Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tucson Desert Art Musem showcases Southwestern art

Tucson Desert Art Museum
The Tucson Desert Arts Museum is a relatively new museum devoted to preserving the arts of the Southwest.

The small museum has only 25,000 square feet of space, but crams a lot into it, including exhibit space, classrooms and an auditorium. It opened in 2013.

One of the highlights of the museum is its collection of Navajo and Hopi textiles all created before the 1940s. This collection is stunning, particularly since it was done before computers were commonplace. Today, many Native American weavers plan their designs on a computer. We were particularly impressed with one large wall hanging that blended the colors in the pattern in such a way the piece seemed blurry. There’s no need to clean your glasses here, since there’s nothing wrong with them; it’s just optical art.

The museum also has artifacts, including furniture and Native American weapons, on display. The Four Corners Gallery has an outstanding collection of paintings, jewelry and other handcrafts by Southwestern artists on display. Unlike the rest of the museum, everything is for sale in the Four Corners Gallery.

The Tucson Desert Art Museum is located at 7000 E. Tanque Verde Road in Tucson. It is open from 10 .m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tucson museum honors U.S. horse soldiers

Museum of the Horse Soldier
If you thought the era of horse soldiers ended with Teddy Roosevelt’s charge    up San Juan Hill or even with World War I, you’d be wrong Horses are still be used by the U.S. Army today, as mounts for Special Forces in Afghanistan. This tidbit comes courtesy of Tucson’s Museum of the Horse Soldier.

The museum, which opened in 2013, honors horse soldiers from the Civil War through World War II. It displays original uniforms of both officers and enlisted men, their saddles and their weapons.  Implements used by the men who cared for the horses –veterinarians and farriers – also are displayed. Photographs of the men and their mounts hang prominently on the walls.

Museum of the Horse Soldier
Just insides the entryway is a statue of a horse in a stall. Other horse statues are intermingled with the uniforms in glass cases. The second floor has bronze statues, including one of Custer’s Last Stand, that are miniatures of life-size statues found elsewhere.

The Museum of the Horse Soldier is located at 6541 E. Tanque Verde Road, Tucson’ (520) 722-2706. It is handicap accessible. Admission is charged, cash only. The museum, located in the Trail Dust Town complex, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. IF the museum is locked during open hours, as it was when we visited, the manager can usually be found in Trail Dust Town.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A visit to Tucson's Jewish History Museum

Jewish History Museum
If you gravitate to off-the-beaten path tourist attractions, like we do, then visiting Tucson’s Jewish History Museum is a must.

The museum is housed in the first synagogue built in Arizona. Uneven hardwood floors attest to the age; the building was dedicated in 1910 when an estimated 3,000 Jews were living in Tucson. The museum tells the history of the Jewish population in southern Arizona. Mostly, they were merchants, bankers and miners, though some became active in local politics. Tucson elected its first Jewish mayor in 1880.

The congregation moved into a new synagogue in 1949, and the old one was sold. over the years, 11 different churches called it home. In 1994, the Jewish community bought it back just as it was about to be sold and torn down to make way for a parking lot.

The museum was ranked by USA Today as one of the best places in the United States to learn about Jewish history. In 2012, True West magazine ranked it as the fifth best western museum in the United States.

Holocaust Museum display
The day we visited, they had rearranged the interior to accommodate a special exhibit on Helene Barr, a young French Jewish woman, who like Anne Frank, kept a diary of life under Nazi rule in World War II.

Quilt made by Holocaust survivors
Next door is the Holocaust Museum dedicated to survivors who settled in southern Arizona. One wall of the hallway-like room has small portraits of these survivors, while a video of survivors talking about the Holocaust runs on a television.

The Jewish History Museum is located at 564 South Sixth Avenue in Tucson. It’s open only a few days a week, so travelers should call the museum at (520) 670-9073 to make sure it’s open. Both museums are handicap accessible.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Tohono Chul features Sonora Desert vegetation

A garden at Tohono Chul Park
Lush greenery isn’t something that is usually associated with southern Arizona, but it’s a term that comes easily to mind at the Tohono Chul botanical garden in west Tucson.

The park brings together the diversity of the Sonora Desert through vegetation, birds, butterflies, arts and education. Outdoor seating areas for classes, concerts and other programs are scattered throughout the 49-acre park. You’ll find bird sculptures sitting in trees and pottery pots arranged in fountains. And always there is the lush vegetation, from vine covered archways to meandering streams to a wide variety of cactus, including some kinds we’d not seen elsewhere in Arizona.

Most of the trails are paved, making this small corner of Tucson handicap-accessible. Benches are plentiful for visitors who just want to sit and enjoy nature, or rest their weary feet.

Wide paved trails accommodate wheelchairs
The land used to be occupied by prehistoric Native Americans. As you walk the trails, be on the lookout for a chunk of petrified wood, determined to be 750 million years old, and a large flat boulder bearing petro graphs. Ancient pottery shards have been found within the park’s boundaries.

