leave them alone

The other area to be explored is east of the refuge and is one of Arizona’s important bird areas at Arivaca Cienega and Creek.  These wet habitats are just a small part of the refuge, and a rare desert cienega with a connected creek system in southern Arizona.

Arvivaca Trail

Arivaca Cienega Trail

Cienegas, Spanish for “a hundred waters”, are spring-fed marshes, particularly rare and precious in the deserts of Arizona.  They attract an abundance of birds and other wildlife. Unfortunately, I caught only a few glimpses of the birds, perhaps it was a little late in the day by the time I arrived.

So why are we still in Tucson?

After several months of increasing pain in Steve’s throat, we were shocked to learn that he has cancer at the base of his tongue.  After several diagnostic and imaging visits, he is scheduled for Trans Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, one of the finest cancer centers in the country.  We’ll know more about his prognosis and follow-up treatments soon, but it’s clear that our traveling days are temporarily on hold.

In the meantime we’ve moved Betsy out of the desert and she’s now a city-dweller, sitting comfortably in the shade under a huge solar panel array at Lazy Daze KOA.  This puts us closer to the medical facilities we’ll frequent until the doc says we can move on.  The silver lining is that we’ll be here to see all of the cacti blossoms this year!

Together we’ll fight this disease!