Arizona – desert discoveries

Border town beverages

The desert is a surprising place. There’s a lot more going on here than you may imagine. Down here in Arizona some people live pretty much in the desert, right on the border of the Saguaro national Park. If you know where to stay, you can try a desert stopover too. Casa Tierra is a lovely adobe (hand made Mexican brick) hacienda on the edge of the desert, ably run by David Malmquist. It is very much a stylish home with rooms arranged around an inner courtyard which has the soothing sound of a fountain to add to the ambiance. It’s very cosy and comfortable with the lovely Mexican tiles that you find everywhere here. I loved the unusual touches like the old typewriter and gramophone (which still works by the way) and especially the book swap shelf. As a frequent traveller I always appreciate a new book to read and happily leave one of my own in exchange.

Casa Tierra – hacienda living

The large veranda outside affords the opportunity to watch the amazing and ever changing desert sunset behind the rugged mountains. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of it another peachy back lit glow appears along with eery bluish shadows which continue on until star lit darkness.

Saguaro sunset

You do have to watch your wine though or it quickly fills up with enthusiastic flying critters which you don’t really want to be drinking if you can help it. Dave’s breakfast is also worth a mention by itself. The cactus shaped cornbread and the prickly pear French toast are to die for. Janet and Alan who were staying there too, from Michigan, loved the setting of the place and we all enjoyed Dave’s warm hospitality and extensive knowledge of the area.

Cactus cornbread at Dave’s place

A visit to the Sonoran Desert Museum is a very popular thing to do around these parts. If you’re going however, do think about the time of your visit as if it is anything like the middle of the day, you will find everything is fast asleep! You may see a paw or a nose or a tail sticking out from a stationary animal, but that will be it. I became so frustrated at the poor performance of the desert animals (I know they were only being sensible) that I rechristened it the “Snorin’ Desert Museum.” Finally something was awake – a mad looking rattlesnake – there are lots of them in these parts – and a very tame Tarantula. Things were looking up. The very informative raptor show at 2pm did feature flying birds, which obviously had to be awake, and just before I left, the mountain lion Cruz woke up, paced about majestically on cue, and pretty much won me over with his film star good looks. The museum was instantly redeemed.

I am ready for my close up.

Another cool place to stay in the desert is with Mike over at the Crickethead Inn. Mike is married to Wayan who is from Bali so the place is a kind of Indonesian/Western mix, which is pretty unique. A beautiful garden is full of fine cacti which are also for sale, as well as Wayans’s herbs and spices which she cooks with. I certainly wasn’t expecting Nasi Goreng for breakfast but it was very tasty all the same. She even made some delicious home made ginger tea with fresh root grown in her garden.The house was built by Mike himself and he has lived in it for forty years. It’s a great place for watching wildlife too, with that beautiful ever present mountain backdrop.

Garden in the desert

We saw a little family of Javelinas several times. Javelinas look like a sort of wild pig but are actually a type of peccary which is in fact related to the hippopotamus. We also saw wild Coyotes right at dusk which looked like a small grey dog or an oversized fox. The desert is a great place for star gazing – another thing that Arizona is famous for, as it has strict light pollution controls. You can while away your evening with your wine (again), discussing the vagaries of the American Political system (the mid term elections were imminent) and let the peace and quiet sooth your soul. Mike even has his own little forest of Saguaro to look out on,  he saved the plants from developments where they would have been destroyed and he has transplanted hundreds of them here.

Breakfast at the Cricket head Inn

Another popular place to potter to is Old Tucson – an old movie lot which has been used for making Westerns for 75 years. It was purpose built in 1939 for the film Arizona, as even then the real Tucson was considered too modern looking. Westerns are part of our collective cultural consciousness and this make believe town has been used in more than 300 films with its real background of the Golden Gate Mountain.

There’s a coach coming in!

The dusty streets have been trodden by all the great cowboy movie legends, including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Ronald Reagan (probably the biggest cowboy of them all – only joking) It has hosted countless episodes of Bonanza (remember Hoss?) and the High Chaparral (my Grandma’s favourite) and Little House on the Prairie. It was even used in the 1990s remake of Tombstone with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.

There’s no call for that behaviour in this town!

We witnessed a shoot out based on a real story involving an Arizona Ranger in 1907 who was trying to bring some law and order to these Wild West proceedings. Hollywood and reality never got on that well, and the shoot outs, which are always so dramatically drawn out in the movies, in truth only lasted seconds. They often involved one party letting hard liquor get the best of any common sense he may have possessed. A scenario one can still in many a town centre today.

Desert daisies