The museum’s gift shop, which seems more like an art gallery, is located in an adobe hacienda. The idea for the park was conceived by later owners, Richard and Jean Wilson, who had been buying up snippets of land that were part of the original homestead. They decided to turn it into a park rather than let it be developed. The park was dedicated as a nature preserve in 1985.

Tohono Chul is located just off Ina Road at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte in Tucson. It is closed on major holidays but otherwise open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There is an admission charge.

More photos of Tohono Cnul are available on my YouTube channel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another benefit of a sunny Arizona winter: tangerines

Tangerine tree at the RV park
It’s tangerine season now in Arizona. Of course, I did my bit to help with the harvest. One of the spaces at the RV park we’re staying at in Tucson has a tangerine tree; park managers put out a call for residents to pick as many of them as they wanted. I filled a plastic grocery bag with tangerines, and peeled one on the spot to eat on the walk back to our trailer. I’m not really a fan of tangerines, preferring the larger navel oranges, but this one was indescribably delicious, all moist and dripping juice. I’m goona go back for another bag.

Arizona grows a lot of citrus fruit, but nowhere near as much as Florida, which accounts for 63 percent of the U.S. citrus crop. Second goes to California with 34 percent, while Arizona and Texas combine for the final 3 percent. While Florida grows more oranges, California grows more lemons and tangerines. When we were staying in Yuma, the street we drove most often was lined with lemon orchards.

In researching tangerine production, I was surprised to learn citrus trees are evergreens. It was not a surprise to learn citrus fruits originated in Asia, in particular southern China. Nor was it a surprise to learn tangerines, which belong to the mandarin orange family, are named after Tangier, Morocco.







Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuscon's Tohono O'odham swap meet sells everything from A to Z

Samples of items for sale
The Tohono-O’odham swap meet is like a gigantic yard sale, a conglomeration of new and used items, ranging from construction materials to clothing to knick knacks and produce. And don’t forget the tools, antiques and just about everything else under the sun.

Buildings, booths and tables are spread over a large area. Some vendors sell from the backs of their pickups and others just lay a blanket on the ground. It can take a couple of hours or more just to walk by all the vendors; that doesn’t include any time for looking through the goods for sale.

The market is geared to Hispanics, but you’ll also find gringos buying stuff, too. Most of the signs are in Spanish. Almost all of the vendors are Hispanic, also, but most speak some English.

The swap meet was started in 1993 by the owner of nearby Chico’s Smoke Shop and his daughter. Located at 5721 S, Westover in Tucson, the swap meet is open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rural Arizona's Amerind Museum showcases Native American artifacts

Amerind Museum
It’s easy to whiz by the Amerind Museum as you drive from Tucson to Willcox, Arizona, in Interstate 10. But those who detour off the freeway can spend a few pleasant hours learning more about the Indians of the Americas as well as see some pretty cool Western art.
The Amerind Museum and Gallery lies on a serene 1,600 acres in Texas Canyon, so named because so many of the early settlers were from Texas. It’s located a mile or so off Exit 318, Dragoon Road, of the freeway. Turn left down a gravel road, past a small cemetery where early settlers are buried, and you’ll eventually reach a collection of buildings, two of which house the museum and art gallery. You’ll also see horse stables since the museum founder also raised prized horses.
The Amerind Museum houses the Native American artifacts collected by William Shirley Fulton. His collection is said to be one of the finest private collections in the world.
From Alaska to South America
A large room on the ground floor is devoted to artifacts used by Native Americans from the north of Alaska to the tip of South American. Another room is devoted to the history of Texas Canyon and its settlers.
Rooms on the second floor house artifacts, such as baby backboards, and weavings of the Arizona tribes. The collection of rugs and other wall hangings is impressive.
This is a serious, traditional museum, with almost everything lodged in glass cases. What is unfortunate about the objects’ presentations is that descriptions are set in type that is difficult to read because of its size. A majority of the museum visitors are senior citizens, and several commented they didn’t know what they were looking at because they couldn’t read the descriptions.
Art gallery contains Western works
Museum admission includes the Fulton-Hayden Art Gallery with works by well-known Western artists, including Frederic Remington. A small section of a room on the second floor contains William Fulton’s study, which was transplanted from his home in Connecticut.
The art gallery is wheel-chair accessible, but only the entrance to the museum is wheel-chair accessible. The gallery has a tiny elevator to take wheelchairs to the second floor.
The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tucson parade honors the dead

All Souls Procession
If you’re in Tucson in early November, the All Souls Procession is something you won’t want to miss. It seems more like a Halloween party than an event to honor the dead as thousands of people march a couple of miles through downtown Tucson.

"The 26th All Souls Procession will take 
place on November 7-8 in 2015."
The procession is the finale of two days of activities on Friday and Sunday. Other activities include a Procession of Little Angels and a a family-oriented  Night of the Living Festival with bands, rides, food and games.

