The magnificent Saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert

IMG_3777The Saguaro National Park is unique in that it is actually in two different parts: The Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. One section is west of Tucson, the other is east of town. First designated as a National Monument in 1933, the monument was officially made a National Park in 1994.

Sher and I went to the Rincon Mountain District one afternoon when we were checking out some antique and art stores on the far est side of Tucson. We stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up some information brochures and a map of the park. We did not have to pay the entrance fee because we have the America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

Fish hook barrel cactus

Fish hook barrel cactus

The beauty of the desert

The beauty of the desert

The scenic loop drive is an 8 mile one way paved road that winds through a portion of the huge park. This will give you an up close view of the amazing cacti and other plants that populate the remarkable desert environment. You cant help but feel a connection to the marvels of the desert as you take this drive. There are many pulloffs and some “scenic” views. Get out, smell the air and take a little walk.

One thing that stood out to us was the individuality of each of the Saguaro catcti. The younger ones had a simple stalk. The Saguaro doesn’t start to grow the iconic “arms” until it is over 6 feet tall and at least 60 to 75 years old. Those old timers with several arms are in the 150 + age group!

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Fort Lowell Park showcases 19th century military history of Tucson

"The Chief Trumpeter"

“The Chief Trumpeter”

Fort Lowell Park is now a large city park northeast of downtown Tucson. It is home to several ballparks and soccer fields. The ground is also the site of a former frontier Army fort. The original military post was opened in 1860 on the outskirts of the then tiny town of Tucson. This location was abandoned several years later and moved to the Fort Lowell site, seven miles northeast of downtown Tucson. The fort remained until it was decommissioned and abandoned in 1891.

The Fort was used as a staring point for several Army expeditions chasing down “renegade” Apache bands. Perhaps the most famous event that began at Fort Lowell was General Crook’s expedition that led to the “surrender” of Geronimo.

Today little remains of the original buildings. The old hospital building remains are the largest reminder of the original fort. The mud brick walls are now protected from the weather by a large shed roof. A fence now surrounds these ruins to keep them safe from vandalism.

The old fort hospital ruins

The old fort hospital ruins

Free Museum

Free Museum

The Commanding Officer’s quarters has been faithfully reconstructed and houses a small museum. The museum houses fascinating displays covering the life and times of life on a frontier military post. Military uniforms, saddles and weaponry are there for up close examination. Civilian history is also told.

Take time to visit Fort Lowell. As you walk the old parade grounds you can imagine the cavalry troopers in formation as the infantry marches into place for the sounding of the evening gun. Look at the large statue of a mounted bugler: let your mind travel back to Tucson in the 1880’s.

Once a year the old fort is the location of the Fort Lowell Day Celebration. Normally the second Saturday in February, this event is packed with activities including Cavalry drills, period bands, walking tours and of course lots of food vendors. Visit the Arizona Historical Society website for details.

 

Whispering Palms RV Park is a gem in Tucson

IMG_3579Every once in while Sher and I find what we consider an exceptional RV park. We have found one such park here in Tucson. We normally stay at most for two or three nights, however we are enjoying Tucson and the weather! We have decided to spend a month at the Whispering Palms RV Park on the north side of town. The park is minutes from downtown and close to I-10 for easy access in either direction.

Whispering Palms has 81 spaces deep enough for big rigs. All of the spaces are back ins, however they are a full 20′ wide for easy placement of your rig.  Pull through may be an option depending on occupancy of adjacent sites. The sites are all level on gravel. Of course there are full hook ups at each site. Long term stays may have cable TV and internet service from a local cable company. The electric service panels have been updated with 20/30/50 plugs at each spot.

Cactus and grapefruit

Cactus and grapefruit

This park has been under new ownership for a couple of years. The new owners have spent a lot on upgrades including newly remodeled restrooms with showers and several large commercial washers and dryers in the laundry room. In addition there is a  new swimming pool and covered picnic area.

The onsite manager is most enjoyable to interact with. Anna was here when the new owners took over and has been insturmental in making this one of the nicest parks you will ever find. The grounds are immaculate and the landscaping is just enough to add to the south west feel of the area.

This has become one of the most sought after RV parks in the Tucson area. Tucson has many special events like the Gem and Mineral Shows with thousands of people coming to town. Make sure you call ahead or go to the park website and make reservations as soon as you as you know your travel plans. Whispering Palms is a member park of Passport America, Good Sam and Enjoy America. Be sure to mention these when you call to check the availablity of these potential discounts.

If you are looking for a resort style place with a big clubhouse, shuffleboard tournaments or bingo then this is not the RV Park for you. But, if you want a clean, safe, friendy and affordable place to stop for a night, week or long term in Tucson then Whispering Palms is the place for you.

