Saturday, January 14, 2006

Exploring the Tucson Area


We've settled into our home for the month of January, the Rincon Country RV Resort on the east side of Tucson. Although there are a few RVs, most of the park residents are "snowbirds" who have a park model or mobile home and commute from the northern states. Lots of Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin license plates on vehicles this time of year. It's a very nice location with beautiful facilities and planned activities, nicely landscaped with palm trees and cactus. We decided to take a trip to Mt. Lemmon, and since we have the Jeep, drive down the back side. The road from Tucson to the top is paved and well maintained, and leads to a ski area and the small community of Summerhaven, much of which is still being rebuilt after the Aspen fire of 2003. Not many people know about or drive down the back side, for good reason. From the top, it's 29 miles of rugged dirt road to the town of Oracle, and is not maintained. Stocked up with water, tools, and a topo map, off we went. On the paved road to the top, we stopped at the Windy Point vista, where we were able to see the drastic growth of Tucson since we lived here in the early 70s. After lunch at the ski lodge restaurant (still no snow this year), we headed down the back side. The scenery was beautiful for the first 5 miles or so while we were in the forest; and we had plenty of time to enjoy it at 10-15 mph over the ruts and rocks. The terrain gradually changed to scrub trees, and finally to desert. Throughout the 2-hour trip, we only saw one other person; a ranch hand on an ATV checking water holes. At Oracle, I decided to take a back road for what I thought was a 30-40 mile trip to Benson where we'd join the interstate back to Tucson. As it turned out, my map skills were not with me, and it was double that and took 3 hours on some of the most beautiful dirt road we've ever been on. The road followed the San Pedro river southwest from Mammoth through ranchland and a mix of desert and river bottom. We passed many working ranches and even ran into a herd of Javelina on the road. Unfortunately, the drought has taken it's toll; many ranches were up for sale and the hay fields along the river were dry and dusty. We finally arrived in Benson just before sunset; the end to a perfect day of exploring.
No trip to Tucson is complete without visiting the Sahurao cactus, and on Friday we were off to the Sahauro National Monument just west of Tucson. We crossed Gates Pass and the Old Tucson studios, drove past the Desert Museum and entered the monument area, which stretches for miles along the foothills. Once again, we ended up on a dirt road and were glad to have the Jeep. We hiked the Valley View trail to the top of a hill which gave us a great view of the sahuaro "forest" below. Returning to the paved road, we headed back to Gates Pass to join the crowd that gathers each evening to watch the sunset. It was the perfect end to a great day; the sun setting in the west, and a beautiful moonrise to the east.

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