Archive for November 28, 2017

Amazing Arizona

IMG_2353I’ve been here in Arizona for a few weeks, and I’m still baffled by highway signs saying,“Do not enter when flooded.” Flooded! This is the desert and everything is crackling with dryness. The signs usually appear before a steep dip in the road.

Then there are countless dried-up river beds. A block long bridge carries me over The Santa Cruz River. Below, a wide and absolutely dry bed lies where there must have been fast flowing water. Today, all I see is a sand bottom etched with wavy lines. It’s been dry long enough to grow grasses and bushes.

In my own neighbourhood, deep river beds run under bridges and sand bottoms ripple in gorges where there’s no water. It’s hard to imagine the drama and excitement of fierce floods coursing through this dry land. I’m told it actually happens in the Spring, during the Monsoon.

IMG_2356Cactus is everywhere and comes in a number of species. I’ve learned to respect these succulent plants. When I got too close to a banana yucca, I’d swear it deliberately reached out and stabbed me in the shin with its sharp, dry pointed blade. Ouch! Weeks later, the resulting infection still itches reminding me that the desert is a wondrous – and potentially dangerous landscape. As proof that I’m not the only human to imagine a deliberate attack on my person, I came across a cactus labelled Shindagger Cactus.

As I learn more about the cactus family, I find that many of these plants propagate by “jumping” at passing animals, human and non-human. The Chainfruit or Jumping Cholla is an example. It’s a tree. Its branches bear short joints that break off easily.

As you pass by a cholla, spines catch onto your pant leg or shirt. You feel a tug and look down just as the joint breaks off from the plant, and the recoil from the stretched cloth snaps the joint into your flesh. The experience is memorable. (Getco Guide’s “Cacti of Arizona.”)

IMG_2352The giant of the cactus family is the Saguaro. Typically, the Saguaro is 20 to 40 feet tall. It’s the one you see in cartoons with branches growing parallel to the main trunk. It’s eight to ten feet high. These giants are common in my neighbourhood, along with tall palm trees.

Organ Pipe cacti is another tall species. It grows six to eight feet tall and has many branches growing right out of the ground. I usually see it in the company of the Barrel Cacti. Both of these are favourites on my neighbourhood’s gravel covered lawns. (no grass here in this dry state.) The barrel cactus grows 2 to 4 feet high. A ring of bright flowers surround its top. Most of the flowers I see are bright orange, red or yellow.

IMG_2369Maybe Arizona’s hills don’t belong in a discussion of cacti, but they do fit into my “strange and unusual”category. The Santa Rita mountains lie to the east of my house. Numerous ranges surround the Tucson area. These ranges are old. Their peaks are jagged and for the most part they are bare of trees.

Then there are the other “mountains.” These are tan coloured, flat on top and ridged, both vertically and horizontally. Some have spotty green growth. You can imagine my surprise when I was told that these beige hills are piles of tailings dumped there from the nearby copper mines.

IMG_2355How long will I wander about, curious and amazed? I know from experience that even the most remarkable scenery finally becomes just part of everyday life. I’m here for five months. By the end of this time, will I take for granted these amazing cacti and the warm sunny weather? Time will tell. I hope not.

A Different Sort of Trip

IMG_1209It was near the end of October. For health reasons, I needed to escape our Canadian winter. Still smarting from September’s solo trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, I was careful to take into account that the trip I was planning was for an almost 80-year-old body and brain. Loneliness had stalked me on the first trip and, although I felt proud of myself for booking hotels, renting a car and successfully finding my destinations, that trip left me exhausted. I was still recovering from the realization that my body and brain weren’t what they used to be. This trip needed to be different.

For starters, I would not travel alone. I was going to spend the winter in Green Valley, Arizona, 2,243 miles southwest of Toronto. My friend Barb agreed to share the journey with me. We would take turns driving and I would pay our expenses and fly her back home. Sammy the poodle would come with us in the car. At the end of winter, Barb would fly back to Tucson and we’d reverse the journey through the diverse landscape of the USA.


My friends know I lack a sense of direction. Somehow the points of the compass never got installed when the right hemisphere of my brain was forming. Barb assured me she really liked maps and planning trips. She also likes driving and road trips. We sounded like a good match: which brings me to my first piece of advice. If you’re going travelling, choose a companion whose strong points dovetail with your own deficits.

I drove to her house in Toronto from my home in Kingston and the next morning we set out on our adventure. I’d joined The Snowbirds’ Association, a move I highly recommend. Why reinvent the wheel? This association has tips for every aspect of staying out of the country for extended periods. Thanks to their advice, I was well prepared for the border crossing at Sarnia. I had a whole folder of proof I was renting a house for five months and that my dog was safe to enter their country. (U.S. customs want to make sure you don’t plan to stay in their country without paying taxes.) I rolled down the window at Customs and was met by the brown eyes and warm smile of a friendly young official. I handed him our passports. He glanced at them and maybe swiped them under a scanner. He was more interested in chatting and wishing us a great trip. I don’t think he even noticed Sammy in the back of the car.

We drove on and ended our first day near Chicago. Barb had already made the reservation. This was when we found that Best Western hotels welcome dogs for an extra twenty dollars. Sammy the Poodle was in for an extended experience in hotel living.

IMG_1209From the flat lands of Illinois to the mountains, hills and forests of Missouri and Oklahoma, we drove by endless cotton fields in Texas, then southwest through New Mexico until we finally entered Arizona. We arrived in Green Valley exactly on the eve of our November first rental.

The trip was five days and covered 2,243 miles. That means we drove 7 hours or 449 miles per day. We didn’t push it. Mornings were spent planning our route and making hotel reservations for the coming night. Midday we took time for a leisurely meal and found the local dog park for Sammy. Evenings were spent in the hotel room while we snacked on the supplies we carried with us.


I won’t claim we weren’t tired at the end of the trip, but we enjoyed ourselves and my anxiety level was manageable.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. In my next post, I’ll tell you about life in Arizona.