Being in a new city is so exciting. There’s so much that I have to learn about it – the streets, the size, the restaurants, the attractions, and the best place to go for sushi! After being here for almost 2 months, I have started to get accustomed to the little day to day things like the weather, traffic patterns, and what little exploring we’ve done together. But just when I thought I was “used to” being here, we went and visited the mountains to the West, and that just blew my mind all over again. I’m loving Tucson more and more every day, and am SO glad I get 2 more years here!!
Today’s mid-week adventure took us to Tucson Mountain Park. In this area, there is a scenic drive (Gates Pass and Kinney Roads) with many pull offs good for picnics, pictures, and taking a hike on the trails that are all over the place. It’s good to have a game plan for going into the desert (especially on a warm summer day!) and we planned out which trails we’d take by searching for letterboxes.
Letterboxing is similar to Geocaching, except instead of a log and box of trinkets, you’re looking for a tupperware container containing a usually-hand carved-original rubber stamp. Instead of following GPS coordinates, you access clues online and figure out where to go from there. Curtis has had some extra time on his hands, so he put together maps and lists of the boxes in Tucson Mountain Park in order to make boxing trips easier and more efficient.
Hiking in the desert is quite the experience. To be honest, I haven’t done a whole lot of hiking in my life so far, so I don’t have a lot to compare this to. In Tucson Mountain Park, most of the trails are narrow and rocky. They’re usually pretty easy to distinguish between the rest of the land, and if they come upon a wash then there will be a cairn pointing you in the right direction. Each different mountain range in Tucson varies on trail conditions and difficulty, but as far as TMP’s trails go, they are all pretty easy to walk on – not too rocky, no having to step up onto boulders, usually consisting of just a flat dirt path. The other mountain ranges surrounding Tucson – the Catalinas, Rincons, and Santa Ritas – are all much higher in elevation and are called “sky islands.” Here in Tucson Mountain Park, you’re really hiking through the heart of the Sonoran desert. Because of this, I’d say the best times to visit the area are between October and March, when it isn’t so hot. There is minimal shade and the sun just beats down on you.
Surrounding the trail, you will see almost every desert plant you can think of. Saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo, palo verde trees, mesquite trees, and more! Thanks to letterboxing, I actually can identify most plants already. It’s almost like a culture shock coming from the Midwest and having absolutely no familiar plants, but I love that I am that much more familiar with the desert. I love looking up at the great Saguaro and wondering how many HUNDREDS of years old it is. I enjoy seeing little pops of color in the form of a cactus flower or prickly pear fruit. I even like knowing the little warnings, such as stay away from the cholla, because they’ll jump at you and cling to your clothing or skin – I personally haven’t experienced this, but Curtis has, and his reaction went something like this: “OWWWW!”
There are a few things I’m not crazy about in the desert. All of those have to do with creatures that inhabit this land. Some slither and rattle, others hunt and attack. Rattlesnakes, mountain lions, javelina, OH MY! One of our very first adventures in this city was going to the Desert Animal Museum (which is located here in Tucson Mountain park, off of Kinney Road North of Gates Pass!) While we had a great time wandering around and seeing all the different creatures that are out there, it also gave me a reality check of just how wild this place is. After learning about scorpions, tarantulas, snakes, gila monsters, and more, I was a little scared to even set foot on a trail. Curtis tried to reassure me, saying “I’ve hiked here for 2 years and have never seen ANY wildlife!” That night, we saw a pack of javelina AND a tarantula. I’d say I have a right to be a little scared.
All that to say, watch your step when wandering through the desert! I always feel safer wearing long pants and hiking boots with ankle support. Like, if I’m covered, the wild creatures won’t go after me.
2 months of wedded bliss 😉
If you’re headed to the West side of Tucson, there are several different attractions you should hit up in Tucson Mountain Park. I mentioned the Desert Animal Museum earlier – that’s a must see. It’s a little pricey, but totally worth it. It’s rated among the top of all museums in the WORLD! That’s probably because it’s less of a museum, and more like a zoo. There’s an indoor aquarium and reptile room, but everything else is outdoors – you walk along the paths and see animals the same way you would at a zoo! However, keep in mind that this is still the desert, so it wouldn’t hurt to bring water and wear sunscreen. Not only can you see animals, but also all different types of desert plants. They also offer 2 different free presentations: a Raptor Free Flight where you can watch different birds of prey put on a show, and the Rattlesnake and Gila Monster show, where you can watch these venomous creatures in action and hear safety tips.
Also in the Tucson Mountain Park area is Saguaro National Park West and the Old Tucson Studios. I can’t vouch for them yet, but I’m hoping we’ll make it there soon!
The more I see down here, the more I love the area, and it only makes me want to see MORE! I’m so thankful I have such an adventurous husband who wants to show me all these incredible places. Life in the Wild West is so good. 🙂