In Spring 2014 when Matt and Adrienne found out I would be living in California they invited me to join them for a weekend in Tucson in the Fall. I read up about Tucson and saw it described as the Portland of Arizona which was enough to convince me to join in on the fun. We had a great time!
The purpose of their trip was to attend the Southwest Terror Fest, an annual music festival filled with fun metal bands. Although I am open to all forms of artistic expression I am not as excited by the metal as others so I did not buy tickets to the shows. Fortunately the shows were only in the evenings so we had all day Saturday and Sunday to explore the greater Tucson area.
In order to maximize the fun while using exactly zero of my precious and few vacation days I flew into Tucson Friday evening and back to San Francisco super early on the Monday morning. It worked perfectly (other than being a bit tired Monday at work)!
My flight from San Francisco today was pretty easy. Domestic air travel is always so much more straight-forward. I arrived at the tiny Tucson airport (TUS) around 9:30pm and Matt and Adrienne picked me up in the Toyota Corolla they had rented for the trip. There were many cactus in the passenger pick-up area which was super cool. I am definitely not in California anymore!
We went back the B&B where we're staying. It's called the Royal Elizabeth, it was built in 1878 and is thought to be the only known example in the world of a San Francisco Victorian home built in Territorial-style of adobe mud. The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. Needless to say it is an amazing building with period furnishings and decorations everywhere.
Matt and Adrienne had arrived earlier in the day so they had already explored a bit and even gone to a few shows that evening before picking me up. Once I had dropped off my stuff in my room we went out for a walk and ended up at the Thunder Canyon Brewery, a brew pub where I got a nice local craft beer and where we shared some delicious fresh made pretzels. We chatted into the evening and then headed back to the B&B to get some sleep.
Cactus at TUS
Street art in Tucson, there were gryphon tracks carved into the sidewalk behind it (front feet eagle and back feet lion)
Beer and pretzels for late-night snack
Thunder Canyon Brewery
Sign at the B&B
Sign at the B&B
Saguaro National Park
We got up this morning for breakfast at 8am. The owners (one of whom was a Canadian from Medicine Hat) had prepared a full meal of cinnamon-roasted pears, breakfast tamales, fresh fruit and fresh juice. We ate family style with the other guests and had a pleasant time chatting with everyone. We ended up chatting visas with the owner from Medicine Hat for a while. This always seems to happen when working foreigners get together down here. It seems to be a uniformly traumatic experience and so it's great for bonding with new people.
We stopped by a Walgreens to get a few things and ended up buying some snacks too. They had retro Chiclets, weird salted apricots and tamarind candy paste. The apricots were terrible, way too salty to eat, but the tamarind paste wasn't bad.
Fueled up, we drove out of town to Saguaro National Park to see the Desert Museum. It's considered one of the top ten museums in the US and the stuff to see is mostly outdoors. It's a really great way to learn a bunch about the desert while actually being in it. We saw lots of animals and plants and of course cactus. Both at the museum and on the drive out the Saguaro Cactus were everywhere. They're native to Arizona and absolutely huge, up to 20m tall. I've been in the desert in the middle of Australia before, but this was a whole other experience.
We had a good time at the museum but maybe stayed out too long in the heat as we felt a bit off after finishing. We browsed a bit in the gift shop which had some really amazing native pottery and then we drove out of the park to a crazy gem and mineral shop by the side of the highway. It was run down and totally packed with rocks of all kinds. It was all roughly organized in old boxes but I don't think we saw even a percent of everything in the building. The owner was a super nice guy in a gruff sort of way. Arizona has lots of mining and is the source of many types of semi-precious stones so much of what was in the store was local. I picked up a 200 million year old fossilized shell from the area as well as a 350 million year old trilobite from Africa. Matt and Adrienne got some stuff too and we were all given huge discounts for no apparent reason.
Our next stop was the Tucson Tamale Company to eat the best tamales in Tucson for a (very late) lunch. Tamales are a traditional mesoamerican food which were eaten as early as the year 5000BC. They're made of masa (a corn-based dough) mixed with other fillings (meat, cheese, vegetables) and wrapped in corn husks. The package is then steamed or boiled and then you unwrap and eat it. Our lunch was amazing and we finished it up with dessert tamales (one pumpkin spice and one mango-coconut-pineapple). The Tucson Tamale Company delivers frozen tamales nationwide so I'm definitely going to look into placing an order when I get home!