The event is similar to Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. It was started in 1990 by a local artist, Susan Johnson, who was grieving the loss of her father. It has grown exponentially since that time.

People, even those not marching in the parade, wear costumes. Face painters do a land-office business on both parade participants and spectators. White faces with eyes staring out of black circles are common, but each painted face is unique.

  At the parades start, a man with a loudspeaker stands behind a large white banner belting out a hell, fire and brimstone sermon, beseeching people to repent their sins before it is too late.

Parade participants
A cacophony of sounds fills the air, as bagpipers compete with drum and mariachi bands.

Sidewalk standing space is at a premium, as spectators spill out into the street. An estimated 100,000 people watched this year’s procession, which ended with burning a large urn filled with messages to loved ones who have passed.

Arizona's Ted DeGrazia: a multi-talented artist

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
Ted DeGrazia was a multi-talented artist who is best known for bringing the native cultures of the Sonora Desert to life. Besides working in oils, he also was a sculptor, worked in ceramics, designed his own adobe house in rural Tucson, did the landscaping for it, and created wind chimes using such diverse materials as horseshoes. He also turned aluminum and tin cans into whimsical flowers that today adorn posts at the gallery he built next to his house.

DeGrazia also was a talented trumpeter, paying his way through college by playing in a band. He also composed music, some of which can be heard playing in the gift shop at his gallery.

He also was a prolific artist. The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun has three collections of his paintings that are rotated throughout the year. These are in addition to the paintings he sold or burned. Yes, burned. As a protest against an Arizona inheritance tax on art, he burned 100 of his paintings that had a combined value of $250,000. This was in 1976.

Whimsical can art
DeGrazia was born in 1909 in an Arizona mining camp where his father worked. His Italian immigrant parents named him Ettore; the nickname Ted was bestowed upon him by a teacher. He spent a few years living in Italy as a child, but returned to Arizona with his family when the mining camp reopened.

He studied art at the University of Arizona and did an internship with the famed Mexican artist, Diego Rivera.

His paintings are simplistic, perhaps because he used a palette knife, instead of a brush, to paint in oils. Children are featured prominently; some are playful while others seem ethereal, even religious tones. One unique feature common to his paintings is they have no background, other than perhaps a few swirls of muted color. A video showing the artist at work says he did this on purpose, because he wanted the viewer to create his own background.

DeGrazia died in 1982. His Gallery in the Sun is located in the Tucson foothills at 6300 N. Swan Road. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, but is closed major holidays. Admission is free.e also turned alumin

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tucson museum is a small, small world

A miniature village in the floor
It’s a small world.

If you don’t believe it, you need to visit the Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson. It’s a wonderland filled with miniature homes, furnishings, people, animals, etc., all designed to tempt your imagination,

The Array of miniatures is impressive, from houses to castles to a floating market in Thailand. Videos located throughout the museum offer information on everything from the history of miniatures to how to make mini silver tea sets.

Some of the miniatures have movable parts, such as trains going around a track. Some even have people waltzing on the balcony, such as the Wick House, made in the 1880s, that is typical of a Swiss house in the early 1800s. The multi-story house features workers on the bottom floor, soldiers enjoying a beer on the second floor and waltzers on the third floor, all moving at the same time.  The figures in the house are not moving today, but a video shows the mechanical figures in motion. The video shows a complicated system of pulleys, axles, wires, etc., that make the figures move.

A room in a miniature home
The museum has more than 275 houses, each completely furnished for the time period it is supposed to represent. They may look like doll houses, but no little girl would be allowed to play with them. These valuable houses are exquisitely done, and provide a most interesting peak into the past. And don’t forget the Enchanted Realm which displays miniature exhibits representing both fiction and folklore.

The miniature museum is located at 4455 East Camp Lowell Drive in Tucson. It is closed Mondays and major holidays.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Small Arizona town boasts impressive museums to a pair of singing cowboys

Willcox, Arizona, appears to be a town that life has pretty much forgotten. Several motels and lots of houses are boarded up in this community between Tucson and Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Sidewalks in the small downtown area roll up pretty early. Travelers who venture away from the freeway exit will find limited options for dinner.  Life, just as I-10 does, appears to have passed Willcox by.

But wait! Willcox is well worth a detour if you’re a fan of Western music. Tucked away on Railroad Avenue are museums devoted to two of the finest singing cowboys who ever strummed a guitar while riding the range: Rex Allen and Marty Robbins.

Rex Allen and Koko
Rex Allen is the hometown boy who made it to the big time, singing and riding his way across the West. He is probably the only cowboy who insisted his horse, Koko, receive star billing after him in the movie credits. In his later years, he narrated a host of Disney films, including Run Appaloosa Run because, one of my favorites because it was filmed in Omak, Washington, where I lived for four years.

