Around and About

I can practically hear Juliette Gordon Low rolling in her grave.  What the hell is going on here?  Relax, Juliette…’s just a party in Tucson at the Tap & Bottle to explore pairings of Girl Scout Cookies and beer.  Sounds odd, and it was.  We sampled four different GS cookies, which were matched with distinctively different beers – hopefully to complement flavors.  20150208_151347Not so sure about the success of the pairings, but it was a terrific afternoon with camping pals Vern & Ilene.  Tap & Bottle is a superfun spot to spend a few hours, and they did the Girl Scouts proud – there must have been 200 people jammed inside, and everyone bought a box or two of cookies in addition to the samples that came with the beer.  The table next to us (of guys, naturally) brought their own cookies in – we saw two different bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies and potato chips that they were pairing with their own beer choices.  This was a good-hearted event that had support from all parties – marketing folks from the Girl Scouts, beer drinkers, local college students, and a full complement of tiny little Girl Scouts earnestly hawking their wares (safely outside the bar on the sidewalk, with their parents).

We decided to take the newly christened Tucson Streetcar for a full-circuit ride.  What a gem this is!  Running through the entertainment/club district to the University, to the downtown business area and out to the Expressway edges of town, it serves a diverse population.  Our $4 daily pass gave us unlimited on/off privileges.

20150208_163320We hopped off to get John a nitro coffee at Ilene’s favorite coffee stop.  Those of you who are fans of the nitro taps in a brewpub can perhaps relate to this.  The coffee wasn’t great, but we (perhaps, generously) attributed this to the fact that it was late on a Sunday afternoon, and it might not have been at its freshest.20150208_165817

Tucson has many great sights, and so much history.  We decided that we need to spend a few days just cycling around town and enjoying some of the oddities that make this such a cool spot to visit. 20150208_162622

Having running commentary from Vern as to what we were seeing from our streetcar seats made this a most enjoyable tour.

We’ve fallen into our regular Green Valley routine.  We hike a bit, bike a bit, and do nothing A LOT!  The weather here has been spectacular!  Well above normal temps, which puts it into the mid-70s (and sometimes into the low 80s) nearly every day.  Bright sunshine.  We hiked up to Rogers Rock in Madera Canyon one day this week.  Perfect weather made the eight mile round trip pretty easy.  This is one of our favorite hikes every year.20150209_10124520150209_10293620150209_111618Seven of us + two dogs made the trek to a spectacular spot for lunch.  The light spots in the background are the enormous piles of mine tailings in Green Valley – the copper mines are running full force, and the tailing piles significant.  Mining is a huge industry in this area, and it has some benefits, I’m sure.  But, the downside is that it sucks an enormous amount of the precious water resources of the area, the environmental (and visual) effects are a significant downside.

Of course, we’re cycling often.  Thursday was a first for us – while John and I were cycling to the meetpoint for our regular Thursday ride, a coyote darted out from the roadside, and nearly had his snout in my front wheel before I shouted STOP! or HEY!  (not sure what happened here).  He and I both braked severely!  Never have I seen a coyote so close up.  It was unnerving.  Twenty minutes later, our group was rolling through Quail Creek, an upscale golf course/housing development when three coyotes appeared on the narrow strip of ground between the pavement and the walled back yard of the nearby house.  Our 10 bikes couldn’t have been more than eight feet away from these guys!  It was breathtaking.

Our rental house is in a development where the abundance of birds has been such a pleasure.  Every morning we hear cactus wrens, and curved-billed thrashers call.  It’s amazing to hear them sing out.  Areas covered by low-lying prickly pear cactus are havens for the Gambel’s Quail.  As I stroll with Jezzy in the early morning, I can hear them grumbling, although I usually can’t spot them.  All of the sudden, one will dart out, and a whole stream will follow.  They are amazing to see.

The daily sights and sounds of the Arizona desert never fail to delight.  Although the cactus aren’t yet flowering, the prickly pear are loaded with fruit.  Around here, it’s common to find jams, jellies, and salsa made with prickly pear.  A gorgeous napolito (thornless) prickly pear is right around the corner from us.  20150213_093733This particular plant is also a coveted snack for one of the meandering javalinas who patrol the neighborhood at night.  If I were a javalina, I would also chose spineless!20150213_093804The Gila woodpecker makes it home in the Sagauro cactus.  The Saguaro survives this invasion by totally isolating the hole in an oblong capsule.20150213_092934 We observed a pod collected from a dead Saguaro in the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Park – it’s an amazing adaption.

