Tucson Honeymoon: Day 4

This is a multi-part trip report… if you haven’t already, you should start with Day 1.

Start: Truth or Consequences, NM
End: Colossal Cave Mountain Park (AZ)

Daily Mileage: 288
Total Mileage: 1369

Bryan wakes up feeling much better this morning. The weather channel reports that it’s 14 degrees in Benton and -6 in Brookfield. Even New Orleans is chilly, with a wind chill of 25. There are winter storm systems scattered across the country and a lot of people will get a white Christmas this year. We imagine the newspaper headlines:

Nation Shudders Under Winter Cold,
Snowfall Heavy Everywhere,
Civilization Sinks Into Carnage,
and the Signorellis Go Backpacking

We’re glad we decided against Grand Canyon; the forecast lows for the rim this week are around zero.

The day begins with a shopping trip in Truth or Consequences. Bryan says this is the most beautiful view from a Walmart parking lot he’s ever seen; I just wanted to get a high school t-shirt. I was disappointed to learn that when the town was renamed, the high school wasn’t, so the only thing available was a “Hot Springs Tigers” shirt. (I’d been hoping for something like “Truth or Consequences Badgers”.) On the way through town we discovered that the elementary school’s name had changed, and their mascot is hilarious; I should mail a check to the PTO and ask for a “Truth or Consequences Kittens” shirt.

The drive to Tucson is interesting. We visit Hatch, the Chili Pepper Capital of the World. A dozen little stands are set up along the road selling wreaths and ropes made from dried chilies. We enjoy the break from four-lane travel for awhile. Small mountain ranges dot the landscape, each different from the next. The Sierra de las Uvas to the south are smooth, like giant, soft hills of dirt. The Greg Mountains are a series of short, rocky mesa hills to the north. As we continue west the ranges get bigger and rockier and more imposing.

Near Tucson we stop for a terrible lunch at Jack in the Box, which serves something called a “Teriyaki Bowl” apparently made from leftover rice and cat food. I swear I will never eat there again. We turn north off the interstate and head toward the park and suddenly, saguaros start appearing in the desert near the road, huge human shapes out in distance. We’ve finally arrived!

The elderly volunteer ladies at the visitors center are less than confidence inspiring when they answer our questions. “Backpacking? You mean camping? Out THERE?” Fortunately, a ranger named Jeff arrives in time to answer our questions and give good advice. We’ll camp on adjoining private park land tonight, but we have some good ideas and backcountry permits for the three nights after that.

We spend the night at Colossal Cave Mountain Park, in the La Sevilla group campsite. It’s old but sprawling and clean and we have it to ourselves. After a supper of pasta primavera and a very pretty little campfire, we’re in bed early. We’ll sleep tonight under the friendly mesquite trees, with the saguaros standing sentinel.

Entrance to Saguaro National Park (East side)
Our campfire at La Sevilla group site at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5

Tucson Honeymoon: Day 3

This is a multi-part trip report… if you haven’t already, you should start with Day 1.

Start: Santa Rosa State Park (NM)
End: Truth or Consequences, NM

Daily Mileage: 267
Total Mileage: 1081

Santa Rosa is a state park but feels more like a Corps of Engineers campground. Everything’s made of cast concrete, even the picnic tables and heavy sun shelters over them.

The temperature last night dropped to sixteen degrees, according to our wireless thermometer, and the morning dawns sunny and dry and calm. While walking around the campground we stop to admire a “Casita” trailer, its occupants drinking steaming cups of hot coffee and waving cheerfully through its tiny windows. They have the look of veteran travelers, and on the back of their camper there’s a sign: “The more one sees, the less one needs.”

Somewhere between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque we begin to see a few white-topped mountains to the north, and the land’s getting hillier. There are exits marked on the map that aren’t towns, only truckstops.

Today becomes a lazy day of errands and replanning in Albuquerque. After using the free WiFi at McAlister’s to find that the forecast for Grand Canyon’s gone from bad to terrible, we do some research into other options to the south. We spend an hour or so at Barnes & Noble looking at guidebooks for Saguaro, Gila, and the area around Carlsbad. We’ll get the weather we planned for, I think, though we’ll have to move the trip south a state in order to get it. We spent some time at the REI store in Albuquerque, too, just browsing and getting the few last things on our shopping list.

It’s a difficult decision. We’ve already changed our plans once, and now we have to do it again. Gila looks interesting but has wet trail crossings, which don’t seem like a good idea in December. We’d like to see the Guads and Carlsbad but we know Mandy will never forgive us if we go there without her. We decide to head toward Saguaro National Park in Tucson, so after eating a bad supper at a fake Chinese restaurant, we start driving south toward Truth or Consequences. Bryan’s had a bad headache all day, so we decide to get a hotel room there so that he can get a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in a warm room.

We carry our backpacks into the room, just to be safe. My pack feels good on my back tonight. I’m tired of driving around; I’m ready to go for a walk.

Our garden gnome in the Super 8, Truth or Consequences, NM.

Day 2 – Day 3 – Day 4

Tucson Honeymoon: Day 2

This is a multi-part trip report… if you haven’t already, you should start with Day 1.

Start: Lake Fort Smith State Park (AR)
End: Santa Rosa State Park (NM)

Daily Mileage: 642
Total Mileage: 814

It’s cold today, and windy, and the shoppers at the Del City Walmart in Oklahoma City are bundled up like little children sent out to play. We see the cheerful retarded greeter coming on duty, happily shuffling along behind a helpful coworker, carrying his lunchbox. It’s a little Playmate cooler, and he’s carefully written “I Love Star Trek” across the white top with a magic marker. There are some Klingon words, too, but we can’t read Klingon.

We pass some wind farms in the afternoon. Some turbines are very close to the road, closer than we’ve ever seen them, their elegant silvery arms spinning slowly in the blue sky: peace in motion. We see cotton bales the size of truck beds, lined up and waiting after harvest. We pass a field with a pickup parked at the edge, two little boys racing up and down on top of the long rows of last summer’s round bales.

The land starts to look different in Texas, little red dirty canyons and miniature mesas in scrubby brush pastures. Sunset on the plains is prettier than in other places, I think. It’s simpler; we see more light and fewer shapes.

After much discussion we drive past the Big Texan in Amarillo, that icon of great American gastronomic excess, to eat a smaller supper elsewhere. It’s lit up and gaudy and the parking lot is jammed with fat men and pickups packed in for a steak supper. Everything in Texas has a star on it; it’s the state shape.

We arrive in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, in the late evening. We’re sure we’ve traveled back in time; this town must have been a major waypoint on old Route 66, and nothing’s changed since. No one’s painted, or even cleaned the gutters. The hotels and restaurants have names like “The Oasis” and “Bud’s Place”, with awkwardly angled 1950s-style roofs and pink neon lighting. The RV parks have teepees and concrete dinosaurs. The town is seedy and the road to the state park is badly marked.

Our garden gnome standing watch at Santa Rosa State Park.

Day 1 – Day 2 – Day 3