Weekend in Tucson

All photographs Copyright © 1996 by Stephen Gunn. All rights reserved.

If you're curious, take a look at a map of Tucson.

At noon on Thursday it was 61 degrees. In January. In Chicago. By sunrise Friday morning the forecast said it would be 10 degrees with a wind chill of 30 below. I was very glad I wouldn't be there: I had a flight at 7:30pm to Tucson.

I left work at 3:30 in order to miss the worst of the evening rush, but got caught in it anyway: everyone was leaving work early in order to avoid the freezing rain and snow which was forecast. Got home, wolfed some food down, and decided to call and see if my 7:30 flight was delayed. Nope, it was cancelled. They could get me on the 6:30 flight though. Could I make that? Oh, and by the way, a great number of the rest of the flights were being cancelled because of the weather getting worse. Well, it was now 5:30. It would take 35 minutes to get to the airport, 10 minutes to park and catch the shuttle to the terminal, and 5 minutes to walk the quarter mile or so to the gate. Sure I could make it. So I raced through the freezing rain and sleet, and made it to the gate a couple minutes before they closed the door to the plane...

They de-iced the plane, and it left the gate promptly at 6:30. After an uneventful flight, my friend picked me up at the airport and we headed back to his house. The desert gets cold at night. Somehow I was able to deal with the 50 degree desert night. It was tough, but I'd manage.

Housing is cheaper in Tucson. I couldn't afford a brand new four bedroom, three bath house when I was fresh out of school, but my friends could. A nice house. With high ceilings and everything. Seeing as my friend is 6'7" I guess the high ceilings were a requirement.

Click the pictures and they'll get big!

Next day I got up and took a look around. At 10am it was already 70 degrees, 5 degrees warmer than was forecast. The view out the window was of saguaro and other desert plants. Where my friend lived all the houses were landscaped with desert plants. Only an idiot plants grass in the desert. I got this picture of a flower on a bush in front of his house. The plan for Friday was to have lunch with my uncle, who also lives in Tucson, and then go on to Sabino Canyon in the Coronado National Forest. After a nice lunch with my aunt, uncle, and my cousin (who also has a homepage). I headed off to Sabino Canyon with my friends.

While we were waiting for the shuttle bus into Sabino Canyon, this roadrunner entertained us. Contrary to cartoons, they don't go meep-meep. They do run pretty much in the manner depicted in cartoons though.

The following is quoted from the visitor's guide to Sabino Canyon: "Sabino Canyon is located at the extreme eastern border of the Sonoran Desert. The climate of this desert, characterized by mild winters, hot summers and bi-seasonal rainfall, is the result of geographic location and unique weather patterns. The Sonoran Desert is too far north to benefit from the tropical trade winds and lies in the rain-shadow of the California Mountains which wring water from the clouds before they arrive. About half of the 12 inches of rain that Sabino Canyon receives comes in the winter months of December, January, and February. These prolonged, gentle winter rains move in from the Pacific Ocean. The summer storms of July, August and September are of a different nature: they are localized, intense thundershowers spawned by moist air moving up from the Gulf of Mexico. For a desert, 12 inches of rain is a generous amount of moisture, and it produces an abundance of plants and animals.

The source of Sabino Canyon lies in the fir forest 6,000 feet above the desert. Like other similar mountain ranges, the Santa Catalinas act as rain traps, forcing moist air to higher, cooler elevation where the water vapor condenses and falls as rain or snow. The water collects in rivulets and streams and cascades down the canyons to the desert below. Sabino Creek is unique in the Tucson basin, flowing from nine to eleven months of the year. Along Sabino and Bear Creeks, where water is abundant, a distinct flora has developed. These relatively lush areas are referred to as riparian communities." Unfortunately, 90% of the riparian communities which once existed in the Sonoran desert have been destroyed by man...

We took the tram to the far end of the canyon, then worked our way back, first climbing the dry, desert hills, complete with saguaro, and then catching the tram back a ways and climbing down into the stream bed. Which wasn't flowing, but did have pools of water with fish in them and much more greenery.
Some of the streambed was beautifully sculpted my many tens of thousands of years of erosion.

It was late afternoon by this point, and the last tram out of the valley took us out at 5:00. You don't want to miss the last tram: It gets dark, and then it gets cold, and it's a 2 1/2 mile hike back to the parking lot, 3 1/2 if you're at the far end of the canyon. We got back to the car, went out for dinner, then watched "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" which I highly recommend. By the way, Tucson has a homepage with information about Sabino Canyon among other things.

Part II: Our trip to the Desert Museum.