Monday March 10,2014 Room 245 Comfort Inn Benson,Arizona 6:22 PM MST ( 3 hrs difference from Vt)
Slept like a log last night—went to bed at 9:30, got up twice but fell right back to sleep and slept until 8 this morning. Felt really great today. Having stayed in North Tucson it was a mere hop and jump to Saguaro National Park West. When we went out to dinner last night the young man on the desk googled the back way to the Park from the motel so we had a wonderful upward climb into the Park and through magnificent old Saguaro all the way to the Visitors’ Center. When we were here in 2007 it was in a cold rain which was icy at times and at the heights brought us snow flurries. This was a much nicer day—sunny with temperatures in the low 80’s. We watched the 15 minute video again and loved when it ended and the screen lifted as the curtains opened onto a view of the Cactus Forest climbing the hill.
The loop in this section is rather short but there are an incredible number of Saguaro of all ages and conditions. According to the literature, after 15 years the cactus may have reached a height of 12 inches. Around 30 years old it will flower and bear fruit. When it is 50 years old it may be seven feet tall but it will not sprout any arms until it is around 75 years old. By 100 it may be 25 feet tall and will get its biggest at about 150 years old. They die of old age, or by wind or lightening damage or drought. There is also cactus poaching, invasive species and vandalism as well as damage from cold winter temperatures. So as you look at these pictures you can see some pretty old guys and gals among the young folks and the ocotillo , barrel cacti, staghorn cholla and jumping jack cholla, mesquite and creosote and hedgehog cacti and prickly pear. One of my favorites here, too, are the fishhook cacti.
Plenty of other desert growth however and at last I saw something other than the yellow wildflowers—a particularly beautiful red flowering staghorn. Other cacti are putting out new colorful thorns including a particularly lovely fishhook.
We had gotten directions to the Eastern section of the park from the volunteer lady, who assured me that Gates Pass would be fine for me, since the mountain would be on my side. She was right but look closely at that sway backed mountain in several pictures—there are very tiny cars and trailers climbing on the very outer edge of the road up into the Pass. I was fine but never looked to my left though the view of Tucson from the top in front was a bit unnerving too. Fortunately, the whole thing was about a mile, up and down and so was over pretty quickly.
We had to go through Tucson and the University of Arizona campus on Speedway Boulevard which was a bit stressful for Bill once more, but upon reaching Old Spanish Trail we were in the country again and the entrance to this part of the Park.At the visitors’ center a delicate pink barrel as well as a dark maroon hedgehog were part of the landscaping.
The driving road here is paved and is 8 miles long. While there are zillions of cacti climbing the mountains, there are not many at the elevation of the road. It was fun to see the various nests in the arms of saguaro as well as in the holes dug out by various birds.
We left by way of Houghton Road upon which the map showed an Air Force boneyard. We never saw it but my friend, Ruth says it is visible from I-10. We had taken back roads between the two sides of the Park so missed that portion of 10 which cuts through Tucson and so missed this huge dead end for various planes.
Arrived in Benson at the Comfort Inn which has just barely become the Comfort Inn. Got the feeling that the desk clerk felt this was a comedown from the Desert Rose Lodge that it had been. Haven’t lowered their prices at all—this room is $145—used 16000 points instead. Going to do my hair and watch TV. Ate in tonight—sometimes I just feel like calling it a day—sardines and crackers are a favorite and easy.
Think we’ll be back in New Mexico tomorrow—somewhere around Alamogordo probably. Looking to see how to miss El Paso into Texas. Might go to Carlsbad again. Stay tuned. Good night for now. KandB