Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tucson '18 - City in the Desert

(A click on any photo enlarges it to screen size.)

Southern Arizona is all about the saguaro cactus.
Cholla are pretty common, as well.
It's a long day's drive from San Luis Obispo to Tucson.  It is made longer by the need to work one's way through the maze of freeways surrounding Los Angeles.  We spent way too much time limping along the freeway at 30 mph.  At one point, I glanced at the license plate on a car in the next lane.  It read "Auto World."  It was a dealer plate, but as my eyes traveled a 360-degree circuit filled with cars, I couldn't help thinking that it named the hell we were in at that moment.

Another license plate caught my eye - ROX(heart)ZZZ.  (Couldn't figure out how to import a heart image into this document.)  I wondered if Roxanne loves a guy with a really unique name or whether she just loves to sleep.

Our accommodations in Tucson, at the Copper Court Casitas, were finer than we're accustomed to on our western wanderings.  That's because your dollars go a lot farther here than they do in California.

Home Sweet Home in Tucson

It rained almost nonstop for our first two days in Tucson.  It let up on Friday, and we took the light rail downtown to the Tucson Museum of Art.  It was the beginning of a weekend celebrating local artisans.  Entrance to the museum was free, and dozens upon dozens of artisans displayed their wares on the museum grounds.  A good time.

Dancers at the Art Museum
Then on Saturday, the sun broke through.  We celebrated by getting on our bikes and cycling to the University of Arizona to attend a talk at the Center for Creative Photography, where they were celebrating Ansel Adams' birthday.  (The Center holds the complete archive of Ansel Adams works.) The talk was given by David Hume Kennerly, a prominent photographer himself, whom Adams mentored and befriended.  Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam photography and became the White House photographer for Gerald Ford.  He gave a very interesting talk about Ansel Adams which was also a look into an important time in American history.  As a bonus, birthday cake was served.

University of Arizona Campus
Campus Geometry
Our first Sunday in town brought...  BASEBALL!  The University of Arizona Wildcats hosted the Bryant University (Rhode Island) Bulldogs and beat them, 10-1.  Baseball, great infield seats, hot dogs, sunscreen and short sleeves in February!

On Deck
A Good Day for the Wildcats
Monday.  Time to put on our hiking boots.  We drove up to Catalina State Park for a strenuous hike high up into beautiful Romero Canyon.  A great hike!  High winds roiled the sky, moving massive cumulus clouds all day long.  Down on the trail, the winds kept us cool.  I encountered three young mothers hiking together, two of whom carried young children in front packs and back packs!

Brought my camera and was excited to see the photogenic sky and mountain peaks.  When I prepared to take my first photo, I discovered that my battery was still in the charger back at the hacienda.  I was so annoyed with my forgetfulness that I stomped for a hundred yards or so, until the hard earth beneath my feet and the rising grade brought me back to the present, where life was beautiful to the naked eye.

Family Visit

Ben and the boys arrived on a Wednesday for a week's respite from winter.  Ellen followed the next day (and returned early also, because of work demands).  While they were here, they livened things up for Carol, Rowdie and me.

The Sonoran Desert Museum

We went to the Sonoran Desert Museum on their first full day here.  If you only have one day in Tucson, you couldn't spend it any better than a visit to the Desert Museum.  Two highlights for me - sighting javelinas (aka the collared peccary) for the first time and talking photography with nine-year old Wesley.

Years ago, when Carol and I visited Ben and Ellen at Fort Huachuca, where Ben was stationed, we caught a glimpse of dark shapes moving ahead of us as we walked their dogs, Bella and Spud, through the neighborhood in the dark.  Those shapes were javelinas, down from the hills in search of food-rich trash cans in the neighborhood.  But I didn't consider that a sighting.  For all we knew, they were super large raccoons, or pygmy deer or visitors from Mars.  At the desert museum, there was no doubt because they napped in broad daylight, no doubt resting up for nighttime forays for food.

As we wandered the acres of the desert museum, Wesley and I showed each other our photos. I gave him occasional tips regarding lighting, perspective and composition.  He eagerly tried to apply his new knowledge.  It was a special time for a grandfather.

Sonoran Desert Museum
Javelinas resting before the nocturnal hunt
Flamboyant Saguaro
 Hiking  with Family

On another occasion, we all traveled up to the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains for a hike in Ventana Canyon.  It was a moderately challenging hike, which Wesley and Julien undertook with enthusiasm.  Again, Wesley and I shared photos and ideas.

