Celebrations in Tucson, AZ

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Tucson, AZ  has become our unofficial annual wintering ground.  Having unexpectedly spent six months here last year taught us a lot about the city, and we confirmed it’s not a place we want to be during the summer months.  But this time through we were happy to meet up with a lot of friends, and we had a lot to celebrate!

Celebrating healing and continued good health

Shrimp Ceviche – one of Steve’s favorites

The first week after our arrival was spent seeing doctors and dentists.  The good news is that after being poked and scoped multiple times, Steve’s three doctors (oncologist, surgeon and primary care doctor) gave him a good bill of health.  He remains under their surveillance and will continue to check in every three months.  I passed with flying colors as well, and that’s great news worth celebrating!

Celebrating friendships

 “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

How true those words ring in our nomadic lifestyle.

Tucson has become our hub for friendships, as many of our RV’ing buddies and old friends from California love to congregate here.

Rod and Lisa flew in aboard Rod’s awesome Cessna 400 from the Bay Area, and we were very happy to see them again.  We packed in a lot during their short stay, as we tried to show them some interesting things in the area.  And they got no argument out of us when they asked if we could take them somewhere for a hike!

Posing in front of that beautiful Cessna with Rod and Lisa

An introduction to the stars of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros at Saguaro National Park

Pausing along one of our favorite trails in the area, Brown Mountain

Nothing like enjoying unique drinks and sushi plates at Obon Sushi after a fun day with friends!

We were also happy to see Matt and Gloria, our friends from Edmonton, Alberta whom we have caravanned with twice to Puerto Peñasco.

Gloria and I embracing a saguaro

At Gate’s Pass lookout

I got several kisses from their cute little doggie, Romeo!

Steve lends a hand with a coolant loss problem on Matt’s coach

We continue to make new friends, finally meeting up with Kevin and Laura.  Laura is a gifted writer, and her blog Chapter3 Travels is hilarious and fun to read.  In our RV world, blogging and following bloggers has become a conduit and builder of friendships.  Because of it, first meetings are never awkward for we feel like we already know the other folks long before the first date.

Our first meet up with Kevin and Laura over sushi

We continued our conversation with a beer at Dillinger Brewery

We attended several happy hours at our RV Park, and invited Kevin and Laura to join one of them.  As usual, everyone wanted to know how they got into RV’ing and made suggestions about things to see and do along their westward route this year.

Happy hour at Betsy

Handsome Lewis welcomed me to the happy hour at Dave and Sue’s site

John, Gay, Joe, Sue, Dave, Steve and Pam at Beluga

Our circle of silvers and golds keeps on growing!

We are usually social butterflies during our winter pauses, as this is our time to reconnect with RV friends after a year of traveling in different directions around the country.  These are the moments that make us appreciate this lifestyle so much!

Celebrating Birthdays

February is our special month.  We were both born in February, I on the 4th and Steve on the 22nd.  And of course in between those two is the day of hearts.

What made my birthday notable is that the NFL threw a huge Superbowl party on that day, although I couldn’t attend 🙂  However, we did have a “day after Superbowl” gathering at a Mexican restaurant with John and Pam and Dave and Sue, among our great friends who comforted us via long distance during our tough times last summer.

Birthday dinner with great friends; L to R – John, Dave, Steve, I, Sue and Pam

We celebrated Steve’s birthday with Dave and Sue, tasting some wines in Elgin.  Can there be good wineries in Arizona, you may ask?  The answer is a resounding yes!  We were surprised how good some of the wines were, and several bottles were purchased along the way.

At our final stop, Callaghan Winery, we all agreed they had the best wines of the four wineries we visited

Lunch al fresco at Kief and Joshua Vineyards

 

The sign says it all!

And on the day of hearts, my honeybunch brought me my favorite flowers, Tulips!

What nice colors for Valentines Day!

