Sunday, October 18, 2009

touring around Tucson

We left Wednesday after piano lessons, arriving at the Casa Grande National Monument just about a half hour before it closed at 5PM. The ride to Case Grande was easy, and the monument itself is very cool, and the little museum accompanying it is charming as well.

The Big House, a 4-story building made entirely of caliche, about 600-700 years old.

Leaving Case Grande, I realized that somehow the directions I had printed out included only the directions and not the mileage in between each step. Lacking the mileage markers and contending with road construction left me with an exercise in frustration. We wandered through Coolidge and serendipitously came upon this gorgeous courthouse in Florence:

1891 Pinal County Courthouse, the oldest public building continuously in use in Arizona.

I gave up trying to find the way to I-10 and on the spur of the moment decided to follow the sign that said "Tucson" and nothing else. It turned out to be Route 79, which was a long, gorgeous drive through a cactus forest all the way down to the foothills. Rte 79 merges into Rte 77 which is Oracle Parkway in Tucson, and our hotel was just off that street.

We stayed at the Comfort Suites, which was inexpensive, clean, and conveniently located. Breakfast was included, as was free wifi which worked very well. I took advantage of the wifi to put in some work hours each night after the kids were in bed -- and to get the mileage figures for all of our directions.

On Thursday morning we headed out to San Xavier del Bac. It was beautiful and I wish we could have spent more time there, but the kids were not in a contemplative mood at all.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Lion figure flanking the altar

The back courtyard

From San Xavier, we headed to Colossal Cave Mountain Park where we took the cave tour. It was really splendid. DS1 was a little nervous about going down the stairs and falling into bottomless crevices, but there was never any danger. Our tour guide Bill was knowledgeable and interesting, and I was cracking up because all three of the kids made a point to stick close to him so they could hear him and ask (and answer) questions. Photographing the interior of the cave was difficult with my little point-and-shoot.

On the path to the cave entrance

The silent waterfall.

Bill, by the way, confirmed my good judgment in choosing Colossal Cave over Kartchner Caverns; "It's not a kid-friendly environment," he said. The only disappointment at the Colossal Cave park was lunch: I was very low on cash and the little eatery (it reminded me of a clam shack, but of course there were no fried clams) didn't take credit cards. We headed out and got some lunch in town, and then went back to the hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. Sure, we could have gone somewhere else, but I really didn't want to over-extend anyone.

We even played chicken, and my neck is still paying for it.

The kids slept well both nights but I did not, and Friday morning I was so miserable I got up to take some ibuprofen at 5:30 in the hope that I could get at least an hour or two of decent sleep. It helped a little. After breakfast we packed up the room and checked out, and then headed out to The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. I mis-transcribed the mileage on the directions and we ended up taking a round-about route that cost us about 20 minutes or so, but it wasn't a disaster. It was very hot for this time of year: 100 degrees. We all had water bottles and stopped frequently at the excellent (cold) water fountains to drink and refill our bottles. We somehow managed to walk all the trails at the museum and eat lunch and still got out of there just before 1PM. I think if it had been cooler we would have lingered more, but it was exhausting. The museum is like a combination zoo and garden, and we saw a lot native animals, plus exhibits on minerals, archeology, living underground and many others I'm forgetting.

Gorgeous landscape

A very accomodating coyote, resting in the shade of a bush quite near the fence of his enclosure.


Evidence they weren't completely miserable.

We wandered through a bit of Saguaro National Monument but only for a few minutes; we'd seen more stunning cactus forests on the trip down Rte 79, where the chollas were as tall as trees, giving the saguaro some competition for tallest cacti in the area. We drove home up I-10 which must be one of the most boring drives ever; unlike Rte 79, there was nary a cactus to be seen, just miles of flat plain with the occasional tumbleweed or other shrub. We stopped at Borders for our usual Friday afternoon snack, and got DS1 to his doctor's appointment right on time at 4PM.

By the time we got home I knew I was sick: DS2 had a bit of something last week and ran a mild fever a couple of days. It seems to be a cold with a little bit of a kick, but I don't think it's the flu. I'm taking ibuprofen and Mucinex religiously and it's helping, but I think I just have to wait it out. Would I have gotten sick if we had stayed home? Probably not. The trip was still worth it, though.

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