Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February. Some stats: 10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!
It was a fantastic trip. The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.
Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson. Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place. It is really beautiful. And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.
Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:
– Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species. Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see. I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.
– Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location): saguaro cacti for miles. MILLIONS of them. An informative visitor center. Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.
– Catalina State Park: a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains. Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.
– Mission de San Xavier del Bac: a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s. It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides. An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today. We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown. I’m glad we did.
– Catalina Mountains at sunset: simply stunning to view
Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her. And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west. Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).
There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:
1) Grand Canyon National Park: neither of us had been there before. The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be. And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds. The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views. The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail. We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east. But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park. I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate. I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon! What a treat. And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park. I’m so glad we did.
2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument: a hole in the ground about a mile across. Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago. It’s only 5 miles off of I-40. The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater. It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.
3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe: a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom. Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto. Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there. Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark. The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin. Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night. Again… awesome!
After another long day of travel, we enjoyed a really delicious dinner and bottle of wine at the hotel’s restaurant, Luminaria. The next day we ate breakfast at the Palacio Cafe, walked through the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, finally saw the staircase in the Loretto Chapel :), walked through the historic district, then made a bee-line for the Gruet Winery tasting room in the lobby of the St Francis Hotel. Then we visited a lovely park, the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, just 2 miles east of downtown and took in another hour or so of birding. More lifers!
On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio. It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.
After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips. We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.
That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.