Still living on Tucson time

Organ pipe cactus, Stenocereus thurberi, Lemaireocereus thurberi against the Arizona sky

Just back from the GWA Symposium in Tucson, I’m jet-lagged and dry as a corn husk, but I am happy. I didn’t know what to expect of Tucson or the Sonoran Desert. On maps, the area is large and brown, but in person, it is . . . Wow! I’ve driven through Arizona and stopped at the Grand Canyon, but usually I don’t venture further west by car than Santa Fe or Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you’ve driven across the Texas panhandle a time or two you understand.

A large agave (don’t ask me which one) and a cactus (again I have no idea which type it is.) I should have looked at the tag, right?

I knew there would be cacti. From my friend, Scott Calhoun’s blog, I suspected there would be an agave or two.

Blue agave in a Tiffany blue container shows you don’t need a tons of plants to make an impact. Agaves are the ultimate statuary.

I’m kidding. I’m not that Oklahoma centric.

I didn’t realize the prickly pear fruit would be as ubiquitous to Arizona cuisine as the pineapple is to Hawaii’s. I also learned the tunas (fruit) take some real work to prepare. Prickly pear juice is as pink as Barbie’s play house. Sorry I don’t have a picture. I was too busy drinking. Our hosts served prickly pear lemonade, margaritas, fizzy lemonade and more margaritas.

Prickly pear fruit or tunas of Opuntia engelmannii. Prickly pear grow in Oklahoma. In fact, I have one in my upper pasture. I don’t think they ever get a chance to fruit in central Oklahoma because a freeze. However, in the southwestern part of the state, I bet they do.

It’s so dry in the desert. You know the jokes about dry heat, but I found it boils and concentrates the residents of Tucson to their essence. Arizonans are tough folk. They must not go anywhere without a jug of water. I was parched the entire trip. My lips, skin and throat remained dry, and surprisingly, I had more allergies. I also carried a jug of water with me at all times. We met docents in the Sonoran Desert Museum on the extended tour, and they all looked thin and super fit with smiles as large as the Arizona blue sky.

I admire these people.

My climate is tough, but I don’t have to use a jackhammer to dig a hole in the soil. As my kids would say, “No lie.”

Zinnias against a pink fence in Tucson.

I found many things we have in common. I also grow zinnias for example. I’ve found no easier flower for hot, summer days. It seems the Arizonans do too. I also grow several of their other natives as summer plants that can take our abysmal heat.

Russelia equisetiformis, coral fountain, firecracker plant-imp

However, I didn’t realize I would come around the corner of my hotel and catch hummingbirds, a male and female, drinking from a fountain of rock. Arizona is full of surprises that way.

I saw these two hummingbirds playing in the water of our hotel’s fountain. They waited patiently while I snapped several photos.

It seeps into your bones and refines your thinking, making you want to return in spring just after the monsoon rains bring out the wildflowers for a week or two. I might even drive across Texas to get there.

27 Replies to “Still living on Tucson time”

  1. I love the desert landscape and especially near Tucson…so much to see there and they have preserved more of the desert. It is a tough climate to garden in and one I would go so native I think…fighting elements too rough!

  2. The hummingbird photo is delightful! They must have been quite thirsty, too.

    My daughter lived in the Phoenix area for several years, so I made the trip (by plane!) to Arizona quite a few times during that time. The plant life is so different in the desert, but I came to love it and even started to recognize a lot of the different cacti and succulents. The organ pipes and saguaro are so impressive, aren’t they? But my favorite, too, were the agaves. You will have to go back in March some time–my husband liked to go then to see some Cubs’ spring training games, which I enjoyed, too, but mostly I enjoyed seeing the wildflowers and cacti in bloom which at that time are spectacular.

    Glad you had such a great time.

  3. This is a wonderful place to visit for sure. The desert plants intrigue me. So few grow in our area. I do have a few echiverias wintering in my livingroom though. Glad you had a good trip. It is fun to see what caught your eye.

  4. Wonderfully said Dee…I remember seeing sign up sheets on bulletin boards announcing walks, runs and bike rides~daily~when we visited there a few years ago. I thought it was beautiful and I loved their dimmed lights policy. Love the hummers.

  5. Those hummingbirds are adorable!!

    I haven’t been to the southwest in years, not since I was a kid. I bet I’d find the heat to be more of an issue now!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Dee. As usual, photos are gorgeous, but your prose allowed me to travel alongside you, seeing the beauty of the fauna and folks of Tuscon. (And that hummer photo needs to be entered into the Nat Geo contest!) Love ya, friend! c:

  7. A lovely description of a place which now holds a bit more interest for me. Yes, the hummingbird couple are sweet. So often one sees them fighting with each other. Perhaps the dryness boils the fight right out of them.

  8. I was so glad to be home, that it helped me not to miss you guys too much, but I’m loving everyone’s recaps. The desert always has that effect on me, too. Makes me want to go back again and again. Pretty pictures!

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