MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Break - Seeking Out Desert Heat

I escaped the sudden brutal cold in the mid-Atlantic and traveled to the dry heat of the desert.  I when I say heat, I mean it, as the thermostat read over 90 once of the days on my visit to Southern Arizona.  I love to take advantage of a good United sale and snatch up reasonable fares ... a this trip to Phoenix fit that bill perfectly.

My first stop (after the insanely long lines at the rental car center), Saguaro National Park in Tucson.  That's roughly an 1 1/2 hour drive from Phoenix.  And that meant I got there just in time to watch the sun set over the desert and mountains.  I love how accessible this park is - one of the 2 units is right outside the city limits.  There is no excuse to miss this park when in the area.  And while it has been a few years since I have looked upon this stretch of the southwest... it is majestic, it is magical.  Walk among the cacti and listen-there is life all around you.  As the sun sets, the sky lits up in beautiful strips of pink and purple.  The mountains glow and then dim into a black outline in the sky.  The towering saguaro freckle the landscape casting shadows to show how anthropomorphic their forms can look.  I love visiting this park, because even if you only have 2 hours there, you can still walk away feeling like you visited another world.  It was the perfect spot after spending all day in a plane and a car.

I needed a good sleep that night because I knew I wanted to stuff my next day with places further
south... as in right up to the border.  I left the next morning and headed to Coronado National Memorial.  The park unit honors the explored Coronado and his quest to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola but really explored and mapped the area north of central Mexico.  The terrain is rough, the elevation is high and it is dry.  Nothing say great hiking like those conditions, but he did it in armor, I could do it in my Merrells and my LLBean backpack.  So, off on the trail I went (after driving up the mountain, cuz we don't have donkeys at our disposal) and I hit the trail to the Mexican border.  The whole
way down into the canyon I cursed myself and my sense of adventure knowing I was going to have to climb back up.  And as I neared the border, I was certain I was losing my mind, I heard cows "moo'ing"!  This was not terrain that I would think to find cattle but eventually I was able to spot them down at the bottom of the canyon once I turned on a switch-back toward the border.  I took my border selfie (as the park ranger wanted proof for my park pin award), snapped too many pictures of the landscape and the starting line of the Arizona trail, rested and drank some water before I headed back up.  And then I rested again and again... I had forgotten how high up I was, that incline was hard.  I am not going to lie.  In fact, I had to talk myself into forging on but once I got through that last switchback I was golden.  And that was good, because I was keeping my eye on my watch - I still needed to get to Tumacacori. 

Once safely down the mountain, and awarded with my hiker's pin from the Park Service, I watered up
and headed out to the historic missions site.  It was only 50 miles away BUT being in the remote location I was in, this translated into a 2 hour drive.  I got there with an hour to spare and that was perfect, that was all I needed.  The park site is the historic missions and surrounding structures.  It preserves the local Native American and Spanish missionary interactions, the Mision structure, the orchard ... oh, who am I kidding, it preserves the site where missionaries destroyed a native culture by reeducating them.  Off with those pagan customers and onto the new enlightened ways of the catholic church.  I have such a hard time stomaching these stories.  It angered me in Italy to see how the "my religion is better than your beliefs" destroyed culture and scientific advancement, and I angers me to see it here too.  We never learn from history. And these poor people, whom survived with the land were forced change because newcomers thought they knew better.  Would the world not be a better place if we did not destroy, but instead understood?  I don't know.  I didn't live this.  But I do know that we all need to learn from each other.  Preserving these places is important to tell these stories and remind each other that we can learn/understand and not vilify each other belief systems.

Okay - off my soapbox.

After a quick stop in the art town, Tubec for some grub, I headed back to Phoenix... I had a date with a NKOTB friend.

After resting up in Mesa that evening, I met my friend and we headed to my first Renaissance Festival.  I have no idea how I have missed this fun my entire life.  There have been times where I know I wanted to hit the Maryland RenFair but have just never made it.  Years and years ago, I dated a larper, whom wanted to take me to the Fair for fun (because in his mind, RenFairs were child's play).  We never went.  So, Arizona was my first.  And man was it a fun day!  We saw insult comedy, fire whips, a birds of prey show, some puppetry and a jousting tournament.  We tried on feathery hats and perused the costumes.  I procured a wonderful spider for my hair!  We had our fortunes told (apparently my palm says I like to travel and that I love to share information - HA)!  And at the end of the day, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the mountains. 

The following day, I got to see a friend that works for a sister agency (I hate to say "work friend"
since she is more than that).  We headed north of Phoenix to Montezuma Castle National Monument.  And there we learned about the cliff dwelling embedded in the limestone hills.  We hiked around the Well, climbing many steps to get a closer look at the aquatic environment that this acidic, arsenic, low O2 content water hosted.  A fantastic park volunteer at the Castle told us what to ask the rangers to see... and because of him, I got to see macroorganisms straight out of Harry Potter... ever wonder what a blast-ended skewt would look like?  Well, I would venture that it looks oddly similar to the aquatic scorpion that has a scuba hose out its butt!  Mother Nature is awesome.  And seeing endemic species just underscore that fact.  Odd ball creatures, like these, grow out of necessity.  I could still do without that visual of the leeches that looked like vacuum hoses.  After the well, we headed to the V Bar V
Ranch on US Forest Service land and learned out the amazing petroglyphs.  And looking upon these ancient etchings and symbols (and how they were so well preserved), my love for the parks and what we all do to protect these sites soared.  We need these places in our lives.  It is a connection to something bigger... and yet, these walls are function like a ancient twitter, facebook, blog and library.  There are stories there.  Stories that we may never full understand, but they are trying.  We all share a fear and wonder of the unknown, and the etchings near the crack to "hell" tell of that shared story.  Such a wonderful place... Go see it!

And that was it... my quick trip to the City of the Sun, the Grand Canyon State (even if I got no where near it).  Went from Phoenix to Tucson, to the border, back to Phoenix and then up to Montezuma and back... this was an easy trip!  I still have plenty of reasons to head back... Canyon de Chelly is still taunting me!  So, I will have to watch those sales (but just stay away in the summer!)

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