And this was my response to Steve 🙂

We recently managed to sneak in another hike on one of the trails at Saguaro National Park-East.  The Bridal Wreath Waterfall trail was moderately strenuous with great views and scenery as we climbed around the Rincon Mountains.  The reward would have been a cascading waterfall if it had been raining, but on this day we had to be satisfied with just a few droplets of water.

Only drops of water, but recent rains must have created a real waterfall!

A dry waterfall with scour marks on the rocks

A good day on the trail

February babies

We have so many things to celebrate and be thankful for – especially our good health and great friends!  Cheers!

 

Next Up:  It’s all about the birds!



 

 

 

Superstars of the desert – the Saguaro flowers

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My wish of seeing the Saguaro blooms has been granted, even though with Steve’s situation it’s under less-than-desirable circumstances.  But we’re enjoying this opportunity as our consolation for being in Tucson this time of the year.  The best way to view the white Saguaro bouquets was to revisit Saguaro National Park. Driving there was also a step forward for Steve, as it was his first outing following surgery when he wasn’t feeling like a zombie from all the drugs.

It’s said that the indicator plant of the Sonoran Desert is the majestic Saguaro cactus, the icon of the southwest.  During late April thru June, as other desert wildflowers have done their thing and wilted, the superstars of the desert awaken to fill the landscape with blooms at the ends of their arms, like a bouquet of white flowers.

In our past visits here, these tall green giants seemed to stand patiently awaiting their turn to show off.  The time has finally arrived and we are glad to be here to admire the explosion of floral beauty.

 

Surprisingly, the Saguaro flower is a short-lived beauty; it opens after sunset and by the next early afternoon the blossom wilts.  Despite this short time period, the flower attracts an array of pollinators.  During the night they’re pollinated by the Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat, while daytime hours bring the birds and bees to a feast as they continue the pollination process.

The Northern Flicker waits for his turn

The Saguaro flower clusters don’t all bloom at the same time on the plant; the blooming cycle of a single Saguaro can last up to 6 weeks before all of the flowers have opened and closed for the last time.  The road leading to Steve’s doctor’s offices are lined with Saguaros, so for several weeks we got to see the progression of the blooms each time we drove by.

Getting up close and personal, I discovered the flowers are trumpet-shaped with silky white petals, each containing hundreds of golden stamens.

The flowers are suppose to emit a strong smell, sort of like overripe melons but then I am vertically challenged to reach them so I could not confirm that.

Seeing the Saguaro flowers is a tick off from my “must-see” list and I’m really happy with that.

Steve update:

The drive to Saguaro National Park – East and West – signaled one of the first breakthroughs for Steve.  Since his hospital discharge the focus had been to fatten him up and reverse his weight loss.  It would have been an easy task if not for the terrible pain he had when swallowing.  As time went on he was able to slowly progress from a liquid diet through soft foods, and then onto “real foods” in four weeks.  His speech impediment has lessened and his energy level remains high, as he has to actually reduce his daily walking routine so he won’t walk off all the weight we’re trying to put on him!

Pancit

After a month he could handle one of his favorites, my Pancit

Head and throat pains linger, and Tylenol is his friend.  In order to distract from nagging pain he works on simple repairs.  Serious hiking is still a ways off, but we walk around the RV park and in the area several times every day.  As for me, our daily walks meet my 10,000 steps goal which is wonderful!

His next phase is radiation therapy, beginning on June 6th.  Just as he’s gained weight and is feeling better, he’ll soon be back to square one for a while.  We know we’ll get through it, taking one day at a time as we’ve been doing.

The ” fight the cancer beast team” on a cool day at SNP



 

A rendezvous in the desert – Tucson, AZ

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Humming Bird
saguaro

“Welcome to Tucson”, the Saguaro seems to say as it bows

So here we remain, at our “winter headquarters” for this year – Tucson.  The population of over a half million seems to be spread out enough that it usually doesn’t feel too overcrowded, although we do try hard to avoid commute hour traffic when possible.

