Saturday, December 24, 2011

Arizona Is As Beautiful As I Suspected

Well, here I sit... in the back of our SUV, in a state park in Arizona, underneath a blanket of breathtaking (if frigid - Temp 30F, wind chill is 21F) stars. I didn't expect to make it this far west on day 3, but the weather changed our plans, so we'll be spending the Christmas holiday with some cacti here near Tucson. The drive today was a little storied, the roads were still pretty bad, but I was going to sprout wings and fly before I was cooped up in a hotel room for another precious day. We watched terrible movies all night since the snow let up just in time for a failed snowball fight.. my gimp foot makes wet snow a problem...

In fact, it was still snowing when we left.

We drove west as soon as the road opened, about 11am... stopping for lunch and some really nasty traffic. By the time we finally made it to the park, the sun was just slipping past the horizon.

I made a last run to Walmart for ice before they close (drawback to travel on a holiday) and came back to camp to make dinner.

A few things stood out to me today as we drove the 220 miles from Las Cruces...

First, the desert is devastatingly beautiful when covered in snow. It was as if I was looking at the surface of the moon outside the car window, strange and barren, all the same shade of reflection. As we moved west, the contrast was exaggerated. First, the mountains got bigger... instead of foothills, we were staring down vast ranges of peaks, covered in snow. The ground flattened out and vegetation clung closer to it and became more sparse. The snow cover was thin, and the basin stretched out in terracotta before us.

It was intoxicating to watch the lanscape transform as we moved mile by mile. The shrubs became shorter and smaller, the yucca - taller and thinner. We watched everything evolve based on needs, more drought-tolerant, more hardy, and eventually around Tucson, diverse in a way I didn't expect. I can't wait to get out on a bike and explore this place tomorrow so I can share with you how diverse the flora is here.

Second, there are some long stretches of road with no bathroom between Texas and Arizona. We stopped at one place, and I made a crack as we pulled up about the place being abandoned, even though there was an 'open' sign... let's just say there was no running water, and definitely no trash pickup at this joint, 5 miles from the Arizona border.

Third.. I was entirely correct about the roadside yucca looking like Dr. Seuss characters... they look even more so when they are lit well and not covered in snow...

I thoroughly enjoy seeing something 'new' for the first time. I never look at plants on the side of the road in Texas, because I've seen them enough to be unremarkable. But this alien landscape reminds me that nature has an imagination, just like Dr. Seuss. Just look at the comparison between these yucca and the Sneetches!

Lastly, and the most magical of the day... after dinner, we settled outside our camp for some stargazing, under the first clear sky of the trip. Bart and I cozied up in our sleeping bags under the stars and freezing weather, and watched the southern sky rotate in front of us. We're higher here than home (about 2800 ft.) and Tucson's lights don't interfere too terribly with the night sky, so even though we're in the city and a Walmart is really close, I can see some low-magnitude stars. If it weren't so cold, I'd still be out there looking at them. Instead, I resolved to see more of these stars... go darker places on this trip, and make it a priority to see the stars more regularly when I'm home. We're even talking about building a teardrop trailer that we can pull with the MINI, so look out for future adventures.

At one point this evening, with campfire tacos in my belly, a movie-quality set before me of picturesque mountains and stars, thinking about my favorite times (the future), I was in heaven. A cold, very cold, heaven. Now I can sleep.

Tomorrow we bike here at Catalina State Park, home to a hundred miles of beautiful trail. Biking is easier on the broken foot and doesn't get the cast dirty. I hope to explore the species of succulents here and do some yoga on the side of this big sandstone rock we're camped in front of. Later this week, we might be in Phoenix, possibly tattooing something nearly as beautiful as this place on my body. Night.

photos by me and Bart

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