Bird perched on saguaro cactus

Monday 13th June 1983 

We set off just before 9:00am. It is starting to become our custom that we call for the day's food and ice as our first job after breakfast. A 1 lb bag of ice costs $1.

The traffic is much busier today, maybe because it is Monday and people are back at work and school but we decide to take the local and more scenic roads rather than the interstate.

Our planned journey to Tuscon is only 120 mile, we have all day and the scenic route takes us much closer to our planed "ports of call".

Our first stop is the Casa Grande National Monument (in English, the Big House). It was most likely built by the Hohokam Indians during the 1300's. The name Hohokam means "those who have gone" in the language of the Pima Indians, probably descendants of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert.

Case Grande protected by awning

Besides the big house which has four central storeys there is a boundary wall and a number of smaller dwellings. They appear to be constructed from dired mud, adobe buildings. Although it stood exposed to the weather for seven centuries it has now been strengthened with beams, braces, new foundations and covered with a large canopy. The canopy does rather spoil the aesthetic appearance of the ancient building but I suppose it protects it from further erosion. Does it rain here? On a day like today with the temperatures approaching 38o C (100o  F), not a whisper of a breeze  nor a cloud to be seen it is hard to imagine rain in the desert but we have seen several signs warning of flash floods, so when it doesn't rain it must be heavy. For most of the time though the roof acts as a giant sunshade.

We continue along highway 87 from the Casa Grande to the Picacho Peak Park. We decide to see what it has to offer. It costs us $3 to get in, effectively for a walk around the nature trails. Heat, dust and saguaro cacti. There is almost a forest of saguaro cacti. We don't attempt the more difficult trails, but stick with the easier routes and concentrate on watching for the wildlife and taking photographs. We have not come at the best time to see the desert flowers. I spend a long time waiting for a bird to settle on a saguaro but eventually give up. 

For quite a while we try to track down the source of a constant trilling sound. We assume it must be insects and finally decide it is made by what appear to be large grasshoppers.

There is a visitors centre where we eat our picnic lunch and write postcards. I am wearing my Indian scarf to keep the sun off my head and shoulders but Stewart although he has a hat is getting hot, he appears to be catching the sun and turing a worrying shade of red. We don't want to risk getting burned so we decide to move on.

The next stop on our route from Phoenix to Tuscon is the Saguaro National Monument. I shouldn't have been surprised it was all cacti! There are many trails and drives around the park but we have limited time, it is too hot and we are ill prepared so we chose a short walk around the cacti garden which provides a lot of information on the cacti of the region. We are finding, this isn't the best time of year for this trip.

The Saguaro is the Arizona emblem, and by all accounts they are remarkable plants. They are native to the Sonoran desert region. Seedlings a year old are between 0.1 and 0.2 inches (0.25 and 0.5 cm) tall and by five years old they are about 2 inches (5cm) tall. A mature saguaro will be 60 years old and they do not begin to reach old age until well past 100 years of age.

Saguaro cactus

After our short but educational walk we continue our drive through the saguaros to the Sonora Desert museum. More entrance fees, this time $5 each. I have mixed feelings about zoos but I want to see the desert creatures and this is a good place to see the insects, birds, reptiles and plants. And of course it is an excellent place for taking photographs.

I take a lot of photographs. I hope I've got the exposure right, the shutter speed, aperture, focus, handshake. I am paranoid about ruining all my pictures and double check everything. It takes me a long time to take the photographs, but at last I get a picture of a bird pecking a saguaro and many other birds too. It is still hot but now there is a light breeze making it more pleasant and with all the water fountains there is no excuse for not drinking enough.

It occurs to us that we haven't met many other English people on our travels. Most of the visitors have been American with a few Mexicans and a couple of other Europeans. Despite believing language would not be a problem we have had some difficulties. We can't understand the Americans and they can't understand us. Yesterday was worse than today but we still find find ourselves saying "pardon" a lot. 

Everyone is very friendly and everywhere is more casual than it would be in England. I assumed people would recognise our English accents but they don't and we are always being asked where we come from.

Things are large here. The vehicles are large. Yesterday we saw a truck with huge wheels and jacked up to almost twice what we assumed was its normal height. We couldn't believe it would be legal to drive. The driver must have used ladders to climb in. But driving here is very easy although there are a few signs and road markings we don't fully understand. We have adopted a policy of watching and copying the locals, but I suppose that is a good way to pick up bad habits!

We are still surprised by the speed limit which for such wide straight roads seems so low. And people stick to it, but more surprisingly so do we even though we are used to driving much faster than 55mph on motorways. It isn't a problem in towns as we are usually looking for signs and street names, but out on the highway it feels odd. The speedo on the car only goes up to 85mph. Unbelievable!

We arrive in Tucson, or the outskirts. For the first time since we arrived in the US we struggle to find somewhere to eat. Maybe we are in the wrong part of town. Eventually we find a "pancake house" but the pancakes are only served at breakfast time.  We leave a tip and then decide we overdid it, we don't think we will ever get it right, but then again we must be seen as eccentric foreigners so it probably doesn't matter. At least we try!

Tomorrow we are planning to spend the day in and around Tucson but we don't really know what we will do. I might try to go for a run. I haven't had much chance to run on the trip so far. It has usually been dark and the place we are in tonight is distinctly unpleasant. Hopefully there will be more opportunity when we head North. It's late now. Goodnight.