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« Blue Highways: Phoenix, Arizona | Main | Blue Highways: Texas Canyon, Arizona »

Blue Highways: Tucson, Arizona

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWe stop in Tucson for gas...but since I've been there once I get a chance to write a little about it even though William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) is not willing to stay.  We'll let him cool his jets for a moment while we consider the tourism industry and cactus.  Tucson is right at the end of the blue highway line on the thumbnail of our map at right.  Click it to see where we are.

Book Quote

"In Tucson, I stopped for gas along a multilane called Miracle Mile (they love that appellation in the West) congested like an asthmatic bronchial tube; then back to the highway."

Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 14

A hotel along the Miracle Mile in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by David Sanders at Click on photo to go to site.

Tucson, Arizona

I was telling someone, who had read this blog and was complimenting me about it, that it is almost easier to write about LHM's stops that I have not visited than those places where I have.  Why?  It partially relates to my last post, I guess, about the sense of wonder one might get when one reads about or sees something new.  Another thing about writing on places that I have not physically visited is that my unfamiliarity frees me.  The Littourati reader may notice that a lot of my posts only tangentially have to do with the place in the title of the posts.  Instead, the posts are about what comes to my mind when reading the quote from the piece of literature on which I am focusing.  If I don't know about the place, it is useless for me to try to pretend that I do.  I provide links at the end if you want to know more about a particular place.  What you, the reader, are getting with most of these posts are whatever thoughts, feelings or emotions come to me connected with the name of the place, or the words in the quote about the place.  That's why Texas Canyon, Arizona and LHM's quote about it can lead me to speculate on the sense of wonder, or why Portal, Arizona leads me to write on doorways and passages, rather than characteristics of these places that I've never seen.  I am not shackled to my experiences, and therefore, I am free to roam wherever I wish.

Not so Tucson, as I made my first trip there in 2010.  I can count on one hand, at this point, the places that LHM visits with which I have personal experience, but this stop and the next, Phoenix, I have visited.  I have memories to associate with Tucson, and that will have to influence what I write about it.

The occasion of my visit to Tucson was due to my wife's position as president of the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS), a national women's media organization.  She was tasked to visit potential sites for their 2012 national conference, and Tucson was one of three cities that was being considered.  Tucson met their requirements.  Since the conferences were first conceived as being like a "camp," all of their national conferences must be in places that allow easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking.  Tucson, tucked up against the Catalina Mountains and Saguaro National Park, fit the bill.

She and I did a death march over a weekend through five potential properties that wanted to host the conference.  Each place fed us, gave us gifts such as wine, cheese and other goodies, or gave us a room for the night.  Often these rooms were presidential suites bigger than the house in which we live in Albuquerque.  Because the economy was in recession, the Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau was making an all out push for business.

She settled on a property she liked, and then Arizona passed its law allowing the police to stop and question people if they thought they might be illegal immigrants.  This law caused great controversy because the assumption was that people who looked Hispanic or Latino would be targeted by the police.  My wife and her board heard from a number of JAWS members, some of whom were of Hispanic or Latino descent, that they would not be comfortable going to Arizona.  Concerned with the possibility that many of their members would not come to the conference, the board chose another site outside Arizona.

I did get some lasting impressions of Tucson, however.  Everyone was very nice to us.  It may be that they simply wanted my wife's business, but it seemed genuine.  Before visiting, I never realized that a city landlocked in the desert could be such a resort city.  Of course, I'd known of Palm Springs, California, which is also a resort city in the desert, but from Palm Springs one can drive to the coast if one wants.  It's a little more complicated to get to water in Tucson.  However, there were pools if one wanted a dip, plus all the other perks of resort cities such as golf courses, salons and spas.  There were also outdoors activities such as golf, hiking, and tours through the wilderness.

I also never realized before visiting Tucson that it is a foodie town.  A number of famous chefs, chefs who are in perennial consideration for major awards like that given by the James Beard Foundation, live and own restaurants there.  The food we ate was excellent and eclectic, having a southwest desert flair but holding its own with cuisines of other U.S. locations.

Cactus blossom in Tucson. photo by Michael L. Hess.My favorite part of Tucson, however, was much more sedate.  We were there during the season in which the cactus blooms.  Of course, Arizona is associated with the large saguaro cactus, whose height and outstretched arms make it look like a green, spiny giant human praying toward the clouds.  But there are lots of smaller variety of cacti, and the blooms are beautiful in bright yellows, deep purples and vibrant reds.  I spent some time taking pictures of the cacti, and while I never thought much of desert succulents, I think that the variety and the beauty of them in Tucson made me a fan.

Saguaro cactus. Photo by Michael L. HessThere are certain cities I'd go back to, and I have to say Tucson is one of them.  I didn't have the experience LHM had, but in Blue Highways he intentionally tries to avoid cities as much as possible and gets a little, shall we say, cranky when he has to go through or around one.  In a way, I understand.  I was raised a small town boy.  But I've come to appreciate cities and the things I can find in them that I couldn't if I were still living in a small town or a rural area.  I've written about the benefits and pitfalls of small towns in past posts, but since my living situations as an adult have been varied, I value cities and accept them despite the fact that they can present some problems such as traffic, crime, noise, etc.  It's my wife's influence on me as she is always excited about cities and never ceases to show me the wonders that I'd miss if I didn't live in one.

Sunset in Tucson. Photo by Michael L. Hess

Musical Interlude

In honor of Tucson and it's cacti, I offer you Jacques Dutronc's 1967 song, Les Cactus.  I want to thank my good friend Sarah in Detroit for introducing me to this song and artist.

If you want to know more about Tucson

Arizona Daily Star (newspaper)
Arizona Webcam in Tucson
Official Tucson Travel Information Tucson Restaurants
Slow Food Tucson
Tucson Cowgirl (blog)
Tucson Daily Photo (blog)
Tucson Food (blog)
Tucson Querido (blog)
Tucson Weekly (alternative newspaper)
University of Arizona
Wikipedia: Tucson

Next up: Phoenix, Arizona

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