Greetings from us–Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate–as we enter week nine of our road trip with Marion and Beatrix. Bill and I were talking today that after being on the road this long we begin to long for a more routine life. So the past nine days were spent doing things like swimming, laundry, seeing my uncle, and visiting Tucson, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. All photos by Kate Poss unless otherwise noted.
I’m sitting here at the corner of 6th Avenue and 7th Street at Exo Roast Co. in Tucson. We will meet a This is Whidbey subscriber here in two days. She lives both in Tucson and on Whidbey, and travels with six cats and a dog. We have never met her before. She emailed last week and asked to get together, so we will.
Right now, a man is walking on the street in front of me wearing a gas mask and goggles talking to himself. His voice comes out sounding like old-timey radio. This is Tucson. Where amazing art, murals, excellent food, people and scenery co-exist. And Tucson has its share of folks living on the edge and folks who’ve fallen off the cliff. We experience awe, admiration, appreciation, fear, heartbreak, and sadness all in a day.
We began the first leg of of the week having lunch at the Oracle Patio Cafe & Food Market. Delicious down-home cooking. I recall noting how ‘real’ I felt here. Then, my mind went down a rabbit hole thinking of the various realities we’ve experienced so far. So ‘real’ in this instance, is a place where every sense is open and enjoying the smell, look, feel, taste and sound of a place, along with a special good juju. This place has got it, in our opinion.
Afterward we spent the next four nights camping at site #38 at Catalina State Park. The popular campground is located in a beautiful valley below the Catalina mountains, where there’s a lovely saguaro forest at the end of the park. Our campground–always fully booked–could use a break. The grounds around campsites are tired and the plants there are dust weary.
Red fire ants have colonized this loop of the campground and their architecture is seen everywhere. While walking along a trail, we noticed dogs licking their legs and feet in anxious movements. We mentioned to the owners the dogs had probably been bitten by the ants, whose numbers in the hundreds we crossed on the trail. I once reported on a controlled burn in southern California. The burn sent the ants out of the brush onto the path I was standing on with a fire chief. The ants raced up my legs and bit me. I had to sit in the chief’s truck and remove my pants to shake them out the window and brush the ants off my legs and out the door.
At Catalina State Park we were nearby to my dad’s brother Orland, who turned 80 last October and lives in the SaddleBrooke Ranch Adult Resort. We visited with with my uncle, took him out to celebrate his eight decades around the sun at a favorite Mexican restaurant of his, Carlotta’s Authentic Mexican. Other nights we cooked at his house and sat around talking about everything. We feel very comfortable in his presence. For me, it’s a chance to be with someone like my late dad Ray, who died in 1991. My dad had, and Orland has, a similar calm and kind way of approaching life.
One morning while camping at Catalina, we met up with a friend and former Sno-Isle library colleague, Rabbit Betzner, who was returning from a road trip of her own with her delightful Bulldog Amelia.
Most days we swam laps at the excellent Oro Valley Aquatic Center under the Pusch Ridge mountain. Swimming outdoors in the warm sun under blue skies for half a mile is a body and soul workout.
My Milwaukee cousin Rick’s wife Mary was out visiting her daughter in Tucson and met us for lunch at Flora’s Run Market and Cafe in the Sam Hughes neighborhood of Tucson. We enjoyed the visit and the food, when we could hear ourselves speak above the sometime loud macho cars that drove by on 6th Street.
We moved camp to Gilbert Ray Regional Park, near the western Unit of Saguaro National Park, where we will be until Nov. 16. Our campsite #22 is home to a pair of cactus wrens who spend their days weaving a nest amid the spikey cholla cactus.
To celebrate our 50th year of the day we first met at the then-Woodland Hills home of sisters Patty and Bridget Maloney on Nov. 10, 1973, we gladly stood in a line at Barrio Bread, one of Bill’s holy temples to bread. We chatted with a couple from Atlanta, who when they come to visit their daughter in Tucson, stock up with bags of the bread to take home and freeze and enjoy.