After lunch we went to a bakery to get some cookies and then back to the B&B to relax a bit. Matt and I went swimming in the pool and Adrienne took a nap. The water wasn't that cold but compared to the air temperature it was freezing and we never did get comfortable in it.
For dinner we went out to a really great cafe in the core where I had some fancy grilled cheese, beer and Blue Bottle Coffee espresso. Matt and Adrienne convinced me to buy a ticket to the shows for the evening and so I joined them to see Neurosis and a couple other bands. Again, I'm not a huge metal fan, but the shows were pretty good!
It was cool wandering around Tucson today, it's such an amazing little city. There's public art everywhere, tons of excellent restaurants and all kinds of cultural activities. People seem to take a lot of pride in the city. Plus the scenery is amazing and the outdoor activities fantastic. I'm extremely glad I came!
Cathedral of Saint Augustine in Tucson
Cactus and flag outside our B&B
Lots of streetcars in Tucson, but unlike Toronto they try to warn cyclists of the danger
Hills and cactus outside the city
Driving to Saguaro National Park
Hills and cactus outside the city
Cactus in Saguaro National Park
Cactus in Saguaro National Park
Sleeping Javelina in Saguaro National Park
The cactus are tall
Tail end of lunch
Common areas at B&B
Pima Air and Space Museum + More Cactus
This morning we had another great breakfast with roasted apple, a potato-crust quiche and a peach and tomato salad. After chatting a bit more with our hosts we headed out to Whole Foods to stock up on some snacks for the day. Whole Foods is always fun because they tend to stock local stuff.
We then drove on surface roads through the city and the industrial part of town to reach the Pima Air and Space Museum which is one of the largest aerospace museums in the world. Like the Desert Museum much of it is outside where they have hundreds of planes on display. As a bonus, today was classic car day and the local classic car clubs had brought their cars out to be displayed among the planes. The museum was very impressive and we saw a lot of cool things, but by the end we found the military overtones to be a bit jarring to our Canadian sensibilities.
For lunch we hit up a very good and seemingly authentic Mexican taqueria. It was cheap and amazing in every possible way. However as we left it became clear that a large storm was building in the mountains around the city. We headed back to the B&B and proceeded to sit out by the pool to watch the storm come in. It was great because all of us miss the storms from Ontario. California does not seem to ever get thunderstorms. Once it started to rain we moved inside to wait it out and relax.
Once the worst of the storm had passed we drove out to another section of Saguaro National Park to do a drive through a "cactus forest." We arrived at the perfect time with the sun setting through the receding storm clouds over the mountains. The drive was amazing and we stopped quite often until it got too dark to see anything.
For dinner we went back to the cafe from last night as Matt and Adrienne had to hurry to make their shows for the evening. After eating I left them to the concerts and then wandered over to coolest beer store/bar I've ever been too. It is a huge bottleshop with a bar that has 21 taps. So you get a pint at the bar and then drink while shopping for bottles. You can take the bottles home or they'll open and serve you one while you're there. The selection was enormous! They don't serve food but encourage people to bring their own. I hung out there for a while drinking some very fine beer.
After enjoying the tasty beers I wandered back to the central part of Tucson and had some very good ice cream from a shop near the concert venue. Matt and Adrienne took a break from the show to come chat with me for a bit and to give me the key to the B&B. The shows were running behind schedule so I left them to it and went back to the B&B to relax and read. Tomorrow morning I fly back to San Francisco at 5:30am and will go straight in to work. Not ideal, but nice to not have to use a vacation day for the trip.
Although it was just a weekend I had a great time in Tucson. I have been working very hard at the new job and at settling in to a new city and country. This break was exactly what I needed to reset my brain and take stock of the last couple months. Conclusion? Everything is awesome.
Blue Angel with old car
Cars, planes and people
It was a big flat place with lots of planes
Matt with Boein YC-14
The Airforce One for Kennedy and Johnson
Car with an Airforce One
The sky was big here
NASA Super Guppy Cargo Transport
This plane had a nose
Rob tells me this photo is very well composed and exposed
Old fueling truck with a plane Eisenhower flew on a bunch