Penny and Mark Hike

The goal was to hike to the top of a mountain. Mark had scouted out the possibilities in hiking guides and on line. He chose a nearby trail which was rated a medium to medium difficult challenge. It’s in the Saguaro National Park so one could expect the trail to be well maintained. Unlike the Arizona state trails since park maintenance is one of many line items which have been eliminated from the state budget.
We started off at 7:00 through the cactus, palo verde trees and rocks, walking the gravel stream bed towards our destination, Wasson peak 4,687 feet. We began to climb and the consequences of my previously light hearted assent to the hiking proposal began to dawn on me. Few people were on the trail and not until we reached the first summit did we meet anyone. Three very fit looking hikers were enjoying a respite from their run up the trail which we had been plodding along for hours. I had been walking on the top of the brick sized rocks and gravel trying not to lose my balance and pitch down into the cactus or worse. I was hardly aware of the vista until we stopped there on a bit of land between two looming peaks.
Everyone who hikes regularly knows that the top of the mountain is not that hill you see in front of you. No it’s further and higher and requires much more effort than you have given so far. Not being a hiker I had to learn this one myself. About two and a half hours into the hike I looked ahead and gave up. The young men in shorts and t-shirts who had passed us earlier were merrily jogging along the switchback trail above. The term insurmountable came into my mind. I sat down and could not be moved. The view was good. Through the branches of an ocotillo I could see far into the distance to the suburbs of Tucson. I watched Mark go up the mountainside to my left while listening to George Jones on the ipod. George did it for me. I recognized that it only took the length of a few songs for Mark to make it to the summit saddle. It came to me that if I couldn’t finish this hike I would lose influence with Mark when I proposed a joint adventure of my own later. No one wants to go tearing off into the unknown with a quitter after all. Pulling myself up and reloading George I pushed on to the top. Mark was right that I would feel great about it. The way down seemed long but by then I was listening to a podcast of Paul Theroux traveling through Vietnam as a way to divert my attention from my aching butt and feet. Mark was amusing himself by actually picking up rocks as large as bricks to bring back. I looked over and astonishingly he was carrying a big load of them in the backpack as well as hand carrying what he judged to be really great chunks of stone which could not be left behind.
We smirked when we passed a group milling around in the gravel at the beginning of the trail. They were each fully decked out in the total Patagonia clothing adventure traveler disguise including straw hats with colorful hand-woven indigenous like hat bands. Many were older than us although some probably were contemporaries. We could overhear the guide telling them that they were only about a quarter of the way from the trail end. We could hear the moaning and wheedling about weather worries and equipment shortfalls. And I thought the distance is nothing compared to the hike up a winding windy and cold pathway. We continued merrily tromping down the gravel wash, one of us carrying thirty pounds of rocks in his hands ; the other one trying to land gently on tired knees and thighs lest she collapse.
The rain was starting as we got into our car. Upholstered seating never felt so good.



Desert Dogs and Tropical Butterflies

What do hot dogs and butterflies have in common? Well, both fill the places we often visit in Tucson. Especially the hot dogs several times a week. I spend one morning each week at the Tucson Botanical Garden in the Butterfly Magic Exhibit, billed as an indoor exhibit of live tropical butterflies. Yea, I know, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. Hundreds of these critters are fluttering about a greenhouse filled with orchids, lantana, pitcher plants, hibiscus and more plants that butterflies love. My tasks are limited to monitoring the coming and going of visitors and picking up leaf litter and expired critters.
Hot dogs, known here as Sonoran hot dogs, sell from lunch wagons in parking lots and vacant lots throughout the city. Sonora is the Mexican state directly south of Tucson and thus the name. Panel trucks are parked next to portable barbeque wagons roasting hot dogs wrapped in bacon before being snuggled into a soft bun and covered with beans, grilled onions,chopped tomatoes, green sauce and crema…kind of like crème freche. One of the stands is now morphed into enclosed spaces that are loud and lively and each is named El Guero Canelo…the redheaded guy. The GC is very popular and a wonderful spot in which to eat and watch families and packs of single men line up to buy their famous sandwiches. The newest one has a video monitor playing clips of previous travel channel shows featuring these hot dog extravaganzas. One is the Man vs. Food guy and you can see how a professional gorger could like this place. And laminated newspaper articles from the New York Times are found at the order window. Mark has developed such a liking for the double dog name “The Sammy” that we have returned several times. All carts feature a condiments bar where the customers can add as much salsa, green tomatillo salsa, onion, mushrooms, radishes as they desire. The biggest condiment bars include roasted green onions and blackened fat chiles. My google search this morning for the Times article alerts me to a Travel Channel filming at El Guero Canelo and its rival BK Tacos. The latter serves beer I discover after another quick Google search. That bit of information may make BK the next new dinner option. Travel Channel, New York Times. Watch out. We could be seeing the birth of a food fad to equal the frozen yogurt explosion of the nineties. If Andrew Zimmer and Anthony Bourdain show up we’ll know.

