From Saguaro to Fir Trees: A Visit to Mt. Lemmon

Mt. Lemmon is the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which overlooks the Tucson Valley.

Growing up on either side of the metro Phoenix valley, my husband and I are still surprised we hadn’t visited Mt. Lemmon previous to 2018.

Mt. Lemmon is the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which overlooks the Tucson valley. I snapped this picture of the range while speeding down Valencia Road on the way back to our hotel. Moments later, we passed the Boneyard at Davis Monthan Airforce Base.

Tucson lies in the eastern portion of the beautiful Sonoran Desert and is green much of the year. Sometimes I find myself wondering at how different this area of the Sonoran Desert is to the dust bowl I live in, especially with how close we are. My husband points out it comes from the elevation and precipitation differences. Tucson is roughly 1,300 feet higher than our home, with an elevation of approximately 2,500 feet, and receives roughly 4 inches more rain per year. (US Climate Data)

If you haven’t guessed, this past weekend, my husband and I traveled to Tucson for a little getaway. Living between Phoenix and Tucson makes the travel easy, and we have enjoyed visiting the area for several years. Many of our trips have included visits to the Pima Air and Space Museum and the Titan Missile Museum. Within the past three years, we’ve branched out to caves and mountain drives.

In September, when we first drove up the Mt. Lemmon Highway, I knew we had to return. Often. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to convince my husband to drive the curvy road last Saturday.

That morning, we watched the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint General Conference session, then we started our adventure.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Mt. Lemmon is the change in elevation. The mountain climbs from the Sonoran Desert, filled with saguaros at 2,500 feet, to a height over 9,100 feet at the top. (A Guide to the Mt. Lemmon Highway)

Flowers coat the desert floor. As you can see, the brittlebush is in full bloom, adding a beautiful yellow hue. Here’s another picture with some blooming ocotillo and purple cane cholla.

I’ve always loved when the ocotillo sprouts leaves. Unlike many desert plants, the ocotillo blooms consistently. Their leaves, on the other hand, only appear when water is available. Otherwise, the cane-like plant lives off stored chlorophyll. The desert always amazes me. (Munsey)

As the saguaros thin, the road travels through a grassy area, and you can feel a difference in temperature. I suspect it isn’t quite as green through the summer. But no one can argue with the allure of the outcrops of rocks, desert grasses, and scrub oak.

This picture may not seem like much, but that large tree that looks like some sort of pine tree is an Arizona cypress. In fact, Mt. Lemmon is home to one of the largest Arizona cypress trees, which has a diameter of 76 feet and is 93 feet tall. (A Guide to the Mt. Lemmon Highway)

Fun fact: cypress trees are conifers but not pine or cedar trees. Moreover, true cedar trees are not native to North America, and the well-known Western redcedar is actually part of the cypress family. (Gillespie)

Most of these pictures were taken on our way down Mt. Lemmon. I had my phone out and snapped a few on the way up, but very few turned out as good as the ones on the way down. Some of this had to do with the weather.

We’re Arizonan’s. When it rains, we dance, or in this case, roll down our windows, and then take a break at Windy Point Vista. The short-lived storm made our day all the better, so of course, we stopped again as we headed back to Tucson and I took more pictures.

I teased my husband about drinking from the puddles. The water was fresh enough, and it may have been okay had it not been for all the people and dogs exploring the area with us.

I also needed a picture of the gnarled tree. Doesn’t everyone take pictures of gnarled trees? No? Well, I do.

A few minutes after leaving Windy Point Vista the first time, we pulled into the Palisades Visitor Center. We like to stop in and look at some of the displays they have about the Coronado forest and the history of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Local artist, Jeanne Hartmann, is the ranger that has visited with us both times we’ve stopped. This time we purchased one of her small watercolor prints called Lemmon Lookout.

Hartmann_LemonRockLookout, Tue Apr 15, 2008, 1:36:41 PM

We can’t wait to take our daughter to her June art show in Summerhaven; the small resort town lies a little further up the road.

