So we settled in Tucson two weeks ago for the holidays. But we hardly “placed as in to stay” or “made quiet or orderly.”
Quite the contrary. In the last 14 days we’ve put another 1,000 miles on the car in two countries and slept in our own bed just eight nights. We’ve visited friends and family, launched a few house projects, lounged on a Mexican beach, chatted with Honduran hitchhikers, hosted dinners, scouted out the home in which I grew up and – best of all – bicycled with the grandkids.
How did we ever have time to work?
(And, as promised in the blog post preceding this one entitled “Turkey, football, parades – and a pop geography quiz,” I’ve included the answers to the quiz at the bottom of this post. How did you do?)
It was a bright and sunny morning in Scottsdale when Georges and I rolled out on our bikes with Isa, 14, and Alex, 12. We pedaled a portion of the Reach 11 Recreation Area, which is a 1,500-acre nature park just north of the Central Arizona Project canal, a 336-mile aquatic artery that diverts water from Lake Havasu on the Colorado River to sustain the 6 million-plus people living in central and southern Arizona. (We wrote about Lake Havasu in this blog post.)
The recreation area is less than a mile from their father’s house and requires crossing only one major street. There are nearly two dozen miles of well-groomed dirt trails for hiking and cycling cross-crossing the nature park. We spent a couple of hours meandering through the lovely desert landscape, pedaling up a few small hills and down a few small dales.
It was great to see how disciplined the kids are with their bikes – and how thoughtful they are about the world around them. They enjoy their schools, follow news reports closely (they were dismayed by the use of tear gas on the migrants at the U.S. border in California) and are avowed vegetarians.
Of course, we stopped along the way for a few water breaks.
Unfortunately, Dad was home sick and we failed to get any full group shots during our visit. But here’s a photo of the kids from a few weeks ago that includes Papa Bear.
We’d spent Thanksgiving with a dozen good friends in Phoenix. That too was a lovely day in Phoenix, if a bit overcast.
That’s a “before” picture of the table setting on the patio in the backyard; a “during” picture of some of the homemade food, all with fresh ingredients, on the buffet; and an “after” shot of everybody with their full plates.
Meanwhile, back in Dallas, here’s what Mom did for Thanksgiving.
Mom won’t be joining us in Arizona until next month, so she was “adopted” by the family of our Beloved House-sitter on Turkey Day. What a warm and generous bunch! They all went to Topgolf the day after, where Mom, 90, reportedly gave everybody a run for their money.
But she must have been nice about it, because they invited her to join them at the restaurant after.
I’d better step up my Daughter Game or Mom just might decide to trade me in for another.
Before Thanksgiving, we spent a couple of days with friends on the beach in Puerto Peñasco (aka Rocky Point), which is a four-hour drive west of Tucson just across the border in Sonora, Mexico. This was a favorite vacation spot when I was a child in Tucson.
We made a pit stop, as usual, at the town (actually more of a junction) of Why, Arizona before crossing the border. Now there’s a “Why Not Travel Store” with a cool, rustic fountain on site.
We drove through the lovely Organ Pipe National Monument – possibly the most under-rated national parkland in the nation – on our way to the border. Unlike our Canadian experience last summer, crossing the border here was a breeze.
I’ve always loved Puerto Peñasco; it’s been at least 17-18 years since G and I were last here. In some ways, the area is much the same; in other ways, it’s changed dramatically.
What’s the same are the warm and friendly people, the fun beaches, the great food, lovely sunsets.
You can still buy fresh fish early in the morning direct from the fishermen when the trawlers return from the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California).
There is still a startlingly sharp contrast between rich and poor – gated mansions on the hill above town; grade-schoolers selling flowers or singing for tips on the street.
The mariachis are good, the margaritas still tops. Here’s a short video.
Parts of the town are still neat and clean, the monument at the end of the Malecón overlooking the sea pristine. Other areas, particularly the desert just east of town, are still littered with bottles, cans, fly-away paper – destroying the desert beauty. This carelessness has always saddened me, providing an excuse for too many Americans to disrespect our southern neighbor.
What’s different is the explosion of hotels, resorts, golf courses and shopping venues in what used to be a quaint, quiet, dusty fishing village. Small wonder: More than 2 million tourists flock to the area each year these days, most of them from Arizona, and their spending makes up more than a third of the state’s tourism revenues, according to the local convention and visitor’s bureau.
Yes, the development of this area can be good and some of the additions are beautiful. The construction explosion provides many needed jobs in the area. But it’s also clear that some of the developments are over-extended. We saw acres and acres of cleared land, foundations poured, wiring begun … where it’s obvious that the construction has ground to a halt.
There are entirely too many sprawling, half-built resorts and luxury homes to inspire confidence in the area’s financial stability. Their unfinished exteriors and exposed interiors are testament to broken promises and unrealized dreams.
One day, we drove about 30 minutes east of town for brunch at the Mayan Palace, a much-ballyhooed Vidante beach resort nestled between the Sea of Cortez and the Sonoran Desert. It’s in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but creosote, sage, sand and an occasional coyote within view, a gated community where the guard takes down your license plate and gives you a wristband before literally lifting the barricade for you to enter. And then you’ve still another 10-minute drive back to the actual resort, around half-built homes, partially dug waterways and sand-covered building foundations.