Ben and I lagged behind the others to accommodate six-year old Julien's slower pace.  He may have been slower, but he was no less enthusiastic than the rest of us.  He never tired.  It was a rocky path.  Ben, a patient father, showed his son how to ensure safe footing by picking a path around the larger boulders that littered the trail.  Julien delightedly ignored his father's counsel and went straight at each boulder, seeing each one as a new challenge to be conquered.

Ventana Canyon

Ellen, Ben, Julien and Wesley on the trail
I warned Julien about trail snakes.  They are small, strong, very fast and have a wicked sense of humor, I told him.  If a hiker is not watching where he places his feet, a trail snake will at the last minute slither across the trail with its tail wrapped around a big stone which it will drop in the hiker's path.  If the hiker's foot finds the stone and the hiker stumbles, you can hear the trail snakes snickering from behind nearby cactus.

Trail snakes are related to the snow snakes found in Minnesota.  Anyone who has cross country skied
in Minnesota has a tale about being tripped by a snow snake that has wrapped itself around a ski to throw the skier off balance and face first into a snow bank.

Poca Cosa

Hoping for an opportunity to have a restaurant dinner with Ben and Ellen, I approached Darrell, our host, and asked him if he knew of any local teenage baby sitters.  He responded by saying that he and his wife would be happy to watch the boys while we had our night out.  Darrell has been a friendly and helpful host, but this generous offer put him at the top of the A-List of hosts.  The boys had fun.  Their parents and grandparents had fun.  Poca Cosa was lovely - a Mexican restaurant serving fresh, well-prepared foods (and very good margaritas).

A Friend Visits.

We had barely tidied up the house after the Morrison clan had departed when our good friend, Pam Behnen, arrived from St. Louis for a long weekend.  Highlights of Pam's brief stay included lots of good conversation with a friend we don't see often enough, Sunday night watching the Oscars, a trip to Mission San Javier del Bac and lunch at The Little One (more on this in a minute).

Saguaro, Carol, Pam at Sabino Canyon
San Javier del Bac was founded in 1692 by Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.  It is the last in a string of twenty-four missions he founded stretching down into Mexico.  Each mission is a day's ride on horse from its neighbor.

We arrived at the mission early on Saturday morning.  When we were ready to leave a few hours later, local Mexican and Native American vendors had begun to set up their food stalls for the crowds that would arrive later in the day.  We had delicious,freshly-made fry bread.  I looked longingly at the enchiladas, tacos and chili that was being served up, but we had other things to do.

San Javier del Bac
Mission Detail
The Little One is related in some way to Poca Cosa, sort of a friendly, down-to-earth cousin who's always glad to see you.  The Little One is a "hole-in-the-wall" downtown working class restaurant serving delicious, authentic Mexican fare.  It is a friendly place that welcomes families and everyone else.  A poster on the wall reminds you to not leave without getting your hug from the owner.  It's friendly to the environment, as well.  You can get take-out, but remember to bring your own container.  And, of course, it has great fresh salsa and homemade tortilla chips.

The Little One - Love it on its own terms
Walking the Dog

Rio Vista Park is a five-minute drive from our Tucson residence, at the northern end of Tucson Blvd.  The park is bordered on the north end by a paved bicycle path that parallels the Rillito River, more of a river wannabe these days, a wide dry channel of sand, rock and scraggly bushes, awaiting revival by heavy rains in the distant mountains.  The park is also one of Rowdie's favorite haunts.  I take her there most afternoons.  We call it Vole Hole Park. 

When Rowdie leaps down from the back of the RAV4, she leads me away from the playground,  picnic pavilion and a large swath of short brown grass suitable for frisbee throwing or sitting and playing a guitar to the desert scrub at the edges of the park.  There, in the parched and hard-packed earth, she seeks out the seemingly endless holes, a couple inches in diameter, that are home to some variety of desert rats.  She explores each hole, sticking her snout right into the opening, hoping to catch a whiff of the residents.  Occasionally she lingers, perhaps picking up an exciting scent.  She never tires of the hunt.