Cactus shapes never cease to amaze me.20150209_085726The colors in morning and evening are especially lush.20150213_090513We noticed a chiminea (a free-standing, clay fireplace) in the patio area of our rental house.  We asked our landlords if they would mind if we actually used it (looked as though it was new, although it had a crack).  With their blessing, we have thoroughly enjoyed our evenings on the patio, watching the sun set on the nearby Santa Rita Mountains.  20150210_182331We even rescued the hotdog forks from the Fireball and roasted hot dogs one evening.

Our new refrigerator has arrived, been installed, and appears to work just fine.  Yay!  We’ve received the new regulator for our Camp Chef stove, so we’re back in business on that front.  We’ll be ready to hit the road again on March 1.

To top it all of, I noticed this seasonal greeting on my morning stroll today.20150213_090212All is well here – hope the same is true for each of you.

An Eye on Tucson

Great outdoor weather continues here, and we have really taken advantage of it – cycling or hiking every day.  I’ve tried to look at AZ with new eyes – seeing what a visitor might see, instead of seeing the same sights that I’ve enjoyed for the last five years.  Amazing what you can see if you really look!

Cactus – one of my favorite sights are the majestic saguaro cactus, which grow abundantly here in the Sonoran Desert.  For unknown reasons, some of the saguaros develops elaborate crests on the top, instead of developing arms.  They aren’t terribly common – about 1/1000 has this aberration.  This week, I’ve seen three new crested saguaros, bringing my life total to about seven.  Check these beauties out….this one is especially bizarre, because it seems to be crested and armed.20140216_103143wpid-20140216_111545.jpgAnd how about this warning?20140218_122145Bicycling on the Interstate still makes me nervous.  It’s the only way to get south to Tubac, a frequent destination, but it still seems weird to me.  This time it was REALLY odd, because the side of the road where we cycle was full of horse turds! horses The group came upon this grizzled rancher on down the road a bit.  We figure it was his horses that decorated our path.  20140218_101453
With Michigan friends in town for a week, we decided to take a bicycle tour of Tucson.  Tucson is a Gold Level cycling city, designated by the League of American Bicyclists.  That means that their cycling facilities are superb – plenty of well-marked bicycle routes thoughout the city, and lots of designated bike lanes and bicycle or multi-use paths.  It’s such a pleasure to cycle in such a place.  We wove in and out through the City, on a route of about 15 miles.  In that distance, only about 1/8 mile was on a road that did NOT have a separate bicycle lane.  As much as is possible, I feel very safe and secure cycling there.  We’ve got our own place to ride, cars/trucks have theirs, and everybody respects that.  It takes all the stress out of cycling in an unfamiliar city.

John designed our route – we probably visited nooks that even Tucsonians don’t know exist.  So, here we go….first stop is St. Augustine Cathedral.  First constructed in 1776, enlarged and remodeled several times, and extensively remodeled from the ground up just a few years ago.  Full of color in paintings, mosaics, stained glass, and a 600 year old crucifix from Spain, it was pure wonder.  The paintings which had a 3D effect, were especially captivating.  Mother Theresa was so real. I could have touched her.20140219_111701wpid-20140219_111052.jpgwpid-20140219_111024.jpgwpid-20140219_111035.jpgOn through some very colorful neighborhoods.  Tucson has more vibrant color than any city I know.  Houses, mosaics, murals, fences, bridges – color abounds.  Here’s a sample.4th Street - the Eastown like area of Tucson20140219_12461720140219_110508wpid-20140219_130354.jpg20140219_13030820140219_124109wpid-20140219_112546-1-1.jpgwpid-20140219_121816-1.jpg