The museum is filled with his costumes, movie posters and other memorabilia related to his entertainment career. There’s even a framed check he wrote to Field and Stream for a subscription in 1997, two years before he died. Across the street, at Railroad Park, is a statue of Rex Allen strumming on his guitar. The remains of his beloved Koko are buried just a few feet away.

The Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame is located inside the Rex Allen Museum. It’s a room filled with dozens of pictures of local cowboys.

Some of the 71 albums Marty Robbins made
Two doors down from the Rex Allen Museum is the Friends of Marty Robbins Museum. Marty Robbins is another Arizona boy (he was born in Glendale, however) who made a name for himself in show business. It’s about half the size of the Allen museum, but just as impressive when you consider most of its contents came from the private collection of one woman, Juanita Buckley, and her son Shawn Ring.  

Robbins recorded 71 albums during his lengthy career, but is his signature song is El Paso. Posters from his movies cover the walls. One of his early hits had the lyrics, “a white sport coat and a pink carnation.” Sure enough there’s a white sport coat in the collection.

A highlight of this museum is a documentary on Marty Robbins’ career. It’s narrated by John Schneider and features some of the biggest names in country western music reminiscing about this talented singer.

Both museums are open on a limited schedule, but it’s worth rearranging your travel plans to visit them.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tucson museum preserves southern Arizona history

Arizona History Museum
Saving Arizona history is the task of the Arizona Historical Society and it does a mighty fee job of that at the Arizona History Museum in Tucson.

The museum concentrates on the history of southern Arizona, starting with the early Native Americans to the Spanish explorers and finally to territorial days.  Outside the front entrance is a marvelous statue of Father Kino, who build Catholic missions at Tumacacori and San Xavier del Bac.
The museum is packed full of artifacts from such diverse places as the bar from the Birdcage Saloon in Tombstone, an old stagecoach and a recreation of an Indian home. The museum does an excellent job of blending artifacts with photos. In the first building a brick wall leads into a photo of brick-making facilities.

A good portion of the second building is devoted to the mining history in Arizona Staff has even recreated an old mining tunnel, dark and narrow, to give you an idea of what working conditions for miners were like. A beautiful hand-stitched quilt stars in a display of vintage clothing and items of daily use. There’s also a stagecoach and an oxcart to show how people got around. One room is devoted to the Apache Indian chief, Geronimo.

The museum is located at 949 E. Second Street, near the University of Arizona campus. Free parking is available at the society’s parking garage one block west of the museum Be sure to take your parking stub with you so museum staff can validate the parking. 

The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Plan on spending at least two hours here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Old Tucson: where the West was filmed

Ricky "the Colorado Kid" Nelson drove
cattle down this street in Rio Bravo.
If you’re a fan of Western movies, you’re going to love Old Tucson, a movie studio and theme park, as more than 300 Western movies and television shows were filmed here. Over the decades, some of filmdom’s biggest names have walked the dusty streets: John Wayne, Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, Michael Landon, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara to name a few. Even today, the streets ring out with gunfire as staff re-enacts gunfights for visitors.

Re-enactment of a gun fight
between bank robbers
This is one attraction you’ll want to be there when the gates open and plan on staying until closing time. Even then you may not be able to take everything in. Programs allowing visitors to experience the Old West take place every 30 to 45 minutes during open hours. Besides gunfights, there’s can-can dancing at the Grand Palace Saloon, a man hawking his magical miracle elixir and a chance to learn about sheriffs from the days of yore, to name a few presentations.

The best way to start your visit here is with a free guided tour; your guide will walk you through the streets pointing out buildings that were featured in specific movies. You’ll learn such trivia as the night the wedding scene was shot for 1993’s Tombstone, the temperature was 92 degrees outside, yet Kurt Russell (Wyatt Earp) and Dana Delany (Josephine Marcus) were dancing in the snow. The “snow” was plastic.

Old Tucson got its start in 1939 with the Columbia Pictures’ filming of Arizona starring Jean Arthur and William Holden; 50  buildings simulating 1860s Tucson went up in 40 days.  A few more movies were made here over the next two decades, but it wasn’t until 1960 that Western movie making began here in earnest. More buildings were added for each movie, but tragedy struck in 1995 when an arson fire did $10 million in damages. Movie-making continued as replacement buildings went up.

John Wayne rules at Old Tucson. There’s McClintock! Mercantile, Big Jake’s BBQ, and you can see a 20-minute documentary on his association with Old Tucson down at Rosa’s Cantina. It’s almost as if the Duke were elevated to sainthood or, at the very least, crowned king of the Western movies. Wayne made 118 Western movies during his acting career, including four at Old Tucson: Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo, McClintock! and El Dorado.

One building was featured in the original 3:10 to Yuma, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Today, it houses the theme park’s movie museum and contains posters of movies shot here, costumes, news clippings and other Western movie memorabilia. A few non-Westerns, such as The Bells of St. Mary’s and Lilies of the Field also were shot here. One of the biggest shirts you may ever see is on display. It was worn by Dan Blocker who played Hoss Cartwright in Bonanza, one of the TV westerns that shot here a few times. In the same display case is a smaller shirt that was worn by Ben ‘Pa” Cartwright, who was played by Lorne Greene.