We love that this city is ringed by mountain ranges offering endless hiking opportunities, especially when combined with the many miles of desert trails in the immediate area.  And we also happen to love the Sonoran Desert!  We’ve stayed in three distinct areas during our visits here, and have always enjoyed the many nearby points of interest.

Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson viewed from Robles Park, with the Catalina Mountains as the backdrop

In January, 2013 we camped at Catalina State Park in northern Tucson (our tales of that stay are here and here).  Returning in January of 2016, we hung out for a month at the Lazy Daze/KOA in southern Tucson (the activities we enjoyed during that stay are detailed here).

 Mission San Xavier del Bac

Looking south toward the Santa Rita Mountains, the “White Dove of the Desert” – Mission San Xavier del Bac – takes center stage

Saguaro National Park

After the movie at the Saguaro National Park visitor center, the theater curtains open to reveal the giants of the Sonoran Desert – the Saguaros

Tucson Mountain Park

Looking down at the Western side of Tucson

Tucson

The sprawling city of Tucson

So far this year we’ve stayed on the western side of Tucson, one month at Western Way RV Resort and we’re currently residing for a second month at Desert Trails RV Park just up the road.  The choice of these campgrounds was based mainly on their excellent access to the many great hiking trails in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park and Robles Park. We wasted no time getting started on those hikes to burn off the mega calories we packed on while partying in Puerto Peñasco.

Saguaro National Park

We always enjoy our treks with serious hikers like Hans and Lisa, this time on the Hugh Norris Trail

Sweetwater Preserve

Investigating a downed Saguaro at Sweetwater Preserve

Brown Mountain Trail

We like nearby Brown Mountain Trail, and have hiked it a couple of times so far

Saguaro

Some Saguaros gave us the finger…

Saguaro

…this one gave us many fingers!

Saguaro

This one could be hundreds of years old

saguaro skeleton

This dead Saguaro looks like a desert scarecrow

Yetman Trail

An early morning hike on the Yetman Trail via Tucson Estates

Tucson Mountains

Tucson Mountains as seen from the Wasson Peak Trail

Crested saguaro

Goofing off with one of Pam’s friends – a crested Saguaro – on the Flight Path Trail

We’ve been here for several weeks now, plenty of time to repeat trails we followed last year and to discover new ones.  For the first time we’ll be staying long enough to catch the colors of spring in the Sonoran Desert, which we’ve missed previously in our haste to head north.

The Ocotillo blossoms provide a splash of red all over the desert, just beautiful!

Crimson red Ocotillo blooms – don’t they look like mini lipsticks?

Creosote bush

Creosote bush swaths the desert a golden hue

A closer look at a creosote bloom

 

On the desert floor, area sidewalks and vacant lots was a profusion of dainty vibrant wildflowers.  I can’t help but stop, take a picture and admire them:

The birds are also enjoying the blooms, sucking sweet nectar from the flowers and whistling at us as we stroll by:

Of course, mild winters here are the main draw for us and thousands of other “snowbirds”. It’s a place where we congregate to meet up with old friends and make new ones.  I think of our meet-up here as a renewal of our friendships, and it’s always a joy to see those folks to exchange travel stories and the adventures we’ve had on the road during the past year.

Kathie and Mike of Life Rebooted.  We met them last year at Bryce Canyon after following their blog for several months

At the big gathering below, we met Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver for the first time. Everyone else were folks we’ve forged relationships with over the years through our blog sites – Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go and Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventure.

John, David, Sue, Marsha, Paul, Steve, me, Lisa, Hans and Pam

Me with John and Pam, and “serious Jeep pilots” Joe and Gay of Good Times Rolling

Infected humanoid – stay away!

We’re always excited to meet new friends, but we were sorry we missed out on meeting up with Jim and Barb of Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure.  I was recovering from a flu bug and wasn’t about to risk infecting them.

