Southwest Saguaro Magic

A last minute (and I mean last minute) weekend getaway took us to clear and sunny Tucson, AZ to escape the cold, gray, rainy weather in Indy.  Tucson was everything we hoped for and more.

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We opted out of the typical hotel accommodations and found two properties through Air BnB: both stellar, although both different.  The tiny trailer was, well… tiny, but well provisioned, immaculately clean and adorable.  The hosts even provided firewood for the fire pit, just past the compost toilet and outdoor shower, which also were immaculately clean.

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The last two nights we stayed at an aptly named property, Serenity in the Saguaro Forest. Its peaceful location was close enough to the National Park to quickly get to a trail head or scenic sunset view yet close enough to town to explore the local restaurants and breweries, which we did. A few times.

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After landing in Phoenix and renting a van that enabled us to transport rented road bikes, we headed south and within a little over two hours we were at the trail head ready to hike up tallest peak in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. There’s nothing like hiking to stretch and loosen up after flying in a plane all morning.

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While hiking among the cacti, the most notable were the saguaro. These gentle giants are ancient and resilient.  And they all look different, kinda like us humans! It’s as if they will magically awaken, speak to one another and then begin spewing stories about the storms, drought, and invasive animals they’d survived.  We passed time on our hike up Wasson Peak imagining if the saguaro could talk what they might say.  Based on their unique postures, and the longer we hiked, the more creative and racy our musings. It’s a fun way to pass the time on an eight mile hike in the desert.

One of the biggest weekend surprises, however, was what Tucsonans call “The Loop.” It’s a paved dedicated bike, pedestrian trail that encircles Tucson. We’d rented road bikes for Saturday and Sunday and downloaded some decent routes on our Garmins but The Loop was just too good to pass up. And it was scenic, not crowded and easy to navigate.

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I expected it to be similar to the Monon here in Indy: narrow, crowded, lots of stopping for traffic but not so.   The Loop is a gem.  We haven’t been riding much in 2020 but managed to squeeze in a 57 mile ride under smurf blue skies and pleasant temps. And we scouted out a brewery stop for a quick post ride bevvie.

We like to hit Mass up when we travel and Mission San Xavier del Bac was a short drive south so off we went before our Sunday morning bike ride.  The Mission exterior was imposing against the blue skies and gave me pause to think about the people, the mission, and all the prayers said since its beginning in 1700.

But, it’s when I entered this church that I experienced an overwhelming feeling of awe.  It was simple, yet ornate and majestic. There was remarkable detail in the walls, ceiling and statues, but I couldn’t help notice the simplicity of the worship space with its  wooden pews (no cushions or kneelers) and simple flooring.

 

During Mass an older gentleman, one of the ushers, would casually and inconspicuously walk over to the nativity scene and gently rock the Child Jesus’ cradle. This man emanated such love and devotion to the the Christ Child in this simple act. It made me smile.

Outside after Mass, local vendors were beginning to set up booths selling food and souvies.  Pretty sure we could have stayed all day to poke around the Mission. It was lovely and there was so much history, but other plans for the day beckoned.

We’d been told a visit to Arizona isn’t complete unless a cyclist hits some trails so our Air BnB host, Justin,  led us on a short mountain bike ride through scenic Sweetwater Preserve.  In the late afternoon, the sun was low and gave an even more interesting perspective to the giant saguaros.

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I tried hard to remember what Sally, Liv and Nichole at Sundance Mountain Bike Clinic taught us a few months ago while riding: cover brakes, feet at 9 and 3 o’clock and be fluid and wide on the bike.  Those cacti though, positioned like sentinels along the trail. … with big thorns. I have run into trees before but I definitely didn’t want to run into a saguaro or even a teddy bear cholla. The mountain bike ride through Sweetwater Preserve was just about the best way I can think of to wrap up our short cycling weekend in Tucson. And, gratefully, there were no cacti collisions.

Just before driving back to Phoenix we snuck in one more short three mile hike and met a gentleman on our descent.  He was hiking the west side of the Hugh Norris Trail again, only 20 years later. He said the trail felt a little different now.  Go figure. I completely understand.  How about you?

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We chatted for a while and he claimed to be more of a cyclist than a hiker and had come to Tucson from Colorado with his bike.  And darn if he didn’t share that he’d cycled on every continent. Even Antarctica! How cool is that?  You know how ideas for new adventures are born from adventures we are currently on. Maybe this is something to plan for someday. #bucketlist #gettingenormous

But at the end of the weekend, we did get to color in another state on our “Bike the US Map”.  So there’s that.

All we can say to Tucson is, this isn’t goodbye, it’s until next time.

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