This building was used in McClintock!
Sets are often changed for each movie, so the buildings don’t look the same. The building that is now McClintock! Mercantile was once a barn. A porch was added for the filming of McClintock! Sometimes buildings are painted and others get new signs identifying the business within.

When your feet get tired, it’s time to hop a stage for a ride out to High Chaparral, the setting for a Western television series that was filmed here from 1966 to 1971.  Other TV series that were filmed her include Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, Death Valley Days and Petrocelli. The Food Network even filmed five programs for one of its series.

Chinese Alley
Take time to wander off the man streets. You’ll be surprised at what you find: Chinese Alley: a narrow alley filled with laundry hung between the buildings; a miner’s sluice box where you can pan for gold and keep what you find, or a store selling produce.

More pictures of Old Tucson: where the West wasfilmed can be found on my Youtube channel.

Old Tucson is located at 201 S. Kinney Road in rural Tucson. It can be reached from I-19 by taking exit 99 west on Ajo Way and following the signs. A more scenic route is to take the Speedway exit off I-10 and high south through Tucson Mountain Park. Movies and TV shows are still filmed at Old Tucson; it remains open to the public when filming is taking place.

Old Tucson is closed during the summer months, and open Friday through Sunday during the fall months.
The fine print; The FTC requires me to tell you I received complementary admission to Old Tucson because I was researching for several travel articles. It's such a great place, we plan to return -- as paying customers.




Monday, October 13, 2014

Patagonia celebrates fall with arts fair

Christmas decorations made from gourds
If you’re in southeastern Arizona in October, a must-see is the Patagonia Fall Festival. It’s billed as one of the best small town festivals in Arizona. If you’re into arts and crafts it’s worth the 60-mile drive from Tucson. The festival this year was the second weekend in October.

The festival draws about 150 arts and crafts, and food vendors to its city park. The park is so crammed with booths and people, sometimes it’s difficult to get through. But try.

As might be expected the artists and craftsmen are selling wares that reflect the desert southwest. This can include cactus made from sheet metal; picture frames made from cholla cactus, which is very wood-like, and Christmas ornaments made from dried gourds and then hand painted. Across the way, a woman is selling relishes made from various peppers, while another stand is selling garlic products.

Meanwhile, at  a bandstand in the middle of the park, bands provide a variety of musical entertainment, mostly playing Western and Mexican tunes. At least one band had people dancing in the aisles.

Driving to Patagonia
 The drive to Patagonia and then on to Nogales at the border with Mexico is considered one of the more scenic ones in the state. To get to Patagonia from Tucson, head east on I-10 and get off at exit 281, Highway 83. Stay on this road until you get to Sonita, then take a right on Highway 82, that continues into Nogales.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A scenic drive up Tucson's Mount Lemmon

The view of Tucson below
If you’re looking for a pleasant drive that combines stunning scenery with the smell of pine trees, the Catalina scenic byway out of Tucson should fill the bill. It's considered one of the most scenic drives in the southwest.

The curvy road rises more than 8,000 feet as motorists scale the heights of Mount Lemmon that stands 9,157 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains that flank one side of Tucson.  At the top, you’ll find the small village of Summerhaven with a couple of restaurants and a gift shop.

Just before dropping into Summerhaven, make a right turn to go to the Mt. Lemmon ski area. During the summer months, visitors can take a sky ride to the top of the mountain for ever more spectacular views. Be forewarned: parking is at a premium here, as well as in Summerhaven. Cars park on the

narrow shoulders and spill onto the narrow road, so caution navigating between the lines of cars is necessary.

The scenic drive through Coronado National Forest starts in the Sonora Desert; the cacti peter out about 4,000 feet in elevation. Next come a couple of thousand feet in elevation of shrubs and then tall, stately pine trees cover the mountains for the rest of the way. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic areas that start after the Palisades Visitor Center. The views are marvelous and the fragrance of the pine trees that fills the air is delicious. The U.S. Forest Service compares the journey to traveling from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles.

View from Windy Point pullout
The road has plenty of pullouts and vistas where visitors can take in the breathtaking views. Public restrooms are available at Windy Point, then just south of the visitor center and a couple of miles north at Inspiration Rock picnic area. Trailheads, some with limited off-road parking, are plentiful.

Because of its twists and turns, the road is very popular with motorcyclists, so be on the lookout for them. Again, because of its curviness, the Forest Service does not recommend traveling the road in a large motorhome or pickup pulling a travel trailer longer than 22 feet. Motorists should make sure their vehicles have good brakes for the trip down. When the brakes start heating up, it may be advisable to pull off the road for awhile to let them cool down.