We spent this happy hour huddled inside Betsy as gusty winds spoiled our outdoor venue

New friends Jim and Nancy of Running Down our Dreams (behind us) and good buddies John and Sharon of On the Road of Retirement

Just before Hans and Lisa left we had an alcohol-free happy hour at their coach (well, it WAS in the morning), followed by a mini-tour of Desert Trails RV Park.  They showed us around so we could note the best sites to request for our upcoming stay.  Two weeks later we got one of the most-desired sites (M28), and we are enjoying the afternoon shade here.  It’s nice to have friends to help us gather good intel!

A healthy and happy start to the day with Hans and Lisa

As we remain here enjoying all the trails and spring blooms, our friends have all moved on. We hope to see them here again, at our favorite rendezvous spot in the desert!

A post from the southwest would be incomplete without a Sonoran Desert sunset!

 

Next up:  More fun things to do around Tucson



 

Winter Break for Betsy – Tucson, AZ

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After camping at Regional and State parks on the outskirts of Phoenix for several weeks we moved south to Tucson for a longer stay.  Our drill each winter is to stay in one place long enough to take care of all the maintenance and repair issues that Betsy requires.  This year the spot of choice was Tucson, surrounded by five mountain ranges and set in the middle of the stunning Sonoran Desert.

View from Wasson Peak

Tucson, looking northeast at the Santa Catalina Mountains

The Lazy Days/Tucson KOA is also surrounded by several large RV parts and service providers, some so close that Steve actually walked to them for parts!  This stop also meant camping in a park where our neighbors were just a spit away, and we had to deal with traffic, blaring train horns at night and roaring military jets flying around the area most days.  But we endured all of this for Betsy, our home on wheels!  It also turned out to be a great place to meet up with fellow bloggers for a lot of fun.

Santa Catalina Mountains

Peek-a-boo at the Santa Catalina Mountains behind us

Roaring jets

Just another A10 flying overhead – please don’t bomb us!

An upside to this campground is that we drink and cook/bake with the freshest juices you can get.  That’s because many sites have their own citrus trees, loaded with either oranges, lemons or grapefruits.  Ours has an orange tree, and the way my “harvesting” is going it’ll be plucked clean by the end of our one-month stay.  Steve keeps the ladder ready for my regular assaults on our tree!

Orange tree

These are sweet oranges!

Each day here in Tucson brings us cool mornings, sunny days and gorgeous sunsets – all of which enhanced Steve’s mood and eagerness to get on with his long list of to-do’s on Betsy. We have both rolled up our sleeves and gotten busy during the past two weeks.

First we dusted and vacuumed every nook and cranny inside, and cleaned and waxed every square inch of the outside:

We had pros do the major annual wash and wax, and Steve will maintain it throughout the year.  Betsy never looked better!

As many of our followers are well aware, a downside of living on wheels is that things can loosen, crack, fade and just not work so well over time.  Among other things, Steve serviced our toilet seals and linkage, caulked the shower pan, repainted the entryway door frame, replaced a light fixture that he broke with his head (ouch!) and many other small maintenance items.

And for those items that we’re not comfortable doing in the RV park – like air conditioner and generator maintenance – we went just a couple of miles down the road to Fisher’s RV Repair.  Many thanks to Gay and Joe of Good-times-rollin for alerting us to Jeff, who runs the shop.  We were happy with his work and got Betsy back after only a few hours.

2016-01-19-AZ-1360244.jpg

A freshly washed and waxed Betsy shows up for maintenance

A week later our good friends John and Pam and Dave and Sue arrived fresh from their golf stint in Naco, AZ to be our neighbors for a while.  During a happy hour, avid hiker Pam outlined some hikes we would take together – yay!  Then Steve’s ears perked up when he learned that Dave was going to help John replace his slide toppers the next day.  Perfect! Steve asked to help them, and in return they would help us replace ours since it was already on our to-do list.

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The gangs all here (well, except for the photographer)!

The following day Steve and Dave brought their ladders and tools over to John’s site and together they took on his slide topper replacement project:

2016-01-18-AZ-1360237.jpg

What’s this part?  I don’t know, what do you think it is Steve?  I don’t know.  John, do you know what the heck it is?

