Continuing westward, we selected Tucson AZ for one of our longer stays to allow time for truck maintenance. We settled in at Rincon Country East RV Park on February 22, 2017. Rincon East was the sixth park we called before procuring a reservation. Although many of the parks advertise numerous sites, park models or long-term visitors fill the majority of the spots leaving only a small percentage available for travelers. Rincon East has 460 sites but only 55 available for short-term stays. We learned later that our trouble getting reservations was also complicated by Rodeo week. Rodeo week is such a big deal that the schools are closed Thursday and Friday to allow the students to participate in the non-motorized parade and other rodeo-related activities.
There is so much to see in and around Tucson we had trouble deciding where to go and what to see. We chose Saguaro National Park East, or Rincon Mountain District, to explore first since it was close to our home base. This old guy looks like he has had a long hard life.
On March 1, 1933, President Hoover established Saguaro National Monument, but congress did not designate the property as a national park until 1994. During the sixty years as a monument the cactus dwindled in numbers due to poachers who stole the stately giants, cattle that trampled the young saguaros, and unusual freezing temperatures caused the plants to die. In the meantime, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, a visitor center opened in 1950, and scientific research of the saguaro life cycle began.
The 8-mile paved Loop Drive leads visitors to several trailheads, scenic vistas, pullouts, and picnic areas. At the pullouts, kiosks provide information about the park, the cactus, and the non-human creatures that live or visit each year. One sign said Tucson was known as the lightning capital of the world. A quick fact check revealed that Texas took the prize for the number of flashes (2.8 million) during 2014 and Florida ranked number one for the average number of flashes per square mile (21.0) from 2005 through 2014 according to Vaisala Inc. on the NOAA.Gov website. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum attributes Tucson’s unique combination of elevation and dry atmosphere as the reason lightning in Tucson is more visible. To experience Tucson’s lightning requires a visit during monsoon season between July and September.
Rooftops sparsely placed among the saguaros, Palo Verde, and mesquite, are barely visible looking west from Loop Drive.
The saguaros are returning, protected by mesquite and Palo Verde nurse trees. Consider that the saguaros do not generate arms until they are 95 – 100 years old.
Other sightings along the loop drive.
We headed downtown one afternoon to tour the Tucson Museum of Art and J. Knox Corbett House. Unfortunately, the museum closed early for an event so we only had about ten minutes to walk through the Corbett house, so no time to take photos or enjoy the art in the museum.
Old Town Artisans, housed on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson, a fort built by the Spanish in 1775, was only a few blocks from the museum. There we wandered through the galleries and shops gawking at the unique gifts, jewelry, paintings, pottery, and other items for sale.
We had received a recommendation to try El Charro for a meal. Four o’clock was a little early to eat dinner, but when the hostess said, “Now would be a good time to grab a seat,” we heeded her advice. Good thing we did. By the time we finished our meal, diners stood outside wrapped in their jackets waiting for a table. We both enjoyed the salmon taquitos with guacamole and the chicken mole enchiladas were some of the best I had ever eaten.
The Titan Missile Museum was next on our list. As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I crouched under my desk at school along with my classmates just as the teacher instructed us. At the time, I thought the exercise would keep me safe. Little did I know we all would have been burnt to a crisp had there really been a nuclear war. The song, “Russians” by Sting gave me hope that the Russians would not engage their nuclear weapons because they really did love their children.
The museum includes historical photos and tells the story of the 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States, each operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The missiles could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6300 miles away in less than thirty minutes. The one-hour guided tour includes the underground missile complex, the launch control center, and the missile silo. I’m so glad the little girl hiding under the desk never had to endure the tragedies of a nuclear war and pray no one will ever experience the destructive power of these types of missiles.
Next up is Tucson Part Two, which will include Biosphere 2, Mission San Xavier del Bac and Old Tucson Studio.