To reach the highway, take the Speedway exit off of I-10 and head northeast a few miles to Tanque Verde. Turn left on Tanque Verde to Catalina Highway. Stay on this rod until it becomes General Hitchcock Highway and enjoy the ride to the top.

See more photos of the Mount Lemmon scenic drive on my Youtube channel.








Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A visit to Saguaro National Park's eastern section

Sagauro National Park
If a pleasant walk in the desert suits your mood, then head to Saguaro National Park Rincon east of Tucson. The park has a quarter-mile Desert Ecology loop trail that takes strollers by a variety of cactus and other vegetation.

The trail has plenty of benches where armchair hikers can sit and enjoy the surroundings. It’s paved, which makes it wheelchair-accessible.

Visitors should be on the lookout for wildlife. The ranger at the entrance kiosk says any type of wildlife, from creepy crawlies on up, can be seen. We only saw birds and bees, but did see a couple of places where larger animals had burrowed into the ground around trees.  A few miles down the road, however, we did see a black tree snake as it crawled off the narrow one-way road.

An eight-mile road loops through this section of the park. It undulates as it slowly makes it way closer to the Rincon Mountains. There are plenty of places to pull off the road to enjoy the view or walk a less developed trail. The park has about 150 miles of trails. More adventuresome hikers might opt for a 12-15 trek to Manning Cabin, an old vacation cabin.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro East teems with flora and fauna. The park is home to 25 varieties of cactus, 200 species of birds, 60 species of mammals and, of course, numerous reptiles, such as rattlesnakes and gila monsters.

Saguaro National Park is divided by the city of Tucson. The eastern section is known as Rincon Mountain District while the western portion is the Tucson Mountain District. The western section can be easily combined with a visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum or Old Tucson, while the eastern section is an outing unto itself. It’s reached by taking the Broadway or 22nd Street exits from I-10. Head northeast for several miles, then make a right turn onto Old Spanish Trail and follow the signs.
For more photos of the park, see Saguaro National Park on my Youtube chnnel.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tucson farmers market spsecializes in heirloom veggies

Rillito Farmers Market

Bring lots of money when you visit the Rillito Farmers Market in Tucson. Vendors offer plenty of free samples, and resisting the temptation to buy everything you try is a gargantuan task.

Varieties of heirloom tomatoes
More than 65 vendors offer fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables, as well as homemade baked goods, chemical-free meats, organic salsas, cheeses and nuts, and other organic products such as soaps and lotions

The Rillito market takes place every Sunday morning throughout the year at Rillito Park, 4502 N. First Avenue.

The market moved to its own pavilion in the park in October 2014from its former location near the grandstand. A month after the move, the market had already outgrown the three long, narrow open-sided pavilions, with many new vendors in all categories.

Heirloom peppers
The Rillito farmers market is one of three heirloom farmers markets in this section of Arizona. There’s one on Fridays at Tucson’s Jesse Owens Park and another on Saturdays in Oro Valley, north of Tucson.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paving over history: the Butterfield Trail

For the last couple of months we've  been commuting every week between Tucson and Yuma for  doctor's appointment. Each time we passed the Gila Bend exit off Interstate 10, we commented on the Butterfield Trail exit and how we should stop and explore it.

So that's what we did when we were coming back from Yuma last Friday. Only there was no trail to explore. Butterfield Trail signage stops with the freeway exit signs. We headed into Gila Bend for directions. A clerk at one store thought we meant Butterfield Trail Road and directed us there. It was a short street, maybe 100 or so yards long that ended at the entrance to an RV park.

We stopped at the office to get permission to cross through the park to get to the trail only to be told it didn't exist any more in these parts. It was long paved over for highways, the current one being U.S. 85 that is a shortcut to Phoenix from Yuma. We had actually driven on the Butterfield Trail and didn't know it. (I was expecting to see stage coach tracks, much like those that still exist on a secluded forest road near LaGrande, Oregon.)

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company used the trail used only between 1857 and 1861 to carry mail and passengers from St. Louis or Memphis to San Francisco.

It took the stage coaches just over 71 hours to traverse the 280 miles of Sonora Desert between Tucson and Fort Yuma. Today that route has been whittled to 226 miles that can be traveled in under four hours on 75 mph freeways.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pima Air & Space Museum: awesome!

Inside Hangar 3

A word of advice if you’re planning to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum in rural Tucson: go early. This isn’t a warning to go early to avoid the crowds. Rather, it is a warning to go early so you’ll have enough time to see this marvelous facility.

Some of the planes outside
We spent five hours at this 80-acre facility, and still didn’t see everything. The average visitor spends four to five hours, a ticket seller told us, noting visitors who are really fascinated with aviation usually buy a two-day pass. The museum is one of the largest aviation museums in the world, and the largest one that is privately funded.

In five hours, you’ll probably only be able to tour the space building and four hangers. Most of the planes, however, are outside and you’ll only see a small fraction of them as you walk between the buildings..