After climbing through the Ponderosa pines, we saw a light skiff of snow along the road before finding ourselves at the southern-most ski resort in Arizona, Ski Valley. As you can see, the ski season is over.

As we ate at the Iron Door restaurant, we enjoyed our seats next to the fireplace. I only wish I’d stood back and taken a picture, but I didn’t; however, I found one online.

We sat at the middle table and hungrily finished our half sandwiches/half soups followed by a to-die-for mountain berry pie with a crumble topping. Below is a picture of our view while we ate.

The extra warmth kept us toasty, while the occasional crackle added to the ambiance. Do you see how I caught a spark as it escaped the logs? I impressed myself, even if it was an accident.

After lunch, we strolled across the street to the ski resort where the ski lift runs year round. I was on a mission. The fudge shop. My German chocolate dessert melted in my mouth perfectly and included a caramel and walnut center. If my husband doesn’t eat his mint chocolate fudge soon, he’ll miss out. I’ll definitely be visiting there again.

We ended our upward travel when the road closed just before reaching the observatory. As you can see, the view was a bit obscured by young aspen and dark clouds. Though, we did find restrooms and picnic tables. In fact, there are picnicking and camping facilities along much of the highway. And I’m already planning a day of writing and lunching surrounded by a lot of evergreens. I might even bring my family along.

On the way down the mountain, I started snapping pictures, most of which you’ve seen. Of course, I made sure to snap one of the snow for my girls who love it much more than I do. When Love Is Lost character Deb and I share that characteristic.

As we reached the desert again, my husband surprised me by pulling over and inviting me to take some up-close pictures. Some of those are posted above, but not the flowers. This year the wildflowers bloomed in abundance, many surviving much later than usual. We both love the brittlebush, which blooms every year.

Sadly, I was unable to get pictures of the firecracker bush growing out of the rock or the beautiful pink blossoms I believe I’ve identified as penstemon. We watched the road closely trying to find the rosy petals to photograph, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I located the flowering plant in a patch of dirt along a busy road. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture. Luckily, anything can be found online.

A little pink prickles my heart, especially when seen with globemallow, like I often saw this particular blossom.

While exploring, we also stopped in Summerhaven and purchased some peach jalapeno jam. I haven’t tried it yet, but can’t wait to experience it. We also picked up some prickly pear jelly to share with the kids. My youngest daughter recently told me she didn’t remember it. Since it’s one of my favorites, I couldn’t resist.

I feel so blessed to live where I can access the wonder that Heavenly Father created for us. As a terrible gardener, I will always prefer visiting the natural gardens of the world over trying to plant my own.

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My Life: A Yellow Canary Kind of Day

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat.

I sat against the sliding door in Mom’s bedroom singing the usual melody of summer. “I’m bored.” Gauging her response, I mentioned a movie playing at the dollar theater. (Back then, the dollar theater still cost a dollar.)

“Hmm. Have you asked your father?”

“No.”

As if he’d been called into the room, Dad entered. “Asked me what?”

“Can we go to a movie?”

“Which one did you have in mind?”

Within minutes, a family day lay ahead of us. Not only would we attend a movie, but Dad wanted King’s Table too. A movie and the buffet! About that time, my youngest sister came in, took a single look at me, and scowled. “I’m not going anywhere with her dressed like that.”

“Why?” I held out my bright yellow shirt and looked at my yellow shorts. “I match.”

At sixteen, how I dressed should have mattered more, but aside from the fact that I lived by the mantra like me or leave me, none of my friends frequented downtown Glendale.

“You can’t wear that. Mom, make her change.”

I stood and casually sauntered to Mom’s dresser where I picked up a giant, yellow floppy hat. Placing it on my head, I announced myself ready. Tanna fell to the floor. “She can’t wear that. You can’t.”

“Bet you I can.”

“Mom.”

“I don’t care what she wears.” Mom flipped a page in her book.

