Too Early! By now Dan, Jerry and Kramer resent Assana for booking these 7am-first-flight-out flights! Why? WHY?! Sorry boys! Once we are past the brand new TSA staging area, and Dan's bags are fully checked - apparently his camera bag screams "screen me!" - we know our journey will be same old same old since, once again, we are departing from the furthest possible gate in the airport… as a matter of fact, if we go any further, we will hit some construction and then end up on Montague Expressway. Having said that, we are departing from SJC's brand new terminal and it was fun experiencing it while it is still clean and relatively unused. Southwest airline's idea of nonstop is "we'll land once and you won't be able to leave the plane." In Tucson, Enterprise casually downgrades us to a crappy mid-size car - a Ford (un)Focus - from our full-size reservation and blames it on Expedia! (Squeaky wheels do get greased though: on the way back we tell the Enterprise guy we will never come back to them and he drops the entire rental charge to keep our business! Nice!)
Q Super sprawly city without an outer belt means it takes a long time to get anywhere from anywhere! An hour of brailing our way, and we are at our hotel, Ventana Canyon Resort, which is on the edge of town. The setting is nice, but the buildings are very dated, both in terms of architecture and the decor. The front desk gal gives us her "favorite" room, which turns out be on the inside elbow of an "L" and lacks privacy from both sides! Assana holds in her disappointment for a couple of hours, but it finally bubbles out! We go to the front desk to ask if there were any other rooms available. "I see you are Q-Club members." Enough said! Within an hour we have a much better room right next to the Presidential Suite. Thanx Andrew Harper!
The East and the West Saguaro National Park is split into two pieces: the east side which is the older side, and the west side, that used to be a National Monument, but was promoted recently because they thought the east side was dying out (it is not). The west side also borders Tucson Mountain Park which hosts the fabulous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Typically the weather is hot and dry, and the visitors are warned against dehydration and heat stroke. The day we spend at the museum is overcast, cold and the wind blows hard all day.
The museum is wonderful and beautifully done, and definitely worth the visit. Aside from all the variety of cacti, it houses a slew of desert creatures: bobcats, ocelots, big-horned sheep, mexican wolves and coyotes, hummingbirds and the ever elusive shoe-lace-loving ducks. We watch a raptor show with several Harris Hawks doing their hawky thing in the desert.
Clouds Hiking is quite different in the two sides. On the east side, the trail with its 70 feet of elevation gain, takes us thru a lot of mature Saguaros and allows us to get very close to these fabulous cacti. In contrast, the west side has big mountains, and the trails don't necessarily take you close to the cacti, but give you a nice view of them. We choose the Kings Canyon Trail which has a 1890 feet of elevation gain and ends up at Wasson Peak. The peak is above Saguaro elevation but gives us amazing views of the desert.
The Saguaros are like clouds: each is unique with its own personality. But, with their stretched arms, they all seem to be jolly and welcoming: "Hello! Welcome to my desert! Come here and give me a hug!" We take a bjillion photos and this is where Assana develops the obsession with the little baby nubbins who will grow up to be arms in, like, 30 years!
Soft? No! The Teddy bear Cholla is a cactus with what seems to be a halo of fuzz around it. It looks super soft and cuddly. In reality, according to the locals, it is the most vicious plant in the desert. What seems to be fuzz is the densest thorny thing you will ever see in your life. It propagates by leaving behind these thorn balls and while photographing them we notice a few stuck to our shoes. We try to take them off without touching them, but in one fleeing moment Assana slowly reaches for one. Noooooooo! One leaps out and grabs her fingers! She shakes her hand, which rolls the ball and embeds more thorns in her finger. These thorns are barbed (and probably hooked!) and they are deep in her finger. She is in excruciating pain! Dan tries to pry them off of her finger and, as he pulls, he can see her skin tenting! Ouuuuuuuch! He manages to pull all but one out. (Incidentally, the one that stays behind is still bothering Assana… it is so deep that she'll have to go to the doctor to have it removed.)
Lazy K Bar During one of our drives the landscape, all of a sudden, starts to seem familiar to Dan. Dan spent very many holidays here in Arizona, at a guest ranch called Lazy K Bar Ranch, at the foot of Hat Mountain. We drive off of the main road, and the combination of Dan's memory and his iPhone's gps brings us to the gate. It is locked; not a good sign for a guest ranch during the holidays. What used to be open desert on either side of the road leading to the ranch is now paved with tightly packed developments. It is both shocking and disappointing for Dan. Sorry baby! On the way out, however, he notices a steakhouse they used to ride horses to… Lil Abner's Steakhouse… and it is just as he remembers it. Yeay.
Another Decade We are typically not New-Year's-Eve types. Quite often we are in bed long before midnight... if we are lucky the fireworks wakes us up, but not often. This year Dan is even more not into it. Why? Who knows! It's Dan! In the eleventh hour the concierge manages to get us reservations at the Flying V which, by the way, was no where as crowded as they claimed. A nice dinner and a nice bottle of wine wraps up the decade for us. Buzzed, we head back to our room for our nightly fix of The Dog Whisperer, which we had been watching all week, and a cheerful movie: The Shinning! Yes, we are boring and weird, but we are content to have each other as partners in crime! Chhhstchhh!
We have lots more Saguaro pictures on our photo gallery.