Tucson, Lots of Saguaros and Some Other Stuff

This week our travels took us to Tucson Arizona, I was not sure what to expect other than a lot of cacti. It did not disappoint on that count. The drive was an easy couple hours of interstate from our last home in Willcox. We had decided to stay in the Casino Del Sol parking lot. I was a little nervous that RV parking would be prohibited or frowned upon, but I was proven wrong.

Overnight RV Parking Area of Casino Del Sol

We arrived to find hundreds of RVs covering the entirety of the back parking area. This made me happy because nothing beats free camping. Jackie wanted to spend a fair amount of time in Tucson which was an easy sell for me, considering it was costing me nothing and I’m a huge cheapskate. Of course, our stay wasn’t free with the cost of sightseeing, but that was money that would have been spent anyway, and the free camping made it much more palatable. On a side note, it seems as though the casino is building an RV park, so the days of free parking lot camping at Casino Del Sol may be numbered.

By the time we arrived on the first day, it was early afternoon. We took the boys to a park to burn some energy, followed by a trip to Walmart for groceries. Arizona groceries are much cheaper than Colorado groceries which is nice. 12 packs of Negro Modelo were only $12, can’t beat that. After Walmart, we retired to the camper for the night. Retired is an appropriate word because the parking lot of Casino Del Sol feels a little bit like a retirement village. To be expected, this is Arizona after all.

Historic San Xavier Mission in Tucson Arizona

Our first full day in Tucson brought us to the historic Catholic Mission. The San Xavier mission was founded all the way back in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino. Construction on what would become the current church was started in 1783 and completed in 1797. The Mission’s scale is impressive today but must have seemed massive in far-flung 19th-century Spanish territory. Its ivory white towers still dominate the surrounding landscape. Luckily we arrived early enough to snag a good parking spot; after we parked the lot filled fast.

Church Interior at the San Xavier Mission

The church’s interior revealed dark tones and amazing Spanish Colonial Baroque style architecture. In the west transept of the church was a lifesized ‘body’. I assumed it was an actual body (because we Catholics are/were into that sort of thing), but it is actually a statue of crucified Christ rescued from Apache raiders from the Tumacacori Mission once located nearby. One can only imagine how special it would be to attend Easter or Christmas mass at this architectural wonder. I highly encourage anyone reading to visit the mission and consider donating to support further restoration of this national treasure.

San Xavier Mission from Grotto Hill

After visiting the mission, we took a walk around Grotto Hill just east of the mission. The Grotto was built in 1908 and is a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes. Grotto hill offered a fantastic view of the Mission as well as Tucson and the surrounding landscape. With our appetites primed, we ate a quick lunch of Indian fry bread tacos otherwise known as ‘popovers’ to Tucsonians. After our authentic Tucson morning, we went to McDonald’s to burn off some energy at playland.

Tucson Popover Tacos

The next day we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the perfect place to burn energy for kids and grown-ups alike. The Desert Museum was an almost overwhelming hodgepodge of Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden, Natural History Museum, and Art Museum. The day started early since the raptor free-fly show started at 10:00AM sharp. We got an up close view of a great horned owl, as well as several Harris Hawks which was pretty neat.

Coyote at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The rest of the day was spent viewing Porcupines, Bobcats, Deer, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Javelinas, Various Birds, Fish, Lizards, Snakes, Tortoises, Amphibians, Insects, Desert Plants, Rocks and Minerals, Dinosaur Bones, and other kid-friendly exhibits. We paid the extra fee to let John pet some Stingrays. We didn’t shell out the extra $3 for Tommy. Feeling a bit guilty about that, but hey we’re on a budget. Towards the end of the day, we killed an hour or so at Packrat Playhouse, a pretty great playroom for kids to… wait for it… burn off some energy. Before leaving we smashed some pennies, then hit the road for home at the Casino Del Sol. Overall we spent six full hours at the museum, a possible record, needing independent confirmation.

Cactus Arms in Front of a Saguaro

Touring Saguaro National Park East was next on the agenda. There are actually two distinct areas to Saguaro National Park, appropriately named ‘East’ and ‘West’. One is on the east side of town and the other is on the west side. It took about 45 minutes to get from the west side of town where the casino lies, to Saguaro Park East. The drive revealed to us how sprawling Tucson really is. I can’t say it’s a well-planned city. It takes almost an hour to get across town in non-rush-hour traffic. Trailer houses are scattered throughout the city’s landscape, not just in trailer parks. Most of the trailers look like they’d been delivered via tornado. The roads, even the paved ones, are rough and kept setting off the Jeep’s low tire pressure warning system.

Saguaro National Park East Drive Through

The park was great though. We visually feasted on thousands of saguaro cacti as well as a plethora of other desert specimens. We hiked the Mica View Trail, as well as a section of the Cactus Forest trail which took us back to the parking lot. We saw lots of birds, and even a donkey walking with her handler. Luckily it was a cooler day with highs only in the 60’s. I don’t suppose it would be very comfortable in the summer, but it was a nice March hike.

A Donkey… Just Because

After Saguaro we headed into town for a beer at a local brewery (Arizona gets a two thumbs up for allowing kids at breweries). We played some pinball and hung out until the kids melted down. We then headed over to Tucson Tamale for dinner. The combo plate was pretty excellent.

Hohokam Petroglyphs at Saguaro National Park West

On our penultimate day in Tucson, we hit up Saguaro National Park West. Pretty much more of the same, i.e. lots of spikey things to look at. One additional point of interest was the petroglyphs of Signal Hill. We hiked the Signal Hill trail and witnessed some pretty neat carvings left behind by the Hohokam people some 800 (more or less) years ago.

Saguaro National Park West Drive Through

We only spent another half day in Tucson city proper where we prepared the RV for travel, bought a new TV (the Furrion piece of shit that came with the camper broke), and bought some groceries. After dry camping in the casino parking lot for 5 nights, we were in need of a fresh water fill-up as well as some black/grey tank dumping. We decided to stay at the KOA Pichaco-Tucson NW. Although a bit expensive, it provided a nice respite from parking lot camping. We only stayed one night but we got a lot done. We swam in the pool, the kids played on the playground, we washed dishes, shaved and showered, and of course, dumped and filled tanks.

KOA Pichaco Near Tucson

Overall Tucson was OK, not great. I suspect the good folks at Hyundai didn’t visit before naming the Hyundai Tucson. Next, we’re headed to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area where we’ll visit grandparents, and see how the other half lives. Bye for now.

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