Tucson Honeymoon: Day 5

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

Start: Colossal Cave Mountain Park (AZ)
End: Tucson, AZ

Daily Mileage: 22
Total Mileage: 1391

I hate getting up. Dawn’s my favorite part of a backpacking day, when the light starts to filter through the fabric of the tent and the hazy outline of the day begins to form inside the warm padding of my down-filled sleeping-bag brain.

It begins to rain during breakfast and we enjoy the luxury of a stone picnic shelter. We each have our own old concrete table to spread out our gear and organize and pack our bags, well out of the wet. We should have left by nine, but the continuing rain and another headache made us move slowly. By early afternoon neither the headache nor the rain have abated, and with both getting worse and daylight wasting we decide not to hike the 14-mile day we’d planned.

We stop by the Visitors Center, amend our backcountry permit, and then head out to explore Tucson. The city looks scruffy, and I know why: no one has lawns. The plants that grow in front of fancy houses are the same as the plants in the bad neighborhoods, and those are the same things that grow on the roadsides and in the ditches: prickly pear, ocotillo, barrel cactus, and cholla. This gives even the most expensive neighborhoods the scroungy ambiance of a seedy trailer park.

Tonight’s plans have changed from a backcountry camping permit to a nice hotel room (Fairfield Inn by Marriott), a hot shower, and an old Mexican restaurant. Bryan does a brief internet search and finds “El Charro”, the oldest continuously operated family Mexican restaurant in the US. The directions provided by Google Maps are almost but not quite exactly wrong, but we find the restaurant anyway, tucked into an odd corner of old downtown Tucson. It’s cheerful and interesting and every bit as good as the reviews: the service is excellent, the red salsa is the best I’ve ever eaten, the chicken and tomatillo tamales are amazing, and the chimichanga we share is as big as a stick of firewood.

In fact, according to their menu, El Charro was the place where the chimichanga was invented. It was first opened in the twenties by a French woman who’d moved to Arizona with her stone-cutter father. It was a family restaurant and her little nieces were often in the kitchen. So one day when she accidentally dropped a burrito into hot oil she stopped herself from cursing by saying “shi……michanga!” The fried burrito was found to be delicious, and the name stuck.

The picnic shelter at El Sevillo camping area, in the Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6