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.