We crossed two pedestrian/bicycle bridges that span I-10.  The most curious (to me) is the Rattlesnake Bridge.  In the past, as one would pass the tail end, you would ride under a sensor that would make a rattlesnake noise.  This time, that didn’t happen – a huge disappointment. Rattlesnake bridgeRattlesnake BridgeWe also crossed over the Basket Bridge.wpid-20140219_131241-1.jpgTucson also seems to have lots of religious parks and memorials.  One of the more unusual is the Garden of Gethsemane. wpid-20140219_120053.jpg Here one finds three works created by a sculptor who was gravely wounded in WW1, and upon his recovery, decided to spend his remaining years carving religious statues.wpid-20140219_120154-1.jpgOn to the El Tiradito Wishing Shrine.  The wall here has dozens of cubbyholes, which are filled with notes, poems, and other remembrances. wpid-20140219_113337.jpg The area is filled with floral decorations.  Nearby is a tiny historical Tucson museum, but it was closed the day we were there.wpid-20140219_114143.jpgOn to the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, one of 17 Presidios from Sonora to Texas, created to defend the northern settlements from Apache and Comanche attacks.wpid-20140219_122126.jpgwpid-20140219_122255.jpg This settlement was established in 1775, and was the westernmost of the US Presidios.  Signage and artifacts provide a pretty good idea of life during this period.

Nearby Presidio Park has war memorials, and a huge public space for strolling and lunching.wpid-20140219_125023-1.jpgOn we rode, down a long bike path past the enormous rail yards.  We wound through a linear park cycle path, which also featured a fitness course with various stations to test strength and fitness.

We started and ended our tour at the Barrio Brewery.  Good beer, not such great service.  John decided to “fire” them, and return to our favorite Tucson watering hole, Nimbus Brewery, going forward.

And, perhaps best of all, this is probably the best cycling jersey I have EVER seen.  Wild west cowboys, and cycling cowboys – all in one.  I want one!wpid-20140218_095521.jpgIf you get a chance, go to Tucson.  Rent a bike.  Check it out.

Biking to a BBQ Throwdown

So, what to do on a warm sunny Saturday in southern Arizona? 20140208_122602 Cycle to a sanctioned Arizona BBQ Throwdown, that’s what! Burn up a few calories on a rather testy 30 mile ride into Tucson, peruse some of Arizona’s best BBQ, then burn the calories consumed on the 30 mile return ride.

My Tour de BBQ bike jersey attests to my BBQ creds!

My Tour de BBQ bike jersey attests to my BBQ creds!

Craziness abounds at these events. You see every size, shape, and configuration imaginable of grills and smokers.20140208_12180820140208_12203620140208_120418 Competitors often have thousands invested in trailers, gear, and signage.20140208_121648 By judging time on Saturday afternoon, they’ve been up for hours, having put meat on the grill at 3am.  There’s chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket to be presented to the judges, and these guys are dead serious about winning.20140208_121946

This BBQ Throwdown was hosted by Freedom RV Sales.  So, while waiting for BBQ samples,we wandered through motor homes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, congratulating ourselves on our good taste and fortune in having our T@DA Fireball.  We try to operate on the KISS system, and that’s very apparent in our camping choices.  Different strokes, I guess.  It’s entertaining to see all the glitz that manufacturers put into the big rigs. Seriously?  You CAMP in this?

The high and low point of the day was the bike ride.  There aren’t many road choices for the trek into Tucson.  Nogales Highway is a two and four-lane state highway.  Parts are smooth and wonderful.  Since it’s a pretty flat stretch between Green Valley and Tucson, it should be a dream run, especially with the tail winds we had (both ways!) today.  But, the road shoulder for about 20 miles is so chewed up that enjoyment really doesn’t factor into the ride.  It’s more like survival.  Every ten feet or so, there are cracks similar to frost heave, which provide a painful ‘thump’ with each wheel.  How many ten foot sections are in 20 miles?  My butt could probably count them for you.

Anyway, a fun, interesting day.  We sampled some tasty ribs (best in our opinion were prepared by Badcats Backyard BBQ).20140208_12260820140208_122602 John heard angels singing when e was pulling the succulent meat off the bone.  High praise from a guy who really knows his BBQ!

In the meantime, we are still loving our rented house.  Room to stretch out and relax 20140207_124748for all of us, and fantastic sunrise and sunsets (yes, we’re always up for both!)20140206_070438

Finally! Tucson Book Festival

Yippee! The weekend of the Tucson Festival of Books has arrived.  We’ve been eagerly anticipating this since we first heard about it back in January.  Over 400 authors with readings, book discussions, and book signings coupled with 350 related vendors and displays.  There was a Science City area with displays, activities (mainly geared toward kids) and projects which was the most fun area of all. If you click on the first photo, you can enlarge the gallery….

John and I had poured over the schedule, marking the activities and speakers we wanted to be sure to catch.  It was impossible to really get everything done in one day.