Believe me, this is not a place you’ll want to rush right through. The museum boasts more than 300 planes of every description and associated memorabilia. The planes are either on loan or were donated to the museum. For example, mostly military planes fill the four hangars; the military retains the ownership of the planes.

The main hangar is where visitors enter and leave the museum. It is chock-full of planes of all sizes. Two hangars are devoted to World War II planes. The space museum has a docking simulator, a portrait gallery of Arizonans who played active roles in this country’s aviation programs, and displays a moon rock. Another hangar/building is a stand-alone museum honoring the 390th Air Force wing and starring a B-17 Flying Fortress from World War II.
Inside the main hangar
All facilities have interactive or hands-on exhibits, like sitting in a plane’s cockpit. There’s also ample opportunity for kids to have their pictures taken “flying” miniature wooden aircraft.

The museum charges admission; optional guided tours are an additional cost. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Pima Air and Space Museum is located at 6000 E. Valencia Road. To get there, take Interstate 10 east toward El Paso, exiting at Valencia Road. Follow the signs from there.

The museum is handicapped accessible, with push wheelchairs and walkers that can be borrowed.  These work fine inside the buildings or on a few asphalt paths that connect some buildings, but are difficult to push elsewhere outside where gravel and dirt surfaces prevail.

A final word of advice: Take plenty of bottled water with you. Water fountains are available throughout the facility, but that water tastes highly chlorinated after drinking the bottled stuff.

More pictures of the air and space museum can be found on my Youtube channel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cactus complete desert landscape

Since arriving in Arizona in January, I've been intrigued with the variety of cacti growing here, from kitchen window sills to gardens to deserts,

An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 cacti grow around the world. Here are pictures of some I've found growing in Arizona. Unfortunately, I can't identify any of them. Well, I could I guess if I were willing to go through thousands of online photos or knew the official Latin name. So I just enjoy looking at the cactus  and preserving them in my photobook of memories.
If anyone can identify any of the cactus above, please leave a comment. Thanks!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tubac: a part of Arizona's Spanish past

Rocks outline where presidio walls were once
Tubac Presidio State Historical Park is a great introduction to the Spanish influence in what is now southern Arizona.

Father Kino, a Jesuit priest from Spain, arrived in the 1690s to establish a mission at Tumacacori and Tubac. He later would go on to found the San Xavier del Bac Mission just nine miles from downtown Tucson.

In 1752, Spanish soldiers built the presidio, or fort, at Tubac. The Presidio Real San Ignacio de Tubac became the first European settlement in what is now Arizona. Friendly Indians, from the Pima and Papago tribes, lived in the area. In 1775, Spanish soldiers from the garrison were sent further west where they founded what is now San Francisco, California.  Their departure left the fort unable to defend itself from unfriendly Indians, so the fort was closed and everyone moved to Tucson. The presidio would be re-established there in the 19th century, but was vulnerable to attacks from the invading Apaches.
First printing press in Arizona
And then the area became part of the United States with the 1858 Gadsden Purchase. The following year the first press in the new Arizona Territory was brought to Tubac and a weekly newspaper was published. The press is housed in the presidio museum, and still used for printing park publications.

Little is left of the presidio today. Rocks form an outline of where some buildings used to be. A section of the presidio can be seen underground where it was excavated in the 20th century. Buildings were constructed over the presidio; only a few remnants of these buildings remain. Park staff says they are being allowed to deteriorate naturally since they were not their when the presidio was constructed.
A chalkboard in the old schoolhouse
Three of the park’s buildings – all open to the public – are on the National Registry of Historic Places: the old school house, built in 1885; Otero Hall, built in 1914 and now home to an art gallery, and Rojas House, built in 1890 and left as it was when Luisa Rojas died.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was the first state park in Arizona. It was established in 1958. Old adobe houses surround the park. Many of these old buildings have been converted to art galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

The park charges an admission fee and is handicapped accessible. It is located about 45 miles south of Tucson. Take exit 34 off Interstate 19 and follow the signs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tucson zoo home to animals from around the world

Children's play area
If you’re traveling with children, a visit to the Reid Park Zoo will make their day. The zoo has about 500 animals, including birds and reptiles, that are housed in settings as close to their native habitat as you can find in southwest Arizona.

The zoo is home to animals from around the world, from Africa to Asia to South America. Offerings include feeding a giraffe (an extra fee), a children’s African-themed play area, and an interactive area at the conservation learning center. Other activities to come in closer contact with the animals change on a daily basis.
Snack time
The zoo, founded in 1965, is involved in several wildlife conservation and breeding programs. Visitors may see lion cubs at play; the birth of a baby elephant is anticipated with eagerness when we were there.