Gallery in the Sun

 "I want to be notorious rather than famous.  Fame has too much responsibility.  People forget you are human."  So said Ettore Degrazia, a painter who was born in Italy and spent most of his adult life in the Tucson area.  We had never heard of Ettore Degrazia, but he was a fairly prominent painter in the mid-twentieth century who had studied under Diego Rivera.  His Gallery in the Sun is nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and, in my opinion, not to be missed.  His watercolor collection of paintings, The Way of the Cross, on display for Lent, is stunning.
The Blessed Virgin by Ettore Degrazia
What an imaginative artist like Degrazia can do with a beer can

The Musical Instruments Museum

Settled in comfort in our hacienda, with lots to do close at hand (including hauling a book and a glass of wine out to the patio), why in the world would we drive two hours up to Scottsdale?  Lunch with our friend, Linda Hoch, was a good enough reason for us.  We were to meet at the Musical Instruments Museum, where we would roam galleries and then eat lunch at their café.  I was not enthused by the museum idea.  Looking at violins, harmonicas, flutes and what-have-you was not my idea of a good way to spend the day.  There are hikes to be taken, for crying out loud.  And spring training games!

How wrong I was!  The Musical Instruments Museum was, to get to the point, one of the most interesting museum experiences I have ever had.  Each gallery highlights a region of the world, country by country.  The designers of this modern museum have used visual and auditory technology to create a sensual wonder.  As you approach a country exhibit, your headphones treat you to the sounds of the musicians playing local instruments on the video screen.  Below the screen are the same instruments on display.  Time flies as you wander from Africa to South America via the Middle East.  Your feet begin dancing without even consulting you.

Linda, Carol and Me at the Musical Instruments Museum
We started our tour with a visit to the special exhibit on Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China.  This small gallery exhibit alone was worth the price of admission.

As with the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, if you spend any time in the Phoenix area, get yourself to the Musical Instruments Museum.  Take advantage of the discounted two-day pass, because there's too much to absorb in one day.  Make time for a delicious lunch at the café.

A Morning on the Bike, with Camera

It was a fine weekday morning, the sun quickly warming the day, when I got on my old ten-speed bike and, with my camera bag on my back, set out to explore the sights of Tucson.  I had no destination in mind, no place I had to be and no schedule to keep.  A good morning it was!  Here is some of what I found.

Spring Break, A Quiet Campus
Charming neighborhoods
Fantastic murals in an otherwise unremarkable downtown:

Hot!  Hot!  Hot!
Joy Ride!
Product of A Fertile Imagination  (perhaps chemically enhanced?)
Dream Girl

Sunday Afternoon at Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park is a small botanical garden not too far from our place.  A local craft show drew us there on a warm Sunday afternoon.  Wonderful Native American weavings.   

Artist at Work
The Source of All Life

Hiking - A Four-Week Inventory

Miles hiked:  15 +
Hares observed:  1
Horses:  0
Quail:  1
Long-horn Sheep:  2
Rattlesnakes:  0
Scorpions:  0
Pools of water:  4
Infants carried in packs: 11 (Two young mothers carried two infants, one in front, one in back!)
Cactus:  10,000 +
Falls taken:  1

Winter in Minnesota can be treacherous.  I have a theory that somewhere in every neighborhood lies an ice patch with your name on it.  The trick to survival is to avoid finding that fateful patch.

After two months and many miles of hiking without incident in the rocky, hilly terrain of the California countryside and the Arizona desert, I was finishing the last hike of our winter adventure.  We had trekked a few miles up into a lovely desert canyon and now I was in sight of the parking lot.   In a flash, both my feet left the ground without my permission.  I was airborne.  I came down hard, sliding down the trail.  I ended up with an ugly abrasion on my left knee and a deep sense of gratitude that there were no broken bones or painful bruises.

I had stepped on a safe-looking flat rock sprinkled with invisible grains of sand as effective as any ice patch.   I had found the fateful patch with my name on it!

The Tucson area begins and ends with saguaro cactus.

We're back home in Minneapolis now, happy for the experiences of the past two months but grateful to be in our own home, close to our family and friends.  We have returned to the routines of our daily life.  I hope you've enjoyed this journal.  Until the next time, I wish you all good health and interesting journeys.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

San Luis Obispo '18

We are settled in San Luis Obispo, a reasonable place to be in January, and the only place I'd ever move to.  (Well, except for the Dordogne in southern France as long as I'm dreaming.)  We have taken one hike, seen one movie (Darkest Hour, a bit of a disappointment), checked out books from the library, done Tai Chi at the YMCA twice, dined out three times and spent a lot of time in our sunny back yard with book in hand.  (And walked Rowdie a whole lot, but that's nothing new.)  We have in six days adapted to the SLO life.

Dining out three times in six days doesn't sound like a slow life, but there were unusual circumstances.  Our friends, Sue and Dick Molnar, were in town, taking a break from winter in Santa Fe.  Our get-togethers always involve good food.

