Tucson, Arizona marks the beginning of a transition for us, this is one of the towns that we are considering as our next home. Many people know that we planned our walkabout for three years and that last year we extended it for one more year. Well we are now well into that fourth year. So in the month of March, we will be touring Tucson.
We fell in love with Tucson and the Sonoran Desert three years ago when we approached the city from the West and were greeted by so many beautiful Saguaros. I wrote about them in my post Tucson and the Sentinels of the Desert.
So we are here to check out the town once again and compare it to our other final choice. I will write more about how we came up with our “finalists” in later posts.
But back to Tucson – we stayed in the center of town at Sentinel Peak RV Park, so that we could have easy access to the city. Check out my review of the park here.
Our plan was to enjoy some of what the city has to offer, select a realtor, look at some houses, and best of all visit friends.
We began by finding out about the local happenings, and the biggest one was the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. In its eighth year, the festival attracts over 100,000 people.
Since we were staying near the center of town, we took the SunLink, the new Tucson streetcar, to the University. The sidewalk by the streetcar station had lots of pretty tile inserts, such a special touch!
The Tucson Festival of Books is a community-wide celebration of literature with 350 authors delivering workshops and presentations. Authors also are available to meet and greet the public at the author pavilion and in some of the booths with their books. The proceeds from sponsorship of the event sustain the festival and also support local literary programs.
The Festival of Books also includes Science City, whose mission is to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education with displays, interactive activities and more. This is the largest science event in Arizona, and “no other book festival in the country has an emphasis on STEM literacy that is comparable”.
There are over 60 performances and lots of activities over the three days, many of them geared to children such as readings and two youth contests.
The weather was perfect on the day we attended, with flowers beginning to bud and oranges in the trees.
We really enjoyed strolling through the festival, spending more time at the community booths than the book events since we wanted to learn as much about the community as possible. Overall, it was a great event and we were impressed by the U of A campus.
A few days later, our friend Vincent arrived at our campground on his way back to Oregon from Texas. Although his site was just across from ours, he set up his outdoor stove at our site so he and Hector could cook together.
Vince is a fabulous cook and he made some mouth-watering butternut squash risotto. Ay, ay, ay. Delish!
The next day the three of us visited the Titan Missile Museum just outside of town. This is the only Titan II missile site that has been preserved from 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert across the United States during the Cold War – from 1963 to 1987.
The museum tour takes you to the underground silo, where the missile could launch in just 58 seconds from the time that two secret codes were entered by two Airmen, one of whom was always an officer. There was a strict rule that 2 airmen always be present at the controls.
Once launched the missile could deliver a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6,300 miles away in 30 minutes. Thankfully, we never had a reason to discover its full capability.
This is a very interesting tour for anyone with an interest in history, regardless of how they may feel about nuclear arms.
On the way back from the museum, we stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, about as big a contrast from the missile museum as possible. The mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Father Kino really got around, you see him referenced in missions throughout the southwest.
The original church, constructed in 1756, was destroyed. A new church was completed in 1797 after Franciscans took over the mission when the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain. Then an earthquake in 1887 caused extensive damage. Repairs began in 1905, with further restoration after a lightning strike in 1939. Finally, in 1978 a group was formed to promote the conservation of Mission San Xavier, and their conservation efforts continue.
The impressive and imposing white structure is sometimes referred to as the White Dove of the Desert. It is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, and is a National Historic Landmark. While we walked the grounds a choral group was singing in the bell tower and we could hear them from all corners. It was magical.
The mission is located in the Wa:k village of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation and retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners. They do not rent out the church and do not want it to be used for advertising of commercial businesses or as a set for movies. Good for them.
A few days later we interviewed some realtors and selected a husband and wife team that we felt really “got” us. They were kind enough to take us to see houses all over town. All told we saw about 35 houses over several outings.
Of course, they are aware that we may not ultimately choose Tucson, but were still willing to give us their time. That is what I call service.
We learned a lot about the neighborhoods in Tucson, and the types of houses available within our budget. We love those desert mountain views!
We also spent time with our friends Jean and Jerry and Bill and Nancy. We got together several times during the course of our stay for various fun meals, cocktails, a concert and one bicycling outing.
