Not Deferential Enough: Winter tanning

Posted Wednesday, February 29, 2012 in Opinion

Not Deferential Enough: Winter tanning

The pig-like javelina, safely behind a chain link fence at the Sonora Desert Museum.

by Gina Hamilton

GREEN VALLEY, Arizona -- The weather's been perfect, here in southern Arizona, where I am visiting my friend Jean and half-heartedly keeping track of the Republican primary.  Of course, the weather would be perfect, because I have a small but potent Superpower which will keep it that way if I have anything outdoor planned.  But apparently weather in Arizona is pretty good this time of year anyway.  Snowbirds come here for the weather, which is warm and dry, and also for the wide open country that I love.  No fences in sight, but a few murmuring cottonwood trees can be seen about the place.

But the most unique facet of this place is the Saguaro cactus, a succulent that easily reaches the height of said cottonwood trees, dwarfing nearly every other plant.  We visited the Sonora Desert Museum yesterday, and tramped about in the desert on dirt paths, I in my LL Bean Hiking Shoes (incredibly comfortable, by the way) and Jean on a rented scooter that she let me try for a minute (it was great fun), greeting the occasional coyote, gila monster, and javelina, which is kind of a small peccary.  Peccaries share a common ancestor with pigs, and they look a lot like pigs, but apparently, they're somewhat different.  These little creatures have jaws that can decimate the cactus, and the prickly pear is their favorite snack. Luckily, they don't care for human flesh, but we are told that if they have babies (javelettes?) they can become quite territorial and rather nasty. We haven't seen a rattlesnake yet, which is just as well, because Jean says that if we do, she will do the 100 meter dash in under a minute in the opposite direction.  I know enough to keep my distance from rattlesnakes, but according to the legends at the museum, there are some who don't bother rattling before they engage in a love bite. 

After the Museum, we drove up to the Saguaro National Park, which is only another mile or so up the road.  There are actually two parts to the park, and we saw the western part in the Tucscon Mountains.  There is another part on the other side of Tucson in the Rincon Mountains, but I doubt we'll get there.  I wanted to see the park, even for just a few minutes, because I have this rather nice National Parks Passport.  When you visit a park, you get to stamp your passport with a local stamp, and also, if you want, buy a photo sticker.  When I first noticed the things, a few years ago, I was kind of bummed out, because I'd already visited virtually every park in the west, and didn't see myself doing it again, so I didn't get one.  But on a trip to Cape Cod, my aunt bought me one and the ranger said I could write to the parks I'd already been to and they would send me stamps on a piece of paper, and I could paste them in my book.  In a rare burst of enthusiasm, I did so, and the park rangers were all too happy to send the stamps, so now I have a book that is kind of like a "life list" for birders.  I really would like to see all the national parks at some point, but I'll probably have to get more pages for my book.

Anyhow, we drove out into the desert, feeling like a couple of old Western Movie Actors, until we got to a place called Signal Hill, which was probably another thousand feet in elevation.  We were told there was a gentle hike to see some petroglyphs, but it turned out not to be gentle enough for one of us, so we retreated to a Conservation Corps ramada and looked at the petroglyphs with my binoculars, and probably that was a better view anyhow.

On the way home, we stopped at an old saloon, where we were told that John Wayne used to get drinks after a hard day at the Tucson Studios, which we're visiting tomorrow.  Margaritas are $2 here, and are pretty good, too. 

After all, we might not have been punching cows, or whatever, but we'd had a long, hard day too.  Still, I have a rather nice suntan now, which is great, considering that I'm likely to return home to six to 10 inches of the white stuff.

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