Road Trip IX, Days 11-16, Tucson to Central Texas: Why Have I Never Heard Of This Park Before?

Disclaimer: some of the pictures from this stretch of our trip come from parks that are very well known indeed. Like Saguaro National Park, whose two sections frame Tucson. We love Saguaro, but we have fallen into a rut the last few times through, opting to ride our bikes around the wonderful 8-mile loop of the eastern chunk of park. This time, we went west.

Now THIS is winter desert. Right?

But that glorious sunshine didn’t greet us till the second day. What did? THIS. 

Really, Tucson? Really?!

There’s a reason I have no pictures of Tucson’s sweet downtown, as we were too busy avoiding frozen puddles and hunkering down in coffee shops to sightsee.

But when it came to snowy cactus, my camera couldn’t get enough.

Ocotillo…which ought to be blooming this time of year!

I really need to stop clicking and start hiking.

Okay, okay…one more!

Also on the west side is the Desert Museum, one of the best put-together set of exhibits we’ve ever come across to interpret the desert environment.

Really cool sculpture there, tracing the evolution of animal life from protozoan on up.

It happens to include a zoo, made up of animals rescued from injury or abandonment.

Like Cruz the puma, who gave us the death-stare from three feet away (behind glass).

The greater Tucson area also includes a good network of bike paths, but the section we rode was more about exercise and visiting with an old friend, so no photos there either. Ditto on the tacos.

After three days of civil, though, we were eager to revisit one our favorite and least-known parks: Chiricahua National Monument.

Hoodoos in my happy place!

We’re pretty sure the only people who know about this park in Arizona’s extreme southeast corner are friends of ours we’ve raved to, or birders. Birders know the Chiricahuas, because they rear up to 10,000 feet, create their own riparian system in the desert, and act like an oasis for bird species you’d otherwise have to go to Mexico to spot.

The Mate and I aren’t birders, or we wouldn’t have been there in February. We’re hikers. And once again, having arrived just after a snowstorm, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of big rocks in snow.

Enough of these to make giant mushroom soup.

Different flavor of mushroom?

The Mate above Echo Canyon

Me in The Grotto

Or just big rocks.

Can’t…stop…taking…pics!!

Camping was cold: 28 degrees.

With faithful Red Rover in the background

We’ve slept through colder, though, and it was so worth it to be there at sunset…

G’night…

…and under starlight, and sunrise (even though my fingers were too chilled for photos by then).

Next stop: Las Cruces, NM, a town we’ve driven past multiple times. This time we met a friend there and, unusually for us, stayed in an artsy inn.

VERY artsy.

We also hiked, twice, in a section of another park we’ve never bothered to notice: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

Heading for Dripping Springs…which were actually dripping.

I kept thinking, “This is just as cool as the Pinnacles! Where has this park been all my life?” No condors, true, but…

This! (and the ruins of an old TB sanatorium. This place would heal me!)

There was also a cave, which came with intriguing stories from the 1700s about a murdered priest/hermit.

No disrespect, Father What-was-your-name.

Made of volcanic tuff…ancient, petrified ash.

Before heading out across the dismally flat and featureless West Texas plain, we hit one more park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park was first introduced to us via the mystery writer Nevada Barr, whose park ranger protagonist, Anna Pigeon, worked there in Barr’s first book. While hiking solo, I kept that book cover in mind: it featured a puma print. (Puma attacks have been in the news lately…)

But pretty soon the scenery seized hold of my attention.

Hey, wow–a madrona tree! Like a hello wave from the Pacific Northwest!

The Guadalupes are part of the same range as the hollowed-out mountain which we know as Carlsbad Caverns. They are an ancient reef of limestone, uplifted 6-8,000 feet and eroded from within by water.

You can see how much this stuff wants to be hollowed out.

I saw plenty of evidence of that geology on my speed-hike (racing sunset).

On the right: pure, smooth limestone–probably full of fossils. On the left, an aggregate of loose rock glued back together somehow. Oh, why aren’t I a geologist???

The real “prize” of that hike was this formation, Devil’s Hall:

Ever notice how the Devil gets all the cool stuff named after him?

But the whole hike was cool. We’ll definitely be back to the Guadalupes, hopefully to camp!

After spending the night in the town of Carlsbad, we put on our big-kid panties and headed out across West Texas.

Sighhhh.

Now THIS scenery we can all be forgiven for not knowing about.

While we’re on the topic, though, I’ll ask my annual Road Trip Question: does anyone have any special, little-known beauty spots of their own to tell about?

Road Trip IX, Day 6-10, LA to Tucson: Climate Change And Other Extremes

THIS was our gateway to sunny SoCal, on I-5 South just above LA:

Tejon Pass. The northbound highway was closed.

Once there, in the city where my mom was born & raised, where my grandparents & uncle are buried, we holed up for a few days with my dear college housemate & her husband, visiting with them as well as some of my cousins AND a dear almost-sister of the Mate’s, Rhonda.

I’ve been to LA more times than I can count, since childhood. Since I can no longer visit my grandparents, this time I chose to notice contrasts and extremes. For example…LA is this:

Looking south from Will Rogers State Park

and this.

The LA River, with trees full of garbage and the former belongings of homeless people, flooded out

It’s the 100 year-old avocado tree whose fruit my wonderful cousins gifted us with

We got a whole bag full! Thanks, guys!

and it’s the Woolsey Fire, which spared Rhonda’s house (and chickens–a miracle) but destroyed the art studio where she and her late husband Alisha made and kept all their creations (she’s a metal artist; Alisha did glass).

That slab is all that’s left of the 2-storey studio.

Part of one of Alisha’s pieces that survived the fire

If you think about it, that fire from last November–California’s largest ever–is itself a symbol of extremes. Too much drought mixed with too many people = misery. It burned nearly 100,000 acres and over 16,000 structures…including these, Rhonda’s neighbors across the road:

I’d seen it on TV. But it’s so different when it’s all around you.

I can only hope these folks can recover their lives. Their mailbox has a personal note to “George,” their mailman.

Leaving LA for what we call The Big Left Turn to cross the rest of the continent, we made our recreational stop in one of our favorite, accessible national parks, Joshua Tree. The first set of trails is only 8 miles (but a world away) from the interstate.

We are so lucky to be able to walk so safely into the desert like this. Think of all the people for whom the desert means danger.

Since I have so many pictures of rocks, this time I focused on flowers.

These pool little golden poppies are too cold to open!

There were a lot of them! Ah, blessed spring.

Isn’t this gorgeous? Anyone know what it is?

But what’s up with those dark clouds?

Ocotillo cactus blossoming

Hmmm. Getting colder by the minute.

Last little blob of sunshine…

By the time the Mate took this, snowflakes had begun to fall.

Hurry up, my legs are freezing.

Let’s get out of here! Dropping back down to I-10, we left the white stuff behind…

…until next morning, driving into Tucson. Seriously?!

Seriously.

I don’t know if this is just Climate Change, or Nature’s way of reminding me I need to include “Snow Falling On Saguaro” in my photo gallery. I saw that, all right, but unfortunately I didn’t capture it…’cause I was too cold and wet to take off my gloves.

Sun’s supposed to come out tomorrow. It would be nice to have something non-extreme to notice for a change.