The next day we decided to do something a little different and go over to the Desert Museum. The Desert Museum has outdoor exhibits featuring the local flora and fauna of the desert. Once you get inside the museum, you basically walk right back out into the desert. The cacti are labeled, but obviously the king of the desert here is the Saguaro cactus. If you can’t identify a Saguaro without a label, you have got a big problem. Then there are birds and coyotes and javelinas, which are like a desert pig. They have an exhibit area with a family of javelinas, which makes it easy to see them when ordinarily they would be hiding during the day. The coyote was hiding though, so we didn’t get to see him. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes either, but Jon was ok with that. They did have a collection of Zuni fetishes in the museum store that were reasonably priced, and some Indian baskets and ceramics, which were much more expensive.
After we went to the Desert Museum, we decided to go hiking nearby in the Saguaro National Park. For those of you who haven’t been there, Saguaro National Park has two sides, east and west. They are located on either side of Tucson, and have quite different topography. In sum it up succinctly, Saguaro National Park East has more saguaros. We went there first, and visited the visitor’s center to get a map of the area and some of the trails that we should go on. We found some suitable trails and headed out. We had a great time – the trails were relatively easy for us, but they gave some great close-ups of saguaros, and some really nice views as well. Of course, Jon being the klutz that he is, brushed up against a cactus and got a bunch of spines stuck in his leg. He wasn’t hurt, and honestly, I tried not to laugh. We also found a short hike that takes you up to some ancient petroglyphs. They are difficult to photograph without a serious zoom lens, but really neat to see. We watched the sunset, and I got some great photos, and we found that it gets quite cold in Arizona in January after the sun goes down. But it sure is pretty.
That evening, we were cruising around looking for a decent place to eat, and we passed by a steakhouse and wine bar called the Elle Wine Country Bistro that from the outside looked pretty pricey. And it was. But, you could sit in the bar and order from the bar menu and the prices were actually pretty decent. And there, I discovered Albariño. Albariño is a Spanish varietal that is gradually increasing in popularity here. It is a light white, with a crisp mineral taste. It has a hint of citrus, but is not overly fruity – very refreshing. I ordered that for myself and when Jon tried it, he kept wanting to steal sips for himself. I had a PoBoy sandwich or something along those lines, and it was absolutely delicious – Jon had the pound of steamed mussels, which were also excellent. Next time we are in the area, I’ll certainly head back there.
The next day, we did Saguaro National Park West. This is the side that has fewer Saguaros, and more in the way of scrub brush. It is still beautiful, but different. In this area we went hiking and enjoyed the warmth – it was the first day I could wear shorts and a tank top and still feel warm. An older gentlemen asked us if we would like him to take our photo, and after he took the photo he gave us a pen and told us that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure what happened to that pen!
We did have a good hike though, and after our hike we headed into downtown Tucson to check out the sights there. We parked and found our way to Old Tucson, which is a little tourist area in a complex of 19th century adobe buildings. And in the middle, there is a courtyard where you can sit and have a beer with your lunch. Again, I had the opportunity to be baked in warmth, a phenomena that is sorely lacking during the northwest winters at home. As a matter of fact, right now I’m really missing that.
We poked around the shops, looking at Navajo ceramic pots, Zuni fetishes (theirs were much more expensive than the ones at the museum), paintings and framed photographs, and we decided to buy a little Navajo pot with a turquoise embellishment and burned horse hair decoration. It’s a neat technique really, where you take a piece of horse hair and you burn it against the pot. It leaves a zig-zaggy line across the surface of the pot. That little pot is sitting on our china buffet at home, reminding me of a great trip.
Then we went to the Tucson Art Museum. They had an exhibit on Ansel Adams photographs that I really wanted to see. His photos are really something – the way he captures the light and shows the contrast between light and dark, all with black and white film. He really had a talent, and was adventurous enough to go to the spot where you could get the great photo that others couldn’t get. They also had a neat exhibit on antique furniture, mostly Asian, but European and American as well. I can imagine all the cool furnishings I could decorate my house with, if only I had that kind of cash.
That evening, we went to a concert at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. Jon found out that The Girls were playing at show with $10 tickets, so he booked them online before we flew out for vacation. The Hotel Congress was once one of the ritzy hotels in Tucson, and it has been restored. It is now a boho place, focusing on the the younger eclectic crowd and booking popular bands. Of course, if you stay there, you might as well go see the band, because you won’t be sleeping upstairs. The show was good, and we enjoyed ourselves. Of course, we were up way past our bedtime, and I was pooped by the time we got home.