Suddenly you round a curve and before you is a huge and ornate building. You valet park. The lobby is big, bold and well furnished. The views are fabulous. Here’s what it looks like as you walk from the lobby, past the negative-edge water feature (which is literally for the birds) to the restaurant on the patio.
My shrimp dish was the best of the six meals we ordered. The huge and bulbous crustaceans were grilled to perfection, as were the vegetables, even if the whole creation was overpowered by excessively smoked bacon.
Here’s the view looking back at the resort from our table, and then the view of the beach from the patio.
All in all, we had a delightful time. But I’m not sure we’d ever want to stay here, even with their staycation specials. It’s too far removed from anything else in the area. And we’d certainly never buy a timeshare or condo; it’s not at all certain they’ll ever actually be finished.
Still, it’s an impressive property. Here’s what it looks like from the patio looking back up to the “bird bath” and main lobby.
Back in town, we chatted briefly one afternoon with a group of 15-20 young men from Honduras hitchhiking toward the U.S. border.
They probably weren’t part of the group that the U.S. Border Patrol agents dispersed a few days later with tear gas at the San Ysidro border crossing some 300 miles west of here; we wondered if their plan was to hop a train and slip across the border at Nogales, the oldest rail crossing of any border port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, barely 200 miles east of here.
They were a friendly, determined-looking bunch, all men, clearly laborers. Who knows what their future holds?
On the way to Puerto Peñasco earlier in the week, we took a short detour southwest of Tucson to check out the house in which I grew up. We lived way outside of town; my closest playmates were about a mile away, most easily reached on foot or bike through the desert. I walked a half-mile to the bus stop (longer if I stayed on the dirt roads rather than cutting across the desert) and had a good 45-minute bus ride to school.
This next photo is of what used to be the dirt road that defined the southern edge of our property and that would metamorphose into a raging floodway at least once or twice each monsoon season. We’d be “stranded” in our home, unable to leave by car or on foot, until the several-feet-high waters receded, usually a few hours after the rains stopped.
It was all very exciting. We’d stand near the banks and watch the water rush by, taking anything and everything in its path with it and roaring, in my childhood imagination, like Niagara Falls.
Now, it’s a standard-issue paved road. I get the advantages. Still, it seems a shame.
(The rock formation on the left in the distance in that photo was “my mountain.” We called it The Rock and climbed it nearly weekly. One time my playmate and I, scrambling up its sheer rock incline on the east side, came eyeball-to-eyeball with a Gila monster who we swore then “chased” us all the way home. Truth be told, the lumbering lizard probably couldn’t be bothered to take more than a step or two after flashing his forked tongue at us, but we didn’t stop long enough in our rushed retreat to gauge his rate of propulsion.)
Here’s the actual house I grew up in, from the end of the driveway on the floodway-turned-paved entrance road.
I was tempted to knock on the door and ask for a closer view. But the angry-sounding dogs and private property signs tempered my enthusiasm.
Maybe another time.
The view at the end of our street is still lovely, but this house’s entry way is new. As a matter of fact, so is the house.
Here are the answers, as promised, to the quiz in the previous blog post entitled “Turkey, football, parades – and a pop geography quiz.”
Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, which originates in Columbia Lake in British Columbia, Canada was the first permanent European settlement on the West coast. (Go to this post for the Astoria reference. Go to this post for our Aug. 31 photo of the Columbia Lake in British Columbia.)
Meriwether Lewis carved his name in Billings, Montana – mentioned in this post.
Angel Island near San Francisco is known as the Ellis Island of the West, per this post.
False. The largest forest of Joshua trees is in Mojave National Preserve, a roughly two-hour drive northeast of Joshua National Park, which also has dense stands of the huge, spiny yuccas. (Apologies, I know this was a bit of a trick question. But I couldn’t resist playing off Congress’ poor choice of names for these wonderful protected areas. Here’s the relevant post.)
The four deserts in North America are the Chihuahuan, Great Basin, Sonoran and Mojave. More detail for the nerds among us: The Chihuahuan is the largest North American desert. Most of it is in Mexico, but it extends into west Texas (including our beloved Big Bend National Park!), southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. The Great Basin is the next largest (and coldest), covering most of Nevada and some of western Utah. The Sonoran is third. It’s the wettest desert on earth and is mostly in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The Mojave is the smallest and includes portions of California, Nevada and Arizona.
The Colorado River that runs through Arizona – and six other states on its way into Mexico and the Gulf of California – is nearly twice the length of the Colorado River in Texas.
“Havasu” is the Mojave Indian word for blue-green water, which describes perfectly Lake Havasu along the Colorado River in western Arizona.
Parker Dam, which creates Lake Havasu, is the deepest dam in the world. You can see barely a quarter of the dam’s 320-foot height above ground; the other 235 feet plunge deep into the Colorado riverbed.
Quartzsite, Arizona was a way station in the (failed) effort to introduce camels as beasts of burden to transport cargo across the “Great American Desert” from Texas into California.
Picacho Peak, about 40 miles northwest of Tucson, was the site of the westernmost battle in the American Civil War. It occurred on April 15, 1862 and pitted a Union cavalry patrol from California against confederate soldiers from Tucson.
Mount Lemmon Ski Valley in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, Arizona is the southernmost ski area in the United States.