“At least leave the hat.” The begging started, but the game was too fun to give up.

“No way.”

“But you look like you belong in a Curious George story.”

“I always liked those books. Besides, I don’t want the sun getting in my eyes.”

My sister grabbed my arm. “Kameo, please.”

We climbed in the car. The yellow hat would have hit someone in the head, had we not been in a Suburban, by this time aptly named the SuBarton, by a friend. My sister never stopped begging, and I only laughed harder.

“You’ll take it off inside though, right. Hats can’t be worn inside.”

“That’s for guys. But I’ll take it off during the movie so no one complains.”

“Mom, she can’t wear it while we eat!”

Dad snickered.

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat. The only thing better would have been an up and down of my canary-colored outfit. Understanding my sister’s needs, I made several trips back to the buffet table, hat atop my head.

Valley West Mall, almost completely deserted of customers, entered our view. My sister continued to complain. The one-story mall, easily circled within eight or nine minutes, housed the dollar theater we’d visited since my birth.

“We’ve got time. Let’s get some penny gum,” I said.

The health goods store had one of the only penny gum machines around, and I wanted to see if it still existed. It also meant walking in the open. We passed the DQ and headed to the right, my sister refusing to walk next to me. Dad’s hands slipped onto my shoulders, and he eased me to the left until I stepped in time with Tanna.

“Dad!” Smoke definitely puffed from her ears.

Dad and I chuckled.

As the few people in the mall passed us, I started waving and calling hello. Most ignored me, some waved back with smiles. Children pointed. Crimson filled in the spaces between my sister’s freckles, and she did everything possible to get away from me.

We entered the theater and realizing my fun would soon end, I whipped the hat off my head and placed it on my sister’s. That’s when Chad walked by. “Hey, Tanna. Um, nice hat.”

Although the bulk of this story is true, I may have fibbed toward the end. No one we knew ever walked by.

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Attending School Once More, Once More

While tomorrow marks the end of week three for my ninth-grader, my seventh and eleventh-graders wrap up their first week. As many parents know, it isn’t only back to school for the kids, but for the parents, too. Decades ago, society determined children should attend school wherever the bus took them, but my little Arizona town thrives on changing societal views. Here, the norm leans toward sending your child to the school best suited to their needs, and we have plenty of schools available. Though I never thought I would choose for my children to attend school outside the bus-zone (i.e. a charter school), I’ve found it to be best for them.

Currently, my children attend two different charter schools. My ninth-grader attends a brick and mortar school that follows the typical pattern of changing classes and making friends in the hallway. My seventh and eleventh-graders attend an online school that offers a classroom with licensed teachers four days a week. They can also work from home. While my eleventh-grader generally attends in the classroom, my seventh grader attends at home where she has access to help from yours truly.

Attending School Once More, Once More.
My seventh grader working on science.

This week, my daughter and I have worked together on Social Studies, math, and English. Of course, English caught my attention.

I remember my seventh-grade English teacher. Some of my friends probably remember her name. She was this tiny, wrinkled woman who always had a piece of nicotine gum stashed in her cheek. Most of my friends attended the high English class and often told stories of stealing the transparency sheets from the overhead projector. Me? I remained in the average class, and remember her squiggling sentences onto transparencies and asking us to place commas and periods in the correct places.

I don’t, however, remember terms like appositive, participle, adjectival phrase, or adverbial phrase. Though I did learn about misplaced modifiers from my mother, who always giggled about the dog sitting at the table. (‘I petted the dog sitting at the table,’ versus, ‘I sat at the table and petted the dog.’)

This week, when I went back to school, I read the lessons to my daughter and discussed various ways to remember each of these terms. We also learned how these phrases often represent more than one construct. For instance, a prepositional phrase, something I learned about my first time through school, can also be an adjectival phrase. Who knew?