A blogger taking pictures of bloggers taking pictures of their husband

A blogger takes a picture of bloggers taking pictures of their husbands as Lewis (Dave and Sue’s cool doggie) tries to figure out what’s going on

When the hard-working crew successfully finished the project, Pam gathered everyone together and served up a healthy lunch of chicken wraps and fruits.  That red bag Pam is holding in the image above was later filled with oranges that we picked at their site.  She lent me her juicer so I could fill several containers with fresh-squeezed orange juice and freeze them for our future enjoyment.  Yum!

Orange Juice

It doesn’t get any fresher than this!

Steve’s learning experience from helping John motivated him to immediately order our new slide topper material from Tough Toppers.  As soon as it arrived he verified the measurements were correct and then removed the old toppers and cleaned up the slides for the upcoming installation.

This is a simple job, but it really needs at least a couple of people with ladders to do it without possible damage to the new material.  Betsy will be looking even better in a couple of days!

Slide Topper

Verifying correct measurements, we left the material out in the sun during the day to let it stretch and flex

While Steve was removing the old topper, he was surprised to find a mummified frog on top of the slide.  We have no idea how the poor guy got up there, he must have been a tree frog.

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R.I.P. Mr. frog…

Our first two weeks in Tucson allowed us to complete every project on Betsy, and some medical appointments. Now it’s time to focus on having fun with our friends and following as many hiking trails as possible.

A blog from southwest Arizona would be incomplete without some sunset photos, even if they were taken in a large city.  Different day, different mood, but the same palm trees sit center-stage:

Lazy Days Tucson KOA

2016-01-18-AZ-1360227.jpg 2016-01-19-AZ-1360320.jpg

 

Next up:  Hiking with John and Pam



 

Picacho Peak kicked our butts!

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From the Tucson area we moved west, stopping at Casa Grande, AZ.  After arriving there, we did our usual investigation for places with good hiking.  We didn’t find anything in the immediate area, but we discovered that beautiful Picacho Peak, which we had admired from I-10 west of Tucson, is located within a state park about 33 miles from Casa Grande.

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak as seen on I-10

This striking peak has been a navigational point for ground and air travelers for decades.  It rises 1500 feet from the desert floor and has several hiking trails of various difficulties.  At first, we weren’t sure we would try for the summit, as it was rated “difficult” and we are more into “moderate.”  It is recommended that hikers take gloves to assist with “holding onto the cables”.  Oh, that sounds interesting!

We parked at the Sunset Vista trailhead on the west end of the mountain and decided to check out the first couple of miles.  What a fantastic trek it was!  This trail was an easy walk with beautiful scenery on the south side of the mountain which got us warmed up for an attempt on the summit.  This is now one of Steve’s favorite hikes, with sweeping views of the mountain and 30+ miles of valleys all around.  Gorgeous!

Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail

A quick break to take in the view

A quick break halfway up the mountain to take in the view

After the first 2 miles, the trail became more difficult, and soon we were faced with either climbing steep rock faces using the steel cables, or turning onto the Hunter Trail to descend on the north side of the mountain.  We decided to give the cables a try and guage ourselves (me primarily).  It went OK, and as we continued along the climb got steeper with some narrow ledges actually fenced in to prevent folks from plummeting down several hundred feet.  We trudged on slowly and carefully until we reached the top.

After two and a half hours of tough climbing we were there.  We made it – whew!  We were richly rewarded with a sublime 360-degree view of the Sonoran Desert.  We took a break, soaked in the view and grabbed some lunch to renew our energy.

 Picacho Peak

Pose at the Peak

Picacho Peak summit

Southside view

After lunch we descended 1.5 miles via the strenuous Hunter Trail to its trailhead at a parking lot.  Since we had parked at the other end of the mountain, we needed to walk an additional 2 miles back to our car.  It was a long 7-mile day of walking and climbing, but we were surely glad we did it.