The Tucson zoo is not the best zoo in the world, nor is it the worst.  It is what it is. A nice small zoo that gives locals the opportunity to see animals from other parts of the world. It's a small zoo as zoos go, and its animals appear to be well cared for. The zoo has plenty of benches where visitors can rest from all the walking; unfortunately, most of the benches face away from the animals. Also, on the day we were there, dirty windows and glass panels prevented visitors from being able to see the animals clearly. Aside from this, the zoo is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

 The zoo is located at 3400 Zoo Court, just off 22nd. Go early, though, especially during the hot summer months. We arrived 45 minutes after the zoo opened to find the main parking lot was almost full.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Old locomotive stars at Tucson nuseun

Wheel of Locomotive #1673
The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is a small museum located at the former Southern Pacific Railroad depot in central Tucson.

The star of the museum is Locomotive #1673 that was built in New York in 1900. It was converted from burning coal to oil in 1906, and put into service by Southern Pacific Railroad. It racked up about a million miles hauling freight, mostly in the southern Arizona region.

The locomotive also starred in the movie Oklahoma when it was made in 1954, as well as in Tucson’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Southern Pacific in Arizona in 1955.  The locomotive was given to the City of Tucson following the celebration.

China used in dining cars
Today it has been cosmetically restored and inside a chain link fence on depot grounds.  The gate is locked, but if you ask at the museum, an attendant will unlock the gate so you can climb onto the engine. Today’s wannabe train engineers, he says, have it much cooler than the original men who drove the train. That’s because temperatures inside the cab could reach up to 150 degrees going down the tracks. This is why people always saw the engineers hanging out the side windows, he explains.

The museum proper is located in a small building known as the records building. It contains memorabilia, including china dishes used in dining cars and signal equipment. A miniature train circles the room from just below the ceiling.

The museum is open limited hours every day but Monday. Admission is free, though donations are suggested. It is located at 414 N. Toole Avenue. Parking is limited. The museum’s website says parking is free, but we only saw parking meters there.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tucson museum showcases international wildlife

Diorama about mountain animals
Visiting the International Wildlife Museum is almost like visiting a real zoo, only the animals aren’t alive any more. Many of them, however, are placed in dioramas that reflect their native habitat.

Located in rural Tucson, Arizona, the museum is home to more than 400 species of animals, birds and insects. The museum’s website notes that all the animals found inside the huge stone building were donated by such organizations as government agencies, zoos and wildlife rehab centers.

A walk through the museum begins with viewing some gorgeous butterfly specimens mounted under glass. There also are moths so large, it is unbelievable. There are animals from all over the world, even at least one that is no longer part of this world. That’s a HUGE woolly mammoth that roamed the earth thousands of years ago.
Interactive kiosks make learning fun
Interactive kiosks that test one’s knowledge of the animal world can be found inside the museum. Some of the exhibits may not be suitable for young children or anyone who is squeamish because they present realistic scenes of predators killing their dinner in the wild. Just walk swiftly by these dioramas to ones that show parent animals caring for their young.

The museum, founded in 1988, is affiliated with the Safari Club International Foundation. It is open daily and charges admission. It is located at 4800 W. Gates Pass Road in Tucson. The easiest way to get there is to take the Speedway exit off Interstate 10, and stay on Speedway, which eventually turns into Gates Pass Road.

Friday, August 15, 2014

National park honors iconic cactus

Saguaro National Park landscape
The Saguaro cactus stand tall and proud in this section of the Sonora Desert, reminding us of fir and pine trees in a forest.

Saguaro National Park was established in 1933 to protect and preserve these symbols of the American West as this cactus is found only in a small area of the desert that surrounds Tucson, Arizona. Tucson itself separates the national park. The west section is known as the Tucson Mountain District while the east park section is known as Rincon Mountain District.

View from the visitor center
The west district that we visited isn’t just desert, but also contains mountains more than 4,600 feet high. (Mountains more than 8.600 feet high can be found at Rincon.) Desert scrub and grass lands lie at the base of the mountains.

The Saguaro is the nation’s largest cactus and they’re visible almost as far as the eye can see. Other varieties of cactus, including the ocotillo, can be found there, though the Saguaro dominates the landscape. Its blossoms are the Arizona state flower.

Wild animals, including coyotes, desert tortoises and a variety of rattlesnakes, can be seen in the park.

The west section offers a five-mile gravel loop road giving visitors a glimpse of the park. There also are hiking trails, though walkers should be on the lookout for rattlesnakes during the hot months. Hikers also should be sure to carry lots of water with them.

Tucson Mountain visitor center
The park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily, though hikers and bikers can use the park around the clock. Camping is not available. Both park sections have visitor centers that are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

The Tucson Mountain District might be considered the poor man’s Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. That museum, located just a couple of miles away, charged admission of almost $20 per person per visit in 2014. The national park charges just $10 per vehicle for a weekly pass. The landscape isn’t that much different, though the desert museum several indoor exhibits in air-conditioned buildings.

The Tucson Mountain District can be reached by taking the Speedway exit off Interstate 10 in Tucson and heading south. Follow the signs to the desert museum, only keep going past the museum turnoff.

For more photos of the park, please see my Saguaro National Park slideshow.