Now, when my book comes out next week (What shameless plug? There was no plug. Okay, a little plug.), my daughter and I can dissect the sentences and identify the types of phrases. But I guarantee, we won’t find any misplaced modifiers. Mom should be proud. However, as you can see, I occasionally start sentences with and, but, and so. I even end a few sentences with prepositions—the horror! Maybe my fifth time through seventh grade will cure my bad habits. Not likely. (Was that an adverb? A fragment? What’s an author to do?)

Have you started school again yet? What grades are you in this year?

For Your Pleasure:

I personally enjoy quizzes. So I found a website with plenty of grammar quizzes for you to enjoy; many of them include what I’ve been learning with my daughter this week.

 

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Turbulent Tubing: A True Story of Nonsensical Courage

The last day at the lake meant six sunburned and tired bodies on a nineteen-foot boat laden with camping gear. Other than swimming in the middle of the lake, an all-time family favorite, the tube remained available for one more ride before heading to the boat ramp.

Down by the Glen Canyon Dam, the crystal clear water called to me. So when Dad asked if anyone wanted to tube, I couldn’t resist. How the others did, I still don’t know.  As I climbed out of the boat and stood on the back platform, I looked at Dad. “Not crazy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, nice and smooth.” His hands cut through the air with a slow gliding motion, but his suspicious smile left me unsure.

I eyed him. His track record mimicked his smile. “Let Mom drive.”

“No-no, Kam, I got it—nice and smooth.” He nodded, still smiling.

“Don’t bounce me out of the wake.”

“I know, I know. Trust me.” He was not giving up his seat.

The last buckle on my worn ski jacket clicked and I jumped in, the cool water bubbling around me as I resurfaced. I laid back, my hair floating behind me, and took a minute to comb my fingers through the windblown strands before climbing on the tube.  “Dad, easy,” I reminded.

He gave me a thumbs up, and I nodded. Mom held the flag, and as the boat began to glide through the choppy Lake Powell water, she dropped it to her lap.

True to his word, Dad kept the ride comfortable—pleasant. The wind whipped through my wet hair, but not enough for it to sting my face. I bounced along, enjoying my ride. Then, I saw it.

The dreaded tour boat.

Tourists without boats enjoyed riding these ocean-worthy beasts. Able to hold a couple hundred people each, they also had the power to create a wake taller than our boat was long. Without good maneuvering, the wakes could crash over the front of small boats, flooding the floors with an inch or two of water. We called the floods sam-sueys.

I told myself Dad could turn the boat. There was plenty of escape time. But Dad enjoyed tormenting me. I watched as he drove directly into the tour boat’s wake. I froze. My brain commanded my hands to hold on. Fingers clenched the two blue handles. My body secured itself closer to the front of the tube. Don’t let go. The mantra fed my nonsensical courage.

Our boat climbed the wave and fell below the horizon. A mountain of water formed in front of me. I gripped the handles tighter. My body soared through the air, legs and torso dangling several feet away from the water and the tube, but my fingers clung to their mark. An internal argument raged within me. Let go! No, Don’t let go!

I closed my eyes as my breath lingered within my lungs. Sensory input bombarded my body, slowing time. Through my decent, my body rolled back to the tube, arms, torso, legs. I bounced twice before finally landing on the tube, my breath leaving my lungs in a rush.

The boat stopped, and the flag flew into the air. I lay my head on the tube, waiting for the thrumming of my muscles to stop. My arms and legs shook like jelly. My back ached with a newly found tension. The tube started moving toward the boat. Someone was pulling me in. As I neared, I slipped into the water and hung on the boat’s lowered step.

“Dad! A tour boat? I caught air!”

“Sorry Kam, I couldn’t avoid it.” He laughed. I doubted his words. “You did great. Boy, you flew through that air.”

Mom handed me a towel as I slowly climbed out of the water and sank into a shaded seat. “Why didn’t you let go?” she asked.

What answer could I give? Why didn’t I let go? Where had my ridiculous mantra come from? I shrugged, unknowing.

 

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