Friday, December 03, 2004

I Love Tucson!

As I mentioned in my last blog, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Tucson, Arizona. The day after Thanksgiving was my dad’s 83rd birthday, and my sister and I were his birthday presents from his wife. Paula (arriving from West Virginia) and I met at Chicago O’Hare Airport (that’s another blog…) and flew together to Tucson International. We tied colorful bows around us and attached large tags that said “Happy” and “Birthday”. The look on Dad’s face when he met us at the airport was absolutely priceless.

The sun was setting as Dad drove us through the city to the mobile home park where he lives. The first things that caught my eye were the palm trees. For someone born and raised in the Midwest, palm trees are fascinating. They can make the slimiest, dirtiest slums look exotic, and they are absolutely enchanting in silhouette against the colors of a desert sunset.

Beyond the palms are the mountains. Tucson is in a basin created by an ancient volcano that blew its top, which means that it is completely surrounded by mountains. No matter which way you look, you see the peaks and crags in the near horizon—and since the whole area is desert, there are no annoying oaks or maples to block the view. The way I see it, the mountains have at least two advantages (other than being absolutely gorgeous): first, they limit the size of the city, so you’ll never end up with another Phoenix; and second, the mountains are 10-30 degrees cooler than the basin floor all year round, which can be a life-saver in the summer as far as I’m concerned!

And then there’s the desert! So many different plants all in one place! Anyone who tells you that nothing grows in the desert hasn’t been there. Even in November, when nothing is really in bloom, you see all the colors of the rainbow. Did you know that Prickly Pear cacti come in green, brown, pink, blue, purple and black with orange polka dots? I really love the Saguaro cactus. These gigantic creatures (up to 50’ tall and weighing over a ton after a good rain) only grow an inch or so each year and can live to be 200 years old. When a new one comes up, little Palo Verde trees grow next to them to protect them until they get bigger. As adults, Saguaros are home to cute little birdies who peck little holes right into them! How cool!

The city of Tucson itself is a place of many faces, from multimillion dollar Santa Fe style homes to neat little stucco “starter” neighborhoods. There are hundreds of cool restaurants of every kind, and my favorite—five casinos! All mixed in with the new are historical jewels like the San Javier Mission Church (incredible). Plus, this whole area is a Mecca for us bargain shoppers—especially the Mexican and Native American handicrafts.

It’s no wonder my dad and step mom look younger and healthier than last time I saw them five years ago. Breathing the softly scented desert air and being surrounded by all this beauty—it’s hard to keep the smile off your face even on cloudy days. Although Steve and I have our future retirement home ready and waiting in Guttenberg, Iowa, I’m pretty sure I can convince him to winter in Tucson!

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