Sunday, February 10, 2013

First time in Tucson

After Carlsbad, we set our sites on Tucson, Arizona. We were apprehensive about finding a place to stay because the Gem Show was in full swing. We thought we would be lucky to find a place to put the Mary Joan anywhere close to the city. As has happened so many times, we found that not to be a problem at all. We rolled into the Tucson Mountain Park's Gilbert Ray Campground shortly after 2 PM and found that there were many camping sites available.

Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountain Park

The Tucson Mountain Park occupies roughly 20,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert adjacent to another 20,000 acres of the Saguaro National Park. Needless to say, this vast expanse of protected desert is spectacularly beautiful. The campsites are large and well separated from one another. Since this is the desert, the only utility available at the campsites was electricity. Water was available from a few hydrants throughout the campground.

The morning after our arrival, we joined a ranger guided walk through the desert and learned a great deal about the ecology of the Sonoran desert. We found that the fragrance of the desert during the rain came from the Creosote bush. When the leaves of the bush become wet, they release a pungent aroma that is the signature fragrance of the desert in the rain.
Fruit of the Fish Hook Barrel Cactus. Quite tart, otherwise, a nice flavor.
Our ranger showed us what an important role “nurse” plants play in the growth of the majestic saguaro. It happens that the Saguaro sets thousand of seeds each season, but germination only occurs when and where many conditions of moisture and temperature are met. When these conditions occur, the place is usually under a Palo Verde tree. The tree acts as a 'nurse' or shelter for the young and fragile cactus. The nurse plant protects the young Saguaro from the sun until it is large enough to stand on its own. Eventually, the Saguaro outlives its nurse plant and stands on its own. Another interesting observation was the Saguaro's need for a particular set of circumstances to germinate. Once our guide pointed it out, it should have been obvious. Because conditions for successful germination and growth only happen every several years, the size of the Saguaro is not a smooth continuum, reflecting an annual succession of older plants. Rather, it was apparent that there were gaps in that continuum, years when no Saguaro were propagated. Our ranger called the Saguaro of similar age, cohorts.
A juvenile saguaro growing beneath its nurse tree, a palo verde. 

At Gilbert Ray Campground we met another Airstream couple, Tim and Amanda Watson. Tim and Amanda are from Vermont and are full timing in their aluminum abode. They have a very nice website here:

The must do hike from the campground is the Brown Mountain trail. It is about a 6 mile loop through the Sonoran desert. The first 2 miles climb about 500 feet with a drop of about 200 feet then back up 150 feet before descending back to the start. Surprisingly, we discovered lichen on rocks at the higher elevations.
I was surprised to find lichen in the desert.

Sarah and I spent some time at a couple venues of the Gem Show that was ongoing in Tucson. It is the largest gem show in the nation. We saw amazing geodes, some as large as a bathtub. Sarah found some rubies for a ring she is designing. After seeing some of the gem show, we sought our El Charro Mexican restaurant. It is the oldest continually operation family restaurant in Tucson. We were told that the tamales were the best anywhere. We agree, the tamales were the best we had ever had.

Phoenix is next down the road. Stay tuned.

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