ANN BAILEY: Desert heat, but warm hospitalityDuring the past 30 years, I had never been to the desert southwest. That changed this month when I took a trip with my sister, Bonnie, and daughter, Ellen, to Arizona.
Thanks to my former job as a newspaper reporter and because some members of my family and my friends live in far-flung places, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to several southern states, including Louisiana, California and Florida during the past 30 years. However, I had never been to the desert southwest.
That changed this month when I took a trip with my sister, Bonnie, and daughter, Ellen, to Arizona. Bonnie and her husband, John, own a house in the Phoenix area together with John’s parents, and she invited us to spend a week with her.
To answer the question that will come to many people’s minds, “Why would you go to Arizona in August?” it is because that was the best time for Bonnie to travel. She is a teacher so it is difficult for her to get away during the school year.
Warming up to the desert
I have to admit that I was a bit concerned about being in Arizona in the summer, especially during one in which the temperatures there have climbed to 120 degrees. However, I knew that everywhere we went would have air conditioning, so it would be easy to step inside and get a respite from the heat when I needed it. Besides, I’ve always heard, “It’s a dry heat,” so I figured it would be a good chance to find out how much of a difference there really is between dry heat and North Dakota heat.
The temperature when we boarded the plane in Grand Forks was 70 degrees. When we stepped off of the plane in Arizona three hours later, at about 10 p.m., it was 90 degrees. It felt hot, but not unbearable. During the week, the highest the mercury rose was 107 and the temperature averaged about 100. However, one day it rained and the temperature was 72 degrees for most of the day. That made the local residents happy and greened up the desert.
I was surprised to learn that the desert is beautiful. A variety of cactuses with brightly colored red and pink flowers and fruits were in bloom, and Ellen and I learned a little about many of them. One day, Bonnie took us to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is made of 21 acres and includes two miles of walking paths. Birds, reptiles, insects and animals abound on the museum grounds.
One of the first animals we saw at the museum was a desert coyote, which is smaller and scrawnier than the Arvilla Township coyotes that live near our farm. We also spotted several different kinds of birds, including desert cardinals, and hummingbirds. Ellen snapped several pictures of various kinds of lizards and, overhead, bees and butterflies flitted about.
Our tour guide showed us a picture of a tarantula that he had seen when he was giving a tour the previous week. We didn’t see the spider that night, but we did see one the next day when we were visiting our cousin, Joe, and his wife, Jackie, at their home in Tucson. Just before we left, I spotted a tarantula nestled against the wall of his house.
After Ellen took a picture of it so she could show her brothers and dad what it looked like up close and personal, Joe got a towel and placed it over the tarantula and carried it to the other side of the patio wall. Jackie said that one day after it rained there were 12 tarantulas on the patio. Seeing one was enough for me.
Another highlight of the trip was a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake near Apache Junction. During the hour-and-a-half cruise, we saw several bighorn sheep and a turkey vulture, along with breathtaking scenery. Being surrounded by cactuses growing out of the sides of mountains was something very different from anything I’ve ever seen.
Besides seeing the differences between in Arizona’s and North Dakota’s natural world, Ellen and I also got to see the difference in architecture. Even some of the McDonald’s restaurants were made of brick and built in the southwest style. On Saturday evening, we went to Mass at St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, a newly built Catholic Church that is an example of modern southwest architecture. The next day, Bonnie drove us to Tucson where we toured the Mission San Xavier, which was built between 1783 and 1797 and believed to be the best surviving example of Spanish Colonial architecture.
For me, of course, no trip would be complete without sampling the local food. Bonnie took us to two family-owned restaurants which served regional fare. The food at both was authentic, delicious and plentiful.
Thanks to Bonnie, Ellen and I had a super southwest vacation. It was relaxing, fun and educational and I didn’t give the heat a second thought. I would say yes to another trip to Arizona in August — or any other time — in a heartbeat.
Reach Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 779-8093.