Desert Hot Dogs and Tropical Butterflies

Last night’s Sonoran Hot Dog from BK.  The grilled white chile comes with each dog. Continue reading


The first friendly face we encountered at our latest apartment…remarkably named The Legends at La Paloma….was Stella. Not one person passes Stella without a smile blooming on his or her face. Her sprightly color and jazzy striped appearance delights one and all. She is often right outside our door and is the first to greet us when we walk in the morning or when we return from a trip down into the heart of Tucson.
Via Palomita is a turn off a major street which rings the mountain foothills. One drives through rising hills to reach this street which travels across the northern edge of the City. The road rises higher and higher and as one looks backwards the entire metro area and surrounding mountains come into view. On most mornings the mountains are a rare and beautiful sight; their color changes through the day from salmon to brown to rust. The air is generally clear and sparkling. The morning and evening sky is often tinged with a delicious salmon pink. Beyond the mountains are plains filled with the majestic saguaro cactus surrounded by its much smaller cousin the chollo cactus notable for the startling halo effect of its thorns when the sun hits the cactus. My memory recalls many movies and television shows in which the wagon train meanders across the plain accompanied by the stalwart handsome clean- shaven cowboys wearing well tailored leather vests and pristinely white hats.
Stella is unfazed by the view it seems. Day after day she does not move but during the wee hours of the night she is able to jump to a parking spot on the opposite side of the drive. This has occurred two or three times in the past six weeks. No matter on which side of the drive she resides Stella has always been there to give our spirits a lift. For many years I have kept a card which Mark gave me. On it a couple in a motorcycle with a sidecar is pictured. The caption inside is something about the traveling partner being as important as the places you go. I couldn’t agree more.

Reunion in the Desert

Last week the chicks flew back to the home nest from Missoula, Montana and Palm Beach, Florida for a bit. After checking them over for ticks and missing digits Mom and Dad took them out for sightseeing and desert hiking here in Tucson, Arizona, where we are perched for the next few months. The chicks suggested some sites that we might have passed over, most notably the chicken coop tour organized by the local food coop. We all trooped from backyard to backyard and watched chickens pecking and eating. You’d be surprised what some varieties of chickens look like. The day started with breakfast at the wonderful Cup café in the Hotel Congress, famous as the last hotel in which gangster John Dillinger stayed and also for the live music at the bar and the interesting folks who eat in the café. There were trips to the Indian mission San Xavier de Bac as well as a short walk in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains nearby, a wild Scrabble game in which Andy stunned us all with his game winning word “larn” and we all morphed into Go Big Red fans for a couple of hours watching the game against the Texans on the laptop.
Mark and I have been living the life since the first of November. Both of us spend days at the local hospital known for its service to the poor, St. Mary’s. He is a temporary therapist and I don a pink volunteer uniform, my first since I left behind my high school pep club uniform in 1967, and answer questions at the patient information desk. Since that is only a part time gig for me I am also spending time in the butterfly house at the Tucson Botanical Garden. The work which may define my time here is with a group named No More Deaths. I just started going to the meetings and am looking forward to spending some time working alongside the longtime committed volunteers.

Family hike in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains