Tag Archives: Tucson

New Year

New Year’s was golden this year, spent at home in Tucson with Mark and Dan, Mum and Julie. We had my favourite soup and biscuits and pumpkin pie and wines still and sparkling. We talked through the new year and then Mum and Julie left the three of us still talking until late late.

Our last night was golden too. We bought mum a record player for Christmas, and so sat around playing old records. Some of them are mine, bought in LA years and years ago, the others we aren’t quite sure where they came from. I remember buying the songs of the Grand Ole Opry (the amazing Dolly Parton singing Mule Skinner Blues), but did I buy Don Williams (Amanda is one of my mum’s all time favourite songs, whether Waylon’s or Don’s — possibly because she too decided not to become a gentleman’s wife) and Jimmie Rodgers (In the Jailhouse Now) and Eddie Arnold (oh man, Cattle call, amazing)? There were three polka records, they must have been Ricki’s, she lived with us for a while but long before we knew her she owned a Polka bar in Chicago. She told me once she left because the mob requested the use of her basement. Those were pretty terrible, well, the one we listened to. Yet at the same time they sounded so much like the Mexican music I am more familiar with and do like, I couldn’t quite say why I prefer it, I kind of want to puzzle how they connect. I’d have to listen to the old Polish records more I guess. Then a couple of old falling apart albums that must, must have belonged to my grandfather I think, and come when my grandmother came to live with us. Ancient foxtrots. La Marseillaise. Tchaikovsky.

I can’t remember what else, but it’s been a long time since I just sat around and listened to things, almost all of them a surprise.

Family and walks in the desert and good food and sitting around talking and lots of reading, music, Rogue 1, El Corral, roadtripping and dreams of gardening in space…the days I will remember. The haven that still remains for us, which I am so thankful for in this world where that remains for so few.

I took pictures of the best covers, but lost my phone on the flight home. Gone too are the pictures of the Tucson Botanical gardens, cacti, the hommage to Frida and Diego’s Casa Azul, me and mum being a two headed butterfly.

I took no pictures in Nogales, where everything has changed. It was almost empty, making people less anonymous in the streets. Tourists now too afraid to come here. The wall is not as big as Tijuana’s I don’t think, but still too big, rust red, dividing people from their people, animals from their habitat, water from its dispersion, migratory birds from their pathways and often their lives. Most of the little shops I remember have closed down, and it is weird to miss the tourists but you can see how much harder life is in people’s faces. It is weird to miss the hordes of kids selling chiclets, but I know their absence isn’t because kids and their families are no longer driven by poverty to make some extra money, but because there is no one to be generous. I wonder how they survive now. There are four casinos that give free meals to get people in the door, the shop owner I was talking too said it with anger, because people eat and then gamble away their money because there is no hope of anything else. There are more pharmacies than I could believe possible, though that’s the reason we were down there I confess, I had forgotten my prescription. I suppose business will pick up more once the Republicans have succeeded dismantling Obamacare, we have a tradition of buying medicine in Mexico. Dental care. Glasses. Another shop owner (from him we bought tiles) pulled out his wallet to show us ticket stubs from the Tucson Convention Centre going back to the 70s. For some reason the only one I can remember now is Deep Purple.

I finally bought a ceramic parrot, the kind I have wanted since the first time we ever went to Nogales, decades I have wanted one. Now I want two more, so they hang from my ceiling like they still do in one or two remaining stores, a glad cascade of wild colour uncaged.

I have settled for colour and reminders of warmth and home instead of gambling I suppose.

Last year was so bleak, I had to sit and reflect on it in a blog for Verso, and it hurt to do it. 2017 doesn’t look much better. Still the struggle goes on, I’ll be part of it from Manchester now, have to find the best way to plug in and do what I can though all I feel is tired. Have to finish my book rewrites. Have to write more articles. Have to finish book one of the trilogy I have in mind and a little on paper. Want to read so much more. Have to find a little more hope that words can have any impact at all, or marches, or letters, or protests. Have to exercise, eat better. Have to get to know Manchester. Have to fill into my new job, find my new directions. Have to stay in touch better, respond more quickly to emails.

Have to spend more time with the people I love.

Those are the times that are golden.

Tucson Christmas: Black Santa, naked Santa and more

I love my mom’s neighbourhood, despite the lack of sidewalks and streetlights. It’s not until you wander around (despite the fact that everything works to discourage you from wandering around on foot) that you realise that what looks fairly nondescript is actually full of interest. That each house is unique, probably hand-built by the one-time owner though probably with one of those early kits. They sit in various places on large plots of land, some left as desert, some filled with dead grass, gravel, attempts at landscaping that range from the most basic to the most elaborate.

Christmas just makes it all the more exciting.

The bull in front of Molina’s has always been well-endowed, but the painting of a snowman was a bit unexpected.

Tucson

A pissing fountain dressed in Christmas regalia, though I’m loving the black Santa

Tucson santa

The new fashion for inflatable christmas cheer in unexpectd forms, like a reindeer in a tub with a naked santa mechanically scrubbing his own back

Tucson naked santa

Or Santa on a tractor:

Tucson santa on a tractor

An Armageddon of Christmas cheer now wilted, a collapsed Santa:

Tucson collapsed santa

Santa slamming into a door:

Tucson slamming santa

Oddments collected on a rooftop, but no Santa at all.

Tucson

A few other curiosities of the non-Christmasy kind, like this celebratory remnant

Tucson

One of my favourite churches

Tucson

The unconscious ironies of developers

Tucson

The ubiquitous belief in the coolness of big things, and flames.

Tucson

Black Joe Lewis on a 4th Avenue night out

Tucson was good to us last night. Club Congress, beautiful old hotel and bar, old for Tucson anyways, where gangster Dillinger was once chased down and arrested in prohibition days and there once were bullet holes in the wooden paneling of the bar but not any longer and this is not a place that just trades on history, but is full of good music. And still has liquor. Of course.

I’ve seen Justin Townes Earle play here, one of my all time favourites though he was drunker than he should have been that night. But tonight it was Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and they were amazing live. My brother said they were, and he didn’t lie. Old time blues with some funk and some Jimi Hendrix, some rawness and some rhythm and dude plays the harmonica as well as guitar and so much energy and two saxes and a trumpet up on stage, and that Joe Lewis born in Tucson and his family all over the place and it meant that crowd was most diverse and I loved Tucson.

Fourth avenue too, full of young beautiful things (but oh, such a relief from the more contoured and sculpted, more predictable beautiful things of LA and London), and us older things, and even some much older folks. All of us out tonight, living life well. We headed to Shay’s after, and then to the R Bar to meet an old friend of my brothers’, dude went to elementary with T and plays soccer with Dan and his family owned the liquor store on 22nd and the freeway–I don’t know how many times we have driven past that liquor store. Now he’s getting his PhD on arid land ecologies and I almost waxed lyrical on Masanobu Fukuoka whose final philosophical manifesto of sowing seeds in the desert I just finished reading. But I didn’t wax too much. He’s a bit out there I guess from some of the the hard science points of view, and this PhD is all data. I think we talked too much about economics, racism and police brutality, but a good night because we were all on the side of the righteous. And there was cider.

Walking down under the bridge and along 4th, behind some cholos walking their walk with their tube socks pulled up and long shorts pulled down and then past some large women wearing very little and damn they were pretty impressive and  you know, you got it flaunt it, and a whole mix of everyone wearing whatever the hell they felt like from long skirts to short skirts, jeans to short shorts to little black dresses to hippy dresses, stupidly high heels and flip flops and cowboy boots, all ages and races and degrees of sobriety and I was pretty happy here in my home town. I realised I been missing cholos walking their walk. Been missing walking too. If only Tucson had a public transportation system that worked well enough to get us the whole way home (or anywhere else we needed to go). But this little piece of this sprawling unsustainable city feels like a real place, it has everything you need to bring different people together, get people walking, talking, meeting. So many people out and about walking and laughing it feels safe, so many different kinds of people it feels vibrant, it feels good. American cities are so segregated and Tucson isn’t that much different (though it’s got nothing on LA), but here everyone was out enjoying themselves. Together.