(A click or two on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)

The Trail Head at Johnson Ranch Open Space
A bit of shade for hikers on a sunny day.
We've washed the grime of eight states off the bikes, and they're ready to go.  I've been on my bike once, to zip (six minutes) downtown for fresh-ground coffee beans and a cuppa Joe on the patio at Peet's.  There's frequently entertainment here, and this one-armed guitarist/singer was pretty good.

Street Musician, Downtown SLO
Today we visited the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, a tiny gem of an art showcase.  Every year we visit, the most interesting contemporary art finds its way into SLOMA's modest (in size only) galleries.

One day we cycled across town to a talk at the California Polytechnic Institute (Cal Poly) campus to hear a talk by Sky Bergman on her documentary film, "Lives Well Lived."  She is a film maker, photographer, Cal Poly professor of photography and owner of a bed and breakfast in town where we stayed on our first spring break visit years ago.  I spoke with her before the talk, and she told me the film was funded with her profits from her B and B.  Carol and I, she pointed out, have helped fund the film.  

Saturday night jazz in SLO.  We walked to the Unity Concert Hall on Orcutt Road to listen to the Ernie Watts Quartet.  I can't remember ever seeing four musicians having so much fun together - eye contact, laughter, coaxing more from each other.  Exquisite jazz was the product of their good time.

After two cool weeks (good hiking weather), hot weather arrived today.  So it was Sunday coffee and the NY Times on the patio at the Black Horse, a tradition.  After lunch, we got on our bikes.

A quarter mile from our house on a main road with lots of cars, all in a hurry, we waited for a break in the traffic and swung across the road to the left turn lane at the light.  Left on Orcutt Road and in ten minutes we were in wine country.  Rolling hills, barns, vineyards, goats, light car traffic, on a country road with an ample bike lane.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Wind whispering in our ears.

On a Saturday night, we saw a play at the SLO Repertory Theater.  The play, "New Jerusalem - The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation:  Amsterdam, July 27, 1656" -  was a pretty interesting take on what might have happened on that day in history three centuries ago.   Carol and I wondered after the play how bewildering it might be to audience members who hadn't taken a philosophy course or two in college.

Local Theater
This was the first production we've seen at SLO Repertory, which staged its first performance in 1947.  How have we missed this small, quality theater in all our visits here?

The weather turned hot during the second half of our stay here in SLO.  Our hikes began earlier, we moved slower and covered less ground.

Bishop Peak
Climbing Bishop Peak - one of the more challenging hikes in San Luis Obispo County - has become a tradition for us, the culminating activity of our stay in San Luis Obispo.  We chose a sunny, hot day to continue the tradition.  Our progress was slower than previous years.   Carol struggled to make it to the top; I struggled to make it back down.  But we did it!

As we trudged up the trail in the hot sun, a young woman coming downhill said as we passed and greeted each other, "You're lookin' good."  A similar thing happened to me the week before on another tough climb.  A young woman said almost the same thing.  "Looking good!'  It occurred to Carol and me that hot afternoon on Bishop Peak that what they really wanted to say was, "Lookin' old!  Can't believe you're doing this, but way to go!"  We smiled and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Bishop Peak - End of the Trail #1
End of the Trail #2
We didn't get in the car much this year, didn't visit a lot of interesting places outside SLO.  We were content to stay close to home.  There is plenty to do here, and we liked the slower pace.  The one exception was a drive to Paso Robles, where we visited a couple vineyards and Kiler Ridge Olive Farm outside the city.  Driving through the rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany was a delight.

Wine and Olive Country Outside Paso Robles
Marsha educated us in the art of fine olive oil at Kiler Ridge
When the weather turned hot, we headed east to Avila Beach.  We drove part way to a bike trail, then cycled to the Pacific Ocean.

A bit of shade at Avila Beach
Hitching Post, Avila Beach
 And then, our time in SLO was at an end.  A lot of time in the sun.  A lot of good hiking.  A lot of good movies.  A lot of good dining.  Mission accomplished.  Below, in photos, is the rest of the story.   First, the view when we were out and about on foot or on bikes.

Call her Intrepid.

Bowden Ranch Trail
On the hiking trail - small beauty

Beauty Under Foot

Goat Pen
And, I wrap up with sights in the neighborhood, or close by.

Clinging to existence
Home Sweet Home
Stynberg Gallery - A Place to Hang Out
Dancin' in the Street!
Some SLO History
Salt Water Taffy - Every Flavor Imaginable and Some You Couldn't Imagine

The Neighborhood
The Photographer at Rest
Next, it's on to Tucson.   Stay tuned.