As we soaked our sore muscles in the spa (luckily our RV park had one), we were happy to have accomplished this challenging climb, and we’re looking forward to the next one!

Snowy Arizona? – Tucson

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Santa Catalina Mountains

Driving south from the Cave Creek area, we tucked ourselves in north of Tucson, the second-largest city in Arizona.  We thought it might get warmer as we headed south – wrong!  A cold front brought clouds and rain – even snow at the Santa Catalina mountains where we were parked.  For the first time during our travels we were faced with frozen water hoses as nighttime temperatures plummeted into the twenties.  When you think of Arizona, cold and snow rarely come to mind, but being winter it does get chilly here – especially at night.  However, we loved the view of the beautiful white mountains right outside our windows!

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park

Daytime temperatures were in the 50’s – plenty warm for us to go out and have some fun. Armed with recommendations from Dan H. (thanks, Dan!), we checked out some of the things to do in the Tucson area.  Here are a few we enjoyed:

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, nestled in the scenic Tucson Mountains, is the perfect place to get a good glimpse of what this beautiful desert is all about.  We walked through the open areas and were offered amazing views of the mountains dotted with Sagauro cacti, Palo Verde and many other desert plants.  Wandering through a living walled area, we found lots of information and close-up views detailing bobcats, prairie dogs, coyotes, rattlesnakes and more.

Being from the west coast, this place gave us a good overall exposure to the diverse flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, and the ecosystem that thrives here.  A nice touch from the museum (although I would not call this a museum, per se) is the free SPF30 sunscreen and refrigerated water fountains along the trails.  This place is very well done and a must-see.

We hiked in Sabino Canyon, a spectacular desert canyon cut into the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  There were two tram tours, one appropriately called Sabino Canyon, a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills.  Then there was Bear Canyon, a non-narrated ride that took hikers to the trailhead of the Seven Falls. We purchased tickets and planned to take the Bear Canyon hike, but due to confusion by the tram driver we ended up getting on the Sabino Canyon tram instead.

On this tour our driver enthusiastically narrated some interesting facts about the vegetation and history of the canyon.  We got off at stop #9 and hiked up one of the trails to enjoy our lunch with a view overlooking the canyon.  Then, instead of re-boarding the tram we decided to walk back down the 3.8 miles to the visitors center.  We learned that we had actually gotten the better tour but paid for the cheaper one to Bear Canyon – not bad!

Sabino Canyon

Hiking on Phone Line Trail

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon lunch stop – wow!

Sabino Canyon

At the top of Eagle Mountain

The University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2dubbed “one of the 50 must-see wonders of the world”, was just up the road from our site at Catalina State Park.  We remembered the much publicized “Human Missions” experiments in the early 90’s, so we decided to check it out.  We toured what they call “wilderness Biomes” – building blocks of the biosphere; a tropical rain forest, savanna, coastal fog, desert, and a million-gallon ocean – all under one roof!

Our knowledgeable tour guide explained the history, research, and unprecedented science taking place inside this engineering marvel.  Despite all of that we still ended the tour as non-scientists.

If you are young enough to remember the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, you might remember the “Duck and Cover” exercises.  At the Titan Missile Museum, an underground tour relives a time when the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union was a reality.  The Titan II missile was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 5,500 miles away – in less than thirty minutes.

This is the only remaining Titan missile silo of the 54 that were constructed in the US.  It is very interesting to see and hear about life in the silos during the 22 years they were operational.  Steve had already been here once before with his pilot buddies but thought I would enjoy it as well.  And I did!

Titan Missile Museum

Underground control room

Titan Missile Museum

Titan II missile

Lastly, when you’re hungry and looking for authentic delicious southwestern food in the Tucson area, make the trip to El Charro Café.  Opened in 1922, this is reportedly the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned Mexican restaurant in the United States.  Don’t forget to try one of their yummy Margaritas.  Thanks Dan, this restaurant is at the top of our list!