Extra wide and deep sites

Extra wide and deep sites

 

Newly refurbished pool

Newly refurbished pool

New picnic shelter, pool in background

New picnic shelter, pool in background

Tucson’s El Charro Café lives up to its reputation

Sizzling beef and chicken fajitas at El Charro Café

Sizzling beef and chicken fajitas at El Charro Café

The folks at the RV park recommended that for some real authentic Mexican food during our stay in Tucson we should be sure to visit the El Charro Café. That recommendation turned out to be spot on.

The El Charro proudly proclaims that it is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. The cafe opened in 1922 and is still in the same location near downtown. (There are two other locations in Tucson.)

Like most Mexican eateries a dish of salsa and tortilla chips was brought out as soon as we were seated. The chips were home made and a great way to enjoy the salsa. Our waiter, Andre, was most helpful in assisting us with our choices. Sher went with the Vegan Corn and Quinoa Tamales. I could not resist the “Sizzling Fajitas” combo with both beef and chicken.

The portions were approaching huge in size. Note the picture of my fajitas. The food was very very good. All of the offerings were served fresh and hot. The fajita’s skillet ‘sizzled’ for a good four minutes or so after it was brought to our table. Our food was served within a very short time after ordering. Both Sher and I really enjoyed our meal in this historic Tucson restaurant.

The El Charro Café should be on your short list for dining in Tucson. Our tab ended up a moderate $40 which included Margaritas. Here is their website. Ask for Andre when you go. He’ll take good care of you and your party.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert

20160112_151152About 10 miles south of Tucson, Arizona you will find the “White Dove of the Desert” also known as the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This magnificent Spanish mission was completed in 1797. The first Spanish missionary, Father Eusebio Kino, arrived at the site in 1692. Throughout the years the location has been part of New Spain, Mexico, and finally a part of the U.S. after the Gadsen Purchase of 1854.

When you enter the church you cannot help but be amazed by the incredible amount of 18th century statuary and murals. The impact varies for everyone who walks the interior of this powerfully spiritual place. Candles are always lit and displayed. A shrine to St Francis is a prominent feature and one of solemn devotion.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac

The edifice is still a functioning Catholic Church that primarily serves the Tohono O’odham tribe, formerly known as the Papago. There is a museum the shows the history of the church however it ws under construction during our visit so we missed much of the displays. There is also a gift shop.

Being one of the most popular tourist stops in Tucson, we were fortunate to visit when there were very few people there. It was almost as if we had the place to ourselves. This is a site that is filled with history as well as a sacred place for contemplation, meditation and prayer. Do not miss a chance to visit San Xavier. You will be moved.

The San Xavier website is packed with information for your visit planning assistance.

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Prayer chapel and garden

Prayer chapel and garden

Old Tucson movie locations and Old West fun

Old Tucson

Old Tucson

Old Tucson is a fascinating attraction west of the city of Tucson, Arizona. The property was first developed in 1939 when Hollywood movie studio Columbia Pictures wanted a suitable location for a western feature film. Over the years over 300 film and television shows have been filmed there. John Wayne filmed four times there including “Rio Lobo”. Several well known western themed TV series were produced at Old Tucson.

While there are still films made there as well as TV ads and music videos the primary use is a neat and fun tourist attraction. The buildings look like they came right out of the movies. Fancy that. Once you get in the grounds there are activities shows and events every half-hour. See a rousing musical show featuring real dance hall girls. The highlight for us was the live actor short shows including a demonstration of stunts used in the movies. The actors were terrific, had a great sense of humor and interacted with the crowd to the delight of all.

We spent about four hours at the Old Tucson movie studio. The weather was rather chilly and the crowds were not at all large. A great day to visit, althogh another 10 degrees or so would have made the day perfect.

Go see Old Tucson movie sets and theme park when you travel through Tucson. Tickets are a little pricey but they do offer senior discounts with ID shown. Here is the Old Tucson website.

Another movie ready building

Another movie ready building

Cowboy actors at Old Tucson

Cowboy actors at Old Tucson

Took the ferry to Galveston, Texas

On the ferry

On the ferry

We enjoyed a combination of good timing and good luck when we took the free ferry from Bolivar Penninsula to Galveston a couple of days ago.

The fellow at the Texas Welcome Center on I-10 told us about this ferry and suggested that we plan to follow the coast down to Galveston. We waited in line for about 30 minutes and then were directed to board the ferry. What a treat it was when we ended up at the front of the ferry boat. The best view on the vessel.

The good timing kicked in because just as the ferry left we were blessed with the beautiful sunset over the water.

 

 

Sunset on the water

Sunset on the water

The ferry

The ferry