We headed to the Festival early, arriving around 9am.  After spending a bit of time scoping out the area, located in the beautiful mall area of the University of Arizona, we headed over to the Mirror Lab of the University, where we had booked a tour.  This lab is one of the few places in the world where the large telescope mirrors are made. Several unique process were pioneered here.  The largest of these honeycombed mirrors are 8.2 meters in diamater (that’s as big as they can make them, and still get them on trucks and boats to get them to the telescopes).  The current project involves manufacturing mirrors for the Magellan Telescope in Chile.  It’s amazing to see, and we felt very privileged to have been able to tour this remarkable facility.

After our tour, we split up so as to both spend the day seeing the individual authors and areas we each were most interested in.  I made a beeline for the culinary area, where they had a huge tent and cooking stage set up for various cookbook authors.  Making sausage was Bruce Aidells, author of The Great Meat Cookbook.

one of the more unusual attendees listening to Bruce Aidells

one of the more unusual attendees listening to Bruce Aidells

Although it was hard to see what he was making, his running chatter and banter made it all worthwhile.  After completing sausage, he finished with two beef dishes.  The audience members he had selected to be his tasters were all smiles.

I headed off to Science City – an amazing collection of interactive displays and projects.  There were kids building tetrahedrons out of rolled up newspapers – amazing strength in the finished product.  There were ‘consultants’ helping kids build origami houses, planes, and sailboats.  Bicycles which you could pedal to power lights (of course, I had to hop on and try that!)

LED lights on the bottom are the easiest to light. The top incandescent bulbs on the top require the most energy.  I got three of the four on the top lit.  Had a hard time keeping my feet on the pedals!

LED lights on the bottom are the easiest to light. The top incandescent bulbs on the top require the most energy. I got three of the four on the top lit. Had a hard time keeping my feet on the pedals!  You definitely want CFL and LED bulbs in your home where you can utilize them.

hyrdoponic gardens, snakes, desert animals, falcons, bugs, and so many fun things.  The temptation to spend the entire day in that one section was very strong, even though I’m not much of a science nut.

Back into the main thoroughfare, I had my best encounter of the day when I wandered into Chuck Klosterman’s presentation.  Although I’ve not read any of his books, I’m a big fan of The Ethicist column he writes for the NY Times.

Chuck Klosterman and Mike Sager in my booksigning tent

Mike Sager (L) and Chuck Klosterman in my booksigning tent

He’s an old-time rock ‘n roll critic, and a pop culture hero.  Chuck was funny, smart, sassy, and hugely entertaining.  His books are now all on my short list to read.

There were dozens of small publishers represented there and authors hawking their own books.

one of the many booths of small publishers

one of the many booths of small publishers

So much to read…so little time.  A grabbed a bit of lunch, and headed back to the culinary tent to catch part of a demonstration of Indian cooking by author Meera Dhalwala.  Had to cut out early to get to my volunteer shift at one of the booksigning tents.

I was so fortunate to land an assignment in the area where Tim Egan and Douglas Brinkley were signing.

Tim Egan with a big fan (me)

Tim Egan with a big fan (me)

Egan is one of my favorites (Worst Hard Times, The Big Burn, and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher).  He’s one of the big attractions at the Book Festival.  He and Douglas Brinkley had been on a discussion about Teddy Roosevelt and the Battle for Public Lands.  They had a pretty good crowd come for signing.  Also in my area was Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA, a book about the history of Mexican food in the US.  I got to spend a bit of time chatting with him – what a charming and mellow guy he was.  His books are also on my short list now.  There was also a tent with three authors of paranormal romance (not my genre!), and two female authors of self-help books (also not my favorite subject)

In the last round of booksignings at my area was Chuck Klosterman!!  Yea!  Still charming and witty.  I’m a big new fan.  Also, Susan Vreeland and B. A. Shapiro were there, after their seminar on Secrets of the Art World.  Avid fans lined up with books there as well.  A mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim was there, signing copies of his bartending book, and his book about vodka.  And last, but not least, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, National Editor of the Washington Post.  His two books (Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and Little America) are both on the subject of Afghanistan.

Such a great day.  My feet were aching after pounding the concrete for 9 hours, and I was cold and damp.  It rained on & off all day, and the wind made everything uncomfortable.  The upside to bad weather was a smaller crowd.  Can’t wait for next year.

Here are a few more images from the Tucson Festival of Books.