The planner geographer side of me could tell a lot of that had to do with this old core of an old walkable downtown, its mixed use and cluster of bars and the old Rialto theatre (with Michael Franti playing) and restaurants and taco trucks and the redevelopment of 4th avenue bridge with its purple lights and wide sidewalks and art making it no longer a scary-ass place to walk into so you can get from the vibrance of 4th Ave proper to that awesome strip along Congress and everyone is on the move between them. I like seeing the streetcars too, though I know they were hell of controversial.

Gives you a bit of hope. All except for the clusters of cops on a few of the corners, but they mainly seemed to be breathalizing people before they were anywhere near a car, and there was some laughter and people were talking to them voluntarily (though that confuses me and cops generally make me feel the opposite of safe), so it seems maybe they were just on a mission of prevention. But the crowds just flowed right around them.

A great night with my brother.

Up up to the Catalinas in a new car

It is so hot here, so hot, humid and hot. People often escape from Tucson to the Catalinas, high mountains, cool mountains. Not us though, not for a long time, not in the old buick. Poor old car. It felt like a victory for the whole Gibbons clan that Dan finally got the job he deserves, and then got a new honda civic. It’s blue. Our biggest victory in some time.

We drove up that steep, long mountain road in a new car! A triumph.

I have a bit of car envy, me, who has only properly owned a car for about 5 months, and that was years and years ago and never wanted another. I know how bad they are for the environment. I love moving slow on my own power, if I must move quickly let it be on a train. But hell, it felt good to drive up that mountain to find cool air, knowing we would get up there and back. Cars do bring so much freedom, and I found myself wanting it. Remembering those dreams of a midnight blue straightback Chevy truck. Funny no matter how much you change, you never totally leave your old self behind.

They’ve cleaned most of the old rusting cars out of the canyons, the ones we used to count when we were kids, but there was still at least one van left:

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The canyons, though, beautiful. Seven cataracts (as opposed to seven falls)

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The pine-covered summits, where I confess I would have liked a long-sleeved shirt while we sat outside and I ate my fancy french dip sandwich and sweet potato tots, delicious, though it felt a bit of a betrayal now it’s no longer the old pie place. The one miraculously saved from the fire last go round. A bit of rain came through.

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The Catalinas on a hot Saturday in August? Not too much sense of the lonely wilds up there. Rose lake? A family planted every few feet fishing. White, Mexican and a family whose patriarch was wearing a fez. Diversity was nice, but actual people? Not so much. I remember I went camping there as a kid, fishing there once with the Sweetzers, they caught a shoe. I fell in love with their bait box full of lures of many colours. I shot my first gun at a row of tin cans. They made scrambled eggs with cheese in that old cast iron skillet they never washed and called them snots. It must have been a BB gun, right? I can’t remember. They owned gear, but the army surplus kind, they were an army family. None of the fancy stuff my friends are packing these days. I think about all the places American troops have gone on mostly the wrong side of everything, and can’t match that to the kindness I remember. Sort of the way Rose lake didn’t look familiar at all, didn’t match any one of those memories.

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Then back home. Barely escaping Tucson’s largest predator and certain death…

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A new car. We could go anywhere.

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Spadefoot! And water everywhere and happiness

Isn’t this baby spadefoot unbelievably beautiful? Jumping away from me in the gravel alley behind Molina’s. Maybe spadefeet like salsa, the smell of tortillas.

But wait, I looked it up. It’s spadefoots! Listen to this (from the Desert Museum, they love exclamation points as much as I do!):

During summer monsoons, the spadefoot is well-known for emerging from its subterranean estivation to breed in the temporary ponds created by the heavy runoff. Interestingly, the cue for adult emergence during these summer thunderstorms is not moisture, but rather low frequency sound or vibration, most likely caused by rainfall or thunder.

Using the spade on the hind foot, spadefoots can quickly bury themselves in loose, sandy soil. During this time young spadefoots need to eat enough food to survive the unfavorable living conditions above the surface of the ground. After eating as much as possible, they too burrow beneath the surface. Breeding may not occur in years with insufficient rainfall. Preying primarily upon beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, ants, spiders, and termites, a spadefoot can consume enough food in one meal to last an entire year!

So adults stay underground in the day — for 8 to 10 months waiting for the monsoons, and also through their active period. But these little metamorphs can be caught at all hours. I scooped him up and let him go down in more safety by the little arroyo, flooded now like I’ve never seen it. He’s got more challenges than a little frog needs, growing up in a parking lot.

Tucson Monsoons

At last my conscious mind registered that funny little bridge,the reason for its existence.

Tucson Monsoons

Today, finally it was cool enough to walk, and mom really needs to be walking. We went down to the store, but had to come this way, the long way, because Belvedere was a little too flooded to cross.

Tucson Monsoons

I don’t remember when I saw or heard Tucson getting this much rain. Maybe way back in eighty-four. The great flood. We lost power at home, we were trapped for several days…living in the city isn’t nearly so much fun. We are so removed from everything, the desert flattened and sealed from us beneath asphalt and concrete. But with the flowing of water you can imagine the contours of what used to be here, the arroyos carving through the flats.

Tucson Monsoons

It feels so different from the everyday. Even this sprawling landscape of box buildings, unique owner-built homes and empty lots felt beautiful, though I still mourn the desert.

Tucson Monsoons

Tucson Monsoons

Tucson Monsoons

The sunsets have been wonderful

Tucson Monsoons

Tucson Monsoons

Me, I’ve been trying to face down my anxieties about writing, I now am confident in 6 of the 8 pieces of Qi Gong brocade, and going through more of the stuff we crammed into storage during the foreclosure. Look at these…part of the soundtrack of my old life as part of the Gibbons family. And a vacation guide from the days when driving gloves were still cool.

Tucson Monsoons

We were hell of cool singing along the Clancy Brothers and Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.

Also, I sold a story today! Stars Falling. It’s the Perseid shower this week too. I don’t know if those two things are connected except that I started this long ago in LA during a meteor shower, but it’s nice.

Now, some gratuitous pictures of Meli-pops.

 Tucson Monsoons

Tucson Monsoons

Tucson Monsoon Summer

Giant flying beetles have filled the world, each a buzzing bulk of iridescent green. Airborne in a blind flying pattern that ends only when they crash into something. Cling to it. Launch again. I swept our porch clear of its beetle apocalypse of shining carapaces, many already strangely fallen to pieces.

With the storms came a vain hope it might cool down enough to sit outside, you see.

I have seen these beetles before but never seen them in numbers like this.

Tucson

Tucson

A single dark smudge caught in buzzing flight just over the mesquite tree, others concealed in their lazy circling of it, perhaps because contact with its feathered leaves does not stun them:

Tucson

They are fig beetles (cotinus mutabilis).

I love that beetles have their cycles, and the cycle of each species stretches through seasons but also years, connected to rains and temperature and deeper rhythms that most humans remain utterly ignorant of. I remember the year that tiny black clicking beetles filled the world, thousands of them, they got into everything. Just one year when I was little, and we never again saw such waves of tiny black clicking beetles. Still, we kept finding their exoskeletons for many years after. They sat in drawers, boxes and mum’s big chest, perfectly preserved. We pulled lengths of material from it and they would tumble out of the folds, a reminder of the uncomfortable time when they surrounded us, got into our hair and the folds of the couch and clustered in drifts along every edge and in every corner, and died and died and died.

Then there are the cicadas, their steady drone the accompaniment for some of my happiest times. I cannot hear them at my mum’s, but at Julie’s though, at Julie’s I can. At Julie’s it feels like I am in the desert more than that I am in the city, and I love that feeling.

I am house-sitting, taking care of chickens…look where they lay their eggs:

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to be retrieved perilously using a rake

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The ladies themselves, lovely Ameraucanas…

Tucson

Tucson

And the bantam! I only saw her once, but she’s so lovely:

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Somehow she has remained invisible for a week in this small yard, not joining the others in their roosting or feasts on cracked corn and mealy worms, until she appeared without warning this morning with a series of small, impetuous clucks.

It has been beautiful since I arrived, monsoon season of stormy skies

Tucson

Five days now of much needed rain, rumblings, lightenings, and rainbows

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And the cat enjoying the cool shade beneath the palms

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Finally a cat to play with, and Meli is the cutest thing ever…

Meli-Pops

All of us are feeling the heat, the unusual humidity, and helping Dan move today was no joke at all. But I did not see a single poisonous spider.

It is