Ok, before we start, the pics are all here.
We headed to Tucson to see my mother's new winter homestead. Never been, but I love the desert, so we were looking to have some fun. She lives in the Catalina Foothills, with the city below. Tucson's population is, surprisingly, about the same as San Francisco's; it's also the home to the University of Arizona: I had no idea. While downtown is nothing to see, the landscape is stunning.
First tourist attraction: the Wildlife Museum. Located way out in the desert, it's an open-air, self guided sprawling facility that covers all of the native plants, animals, and minerals of the Sonora desert. The cave tour was amazing: walk through the cramped passages, and see a wild open cave, along with gorgeous exhibits of semi-precious stones from the area. The native plants and cactii are stunning, and the feel of the place is decidedly unhurried and hands on. Lots of trails and paths to explore.
The animals? WOW. A pair of mountain lions (pumas) lazily sprawled in the sun, with a close up window to see the power of these big cats. Next door, black bears rummaged about, while a pack of Mexican wolves ran mere feet away. Snakes and scorpions were on display in a separate building, but the prairie dogs took the cute factor to a whole new level. Like the San Diego Zoo, you never felt that you were looking at a pen, thanks to the hidden crevasse separating you from them, but more that these were happy, natural animals. While some hid, like the wild pigs, there was more than enough to enthrall with this diverse population.
The next day, with the weather turning colder, we headed to the San Xavier del bac Mission, out on the Indian Nation. This mission, having been in existence since the 1600's, was in utter disrepair and a respite for vandals and bored Native Americans as late as 15 years ago. However, with a renewed emphasis on the amazing art in the building, funds were raised for it's restoration. The Italian team that restored the Sistine Chapel in Rome were brought in for 5 years, and the building was transformed.Although no comparison to the cathedrals in Italy, it is magnificent inside, belied by the remote location: it's surrounded by open desert, ramshackle homes, and fry bread vendors. Still, it is always packed, as the faithful come to touch the oddly hands-on, lying down figure of San Xavier. For some odd reason, the wooden statue's torso is also on a moveable plaform, so many parishioners lift him up and cradle him, while offering their prayers.
Most of our time was spent at home, as it was unseasonably cold: in the 30's. Adding to that, a freak snowstorm hit, delivering Tucson it's first significant snowfall in a decade. We all stared, amazed, as the snow covered the desert and saguaro cactii, icing over a small pond and making road travel impossible. While it was all gone by noon the next day, the 2" of snow made for some stunning pictures.
The trip was an easy flight, and, with family there, we'll look forward to a return in spring, when the weather will be back to it's normal 80 degrees. :-)