Mountains around Tucson as seen from my hotel.
As related in an earlier blog, I took a trip out to Tucson, Arizona on February 21st to meet with publisher Shahid Mahmud to discuss a book deal. I was carrying the signed contract, the deal was actually done, but Shahid likes to meet with his authors before they start their projects. He had offered to buy me the round trip tickets to Tucson (and why we were in Tucson was part of the previous blog) and hotel room for the three nights we would be there. I had another idea. I had always wanted to see that part of the country, so I asked for the cash, then bought a one way ticket to Tucson on Tuesday and a return ticket from Las Vegas on Sunday. Now I wish I had added even more days, but I can always go back. We met in the afternoon into the evening, so I had mornings and early afternoons to explore. So the second day it was back to the airport to get a rental car. I learned that it costs a lot more to take a one-way rental, picking up at one airport and returning to another. More information for planning future trips.
View in Saguaro National Park.
I had always wanted to visit a desert region in the Southwest, and this was my chance. I have an idea for a post-apocalyptic series, and part would be set in a desert, whether an existing one or one created by the apocalyptic event. I have read of people using Google maps to gain background information. Jim Butcher has admitted to using Google Earth to look up locations in Chicago for The Dresden Files. I have done so myself for books set on Earth. But I remember reading about how the guy who wrote The Battle For Crete visited the locations and said you could see terrain features not visible on any map, or even most photos. So I learned on this trip. If you want to see an area you are going to write about, really see it, you have to go there.
Saguaro in front of Tucson Airport.
First thing I noticed in Tucson was the Saguaro cactus in front of the airport. The next were the mountains all around the almost flat bowl that the city was built in. You could see several ranges from anywhere in the city, and every range was different. There were sharp pointed mountains, wide low peaks, all kinds of different spurs and valleys radiating out. I took a year of geology in college, and seeing all of the mountains were a treat. At the time I didn’t know how much of a treat I was in for.
Mountain overlooking Saguaro National Park.
I had no plan, so I looked to the GPS that came with the car. Saguaro National Park looked interesting, so off I went to the eastern part of the park. I passed by an aircraft graveyard on the way, and made a note to stop and take some pictures on the way back. Saguaro was not a large park, but it had a great view of a massive low mountain, Mt. Mica, and the drive through offered some great views. And, of course, there were a lot of cactus. I dubbed that area the Desert of Pain, since almost every plant seemed to have some kind of thorn. I had to wonder how the cougars in the park made their way through the undergrowth. I met a Florida State alum at one of the stops. Saw a lot of what passed for creeks through the park, washes, which I guess comes from the fact that if you camp in them you will be washed away when it rains, whenever that is. On the way back to my hotel I stopped outside one of the aircraft graveyards, where the armed forces store their old and obsolete airplanes. I took some pictures, hoping that I wasn’t doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. But the aircraft are all very old, and I wouldn’t think they would have any secrets worth safeguarding.
One of Tucson’s aircraft graveyard.
The next day I headed for Mt. Lemmon, the tallest peak in the area at over nine thousand feet. There is a ski resort at the top, though you can’t see it from the valley. I could see the mountain from the hotel in South Tucson, and it looked to be a couple of miles away. Wrong, and another lesson. The water starved air is so clear that everything looks closer than it is, especially to eyes used to seeing things in the heavy humid air of Florida. I drove at least twelve or fifteen miles to get to the foothills. You can’t see the road going up the mountain from the valley. What you could see where the scores of bicyclists heading toward the mountains. They were all over the place, struggling up the slope, then gliding back down into the valley. It was as winding a road as I’ve ever been on, with great vistas of gorges and valleys. Most of the valleys were filled with saguaro. There are different biomes higher up. I had planned to go to the top, but at the six thousand foot mark I started to feel a little light headed. I imagined myself going off the road into a gorge, a couple of screaming bicyclists on my hood. I thought it best to head back down. I had seen most of the mountain, and the great views of the city. So I headed back.
View of Tucson valley from Mt. Lemmon.
Observations on the Sonoran desert, which was the local biome. It’s dry. Really dry. Even though it was from cool to cold, I would still get dehydrated in less than an hour as the moisture in my lungs was pulled out of my body by the water starved air. There was vegetation everywhere, growing out of the sand. It got a little chilly at night, into the forties, and got up to the low sixties during the day. I got used to this over the couple of days I was there, and figured that would be the temperature I would have to endure throughout the trip. I kind of forgot the size of the area I was going to traverse over the next couple of days. Note to self, look up information on the areas you are going to travel through. Most of the yards in Tucson didn’t have grass. They had cactus. Even the sports fields for the most part were dry, with brown grass. It seemed to me that it would actually be really hard to get lost in the desert. All you have to do is pick out a mountain that is in the direction you want to go and head for it. Remembering that it’s probably ten or more miles away, and you will be dehydrated in a mile. And assuming that there’s nothing in the way (more on that next blog).
With the rest of the morning to kill I went to the local zoo and to the Museum of the Horse Soldier. The museum, which was one small building, still had a lot to see concerning cavalry from the civil war up through World War 2. Everything is grist for the mill, and I am sure that someday I will be able to use the information I gathered there.
I really hadn’t had a plan for my travels, so I went out for a map that Wednesday night looking for a map. GPS is great when you know where you want to go. Not so much when you don’t. I had to go to four different gas stations or drug stores to finally find one. That night I looked it over and made my plans. The next day we broke from meeting at six. I was already checked out of my hotel, so I hit the road, hoping to get as far north as I could before stopping. I took I-10 up through Phoenix, then up I-17 toward Flagstaff. I didn’t see much of Phoenix, only what you can see at night from the highway. On the way up I saw a lot of mountains, beautiful every one. And noted the trailers out in the desert, sitting by themselves, and wondered how people lived out there when they had to cart in all of their water. How do they shower?
It was really dark by the time I got north of Phoenix. I mean almost pitch black, and the interstate was missing most of its middle road reflectors, making it difficult to tell if you were in your lane. And the elevation markers kept going up. Four thousand feet, then five thousand, then six thousand. I remembered how I had gotten light headed on Mt. Lemmon at six thousand feet. Then it went down to five thousand, then four thousand some miles further, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The worst is over, I thought. Then it started going back up, until the elevation marker outside of Flagstaff read seven thousand feet. There were no hotels, and very few gas stations, so I kept going. Then I was in Flagstaff, elevation seventy-five hundred feet, and found a hotel off of I-40, heading for Winslow. It was nineteen degrees out, and all I had for warm weather clothing was a leather jacket and a light sweatshirt. Nineteen might not have been much for the locals, but it was threatening cold to this Florida native. I struggled to my room in the Arctic cold (to me) and finally got to bed at a little past eleven. The adventure continued the next day.