Many moons ago, John and I worked together at the Athens YMCA with Martha. She joined the Peace Corps and ended up in southern Morocco for a couple years, and I was lucky enough to join her for a few weeks down there. Upon her return to the US, she began grad school at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and from day one, every phone call included an invitation to come out and visit. She told us time and time again that John and I would love Tucson, would have a fantastic time hiking and enjoying the region if we came out. Fast forward three years, and we just barely made it out there before our departure. We managed to get the flight free with Chase’s Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card, which was a nice little perk. Despite some serious scheduling difficulties, we made it out there for Fourth of July, squeezing it in just a few weeks before our big trip.
Hiking outside the city always topped our list of plans for Tucson. On our first day, Martha drove us up A Mountain for a view of the city below – quite a view! Tucson is surrounded on four distinct sides by mountains – Santa Catalinas (N), Tucsons (W), Rincons (E), and Santa Ritas (S). Because the city is gridded in quite an intelligent way (as opposed to, say, Atlanta), you’re constantly able to see them – each major street seems to dead end in a huge mountain.
We also spent a day hiking Mt. Lemmon – one of the highlights of the trip. We drove all the way up to the top and did the Marshall Gulch trail, about four miles or so of excellent views and amazingly cool weather. From the bottom of the mountain to the top was a thirty degree difference in temperature. I was downright chilly at the top, despite baking in the 104 degree heat down crushing us down in the city. Martha and John are two science-oriented people, and spent quite a good bit of time discussing plants. Mt. Lemmon is noteworthy for clearly showing a number of different ecosystems as altitude increases: it’s a desert at the bottom, but the top is filled with pines that reminded us of northeast Georgia. The views were fantastic, though – very much unlike Georgia or anything I’ve ever seen before. The rock formations look like blobs of clay that have landed upon one another and just frozen in this leaning tower kind of way.
We were there for the Fourth of July, and so we had a fantastic time barbecuing and hanging out with some of Martha’s friends, playing music and chatting. (One of Martha’s friends had spent a year in New Zealand and a year in Australia doing what we’re planning to do!) They made some fantastic food for the holiday. I can also safely say that the Mexican food will be missed. We ate some stellar (vegan!) Mexican food; the options seemed limitless. When we asked a group of people about their favorites, which restaurants they recommended we absolutely must eat at, there wasn’t much of a general consensus – there were so many options, everyone had their own suggestion. And so we ate at a number of them. Downtown Tucson is also going through a bit of a revitalization, meaning we visited a brand new brewery for a couple flights of beer and walked along one of the downtown streets to visit some shops and whatnot.
Martha has lived there for a few years, and she’s got pretty much nothing but positive things to say about it. She’s enjoying her time there immensely – it seems like one of those places you can live for years and still not see all the sites, hike all the trails, enjoy all the region has to offer. We could make another trip there, spend even more time. And there’s always the Grand Canyon – I imagine more trips to Arizona remain in our future.