They have been wonderful and welcoming and educational every time we are here in Tucson. We are so grateful for their friendship.
Another great event that we attended was the Spring Artisans Market, held in the courtyard of the Tucson Museum of Art. This is one of two annual events, the other is held in November. The market featured over 100 juried artisans and works of pottery, glass, jewelry, textiles, and fine art. We love art fairs and this was a quality one.
The Museum is free and open to the public during the three days of the market and we visited the museum’s current exhibitions: a wonderful Latin American folk art collection, a collection of American West artwork, ceramics and glasswork, and an installation by Ai Wei Wei named Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold.
This last exhibit is a reinterpretation of twelve bronze animal heads representing the Chinese zodiac that once adorned an imperial retreat in Beijing. They functioned as a water clock-fountain, and when the retreat was ransacked by French and British troops, the heads were pillaged.
The installation focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation, in keeping with Ai Weiwei’s focus on activism through his art. This was his first major public sculpture project and is quite impressive.
Back to more practical matters, we took Angel back to one of the veterinarians she saw last year for some blood tests. It is nice to have some continuity once in a while. Angel is doing very well for her age, although she is on a few medications. But she is happy and perky, and daddy spoils her terribly.
We didn’t sample too much local cuisine, but we had to try the famous Sonoran Hot Dog. It is a hot dog “wrapped in bacon and grilled to perfection, topped with beans, grilled onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, cream sauce, mustard and jalapeño salsa”.
We chose the BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs (a great name for sure) for lunch, as it is one of the original places that served these and also recommended by our friend Jerry, who joined us. I was not up for the hot dog, so I chose the carne asada and pastor taco which was yummy.
Hector loved his hot dog and ordered a second one. The restaurant also served Michelada – in Mexico each restaurant serves their own unique mix of lime, hot sauce, sometimes tomato or Clamato juice and other spices that is then served in a chilled beer glass with a salted rim. You then combine your choice of beer (ours was Negra Modelo) with this mix – delicious! MIchelada is hard to find in the states so we are always happy when we find a place that serves it.
Then it was time to take one of the local’s favorite drives (particularly during the hot summer): the drive to Mount Lemmon. At 9,159 feet, it is the Santa Catalina’s highest mountain peak.
The mountain was named after botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, who climbed the mountain with her husband, E. O. Stratton in 1881 on horse and foot. At the top are the town of Summerhaven and the Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States.
The 27-mile drive from the bottom takes about 90 minutes, climbs from the Sonoran desert to semi-desert grassland, oak woodland, ponderosa pine forest and finally to a mixed conifer forest, on average 20 degrees cooler than the bottom. The mountain has some of the most wide-ranging natural diversity to be found in any area of comparable size in the continental United States.
The views of Tucson and the surrounding mountains are gorgeous, with lots of Saguaros at the bottom and some very cool hoodoos as you climb, as well as lots of views of canyons and many interesting looking trails.
When we reached the top it was snowing! First a light dusting then a slightly heavier snow fell upon us. Very cool! Amidst all of that we saw quite a few birds, in fact we came upon some bird watchers that had spotted some life birds up there.
The ski valley looked tiny, but was not open so it was hard to tell. But it was overall an amazing mountain and worth further exploration.
Back in Tucson, we met some new friends. Our friend Nanci from Portland has family in the area and she introduced us via Facebook to her sister and her mother. So we planned to get together for brunch on the last Saturday of our stay.
Our brunch was at Mercado San Agustin, a sweet little courtyard that is home to several restaurants, a bakery, and a variety of shops. We were amazed at all of the bird life in the courtyard, even though we were in the middle of the city. And we totally hit it off with Ana and Aurora and look forward to spending more time with them.
One evening we attended a concert featuring some local artists. The Temenos Quartet consists of acoustic guitar, alto sax, electric bass and drums and percussion along with vocals from the two women in the group. They play an eclectic mix of music, sometimes haunting, sometimes lively.
We met Will Clipman, the percussionist, along with his significant other, Shery, last year. This was the first time we saw Will play, although he plays with various other local artists. It was great to see them again, and we enjoyed the quartet very much.
It was a busy but fun and festive month in Tucson, including some outdoor time in the spectacular Sonoran Desert, more on that coming up in the next post.