Next, we went for breakfast at Five Points Market and Restaurant. Soon after we sat down, a woman walked in the door covered head to toe in ointment and wearing purple scrubs. She proceeded to remove her top, revealing just skin. The cafe staff talked compassionately with her and I learned from a server who spoke with her, that the woman was recovering from burns and needed clothes. I handed our server a $20 bill to give the woman. Later we saw her outside the nearby St. Vincent De Paul’s Thrift store changing her clothes, and walking down the street in her new outfit. Seeing the woman and empathizing with her plight, I recalled my gratitude to Langley’s Judy Thorslund and Tanya Stager-Gran, and their in-the-trenches work with Whidbey’s underserved. They taught me about seeing the humanity in folks who are having a hard time. We won’t forget this morning.
Afterward we drove to Pima County’s Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 14 miles south of Tucson, to walk among the saguaro on a trail, Path of the Ancestors, a bosque–tree-lined creek-that was once occupied by the indigenous Hohokam people, who may have lived in Arizona as early as 2000 BC. We did not take the cave tour, having done a similar one in northeastern Washington a few years ago.
On Sunday Nov. 12, we took Uncle Orland to lunch at the Oracle Patio Cafe. He ordered the delicious corned beef hash and requested a basted egg. Neither our server, nor us had heard of eggs cooked this way. Uncle Orland explained that you fry the egg, add water, cover the pan, and steam it, so the egg white firms up around the semi-firm yolk. We will try this technique. Afterwards, we visited at Orland’s. His daughter Julie’s friend Jer was staying there a couple of weeks before joining my cousin Julie in Michigan, where she works as a psychiatric nurse. Jer is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. A very grounded and interesting person.
Afterwards we swam at the Oro Valley Aquatic Club. With a drop in blood sugar, Bill suggested eating out in Tucson, rather than taking the time to drive back to camp and cooking dinner. He couldn’t wait that long. He was starving. He bought a delicious–he says–slice of pizza at Time Market–serving Tucson since 1920. It’s a bread and pizza place and not somewhere I, as an extreme gluten sensitive since 2020, can eat at. We decided to eat together at an old favorite recommended by our friend John Chinworth, who was raised in Tucson and now lives in Seattle. La Indita Mexican Restaurant, has delicious, down-to-earth fresh Mexican food. Their chicken chulapa, which I ordered, and chicken enchilada–which Bill ordered, were delicious. As we were mopping up every morsel of sauce, rice and beans on our plates, we looked up to see Bob Effertz, a friend and participant in Tucson Dances of Peace. When I posted this marvel on Facebook, Bob’s friends wrote to say they’d seen him in September at Langley’s Djangofest Northwest. We’ve known Bob ever since we lived on Whidbey and appreciate his kind approach and his love of Sufi music. The timing that brought us together had us appreciating the Whidbey magic that brings such synchronicities. We will visit Bob at his rented Tucson place in two days.
Monday, Nov 13 we swam again at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center, before driving downtown to eat lunch at The Monica, a wonderful eatery owned by the El Charro Cafe family–El Charro, being the oldest Mexican restaurant in the country owned by the same family. The Monica’s motto: “Made with love for 100 Years, Just as Monica would have wanted.”
Who was Monica, you ask? Read about her here.
In a nutshell, “Monica Flin was the Grande Dame of women restaurateurs in Tucson from the 1920’s to the 1970’s.” She opened the famous El Charro Cafe in 1922.
After our lunch–Bill ordered turkey chili and I enjoyed a birria beef stew, we drove a few minutes to the newly restored historic Pima County Historic Courthouse. We’ve long admired the mosaic dome of the building and finally had the chance to visit on this trip. Trials are still held here. We enjoyed visiting the Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitor Center within the building. We met a remarkable woman and artist Anja Leigh, who is similar to Janet Ross, an artist friend in Langley.
The coyote are singing and yipping as I write this at 6 PM. They are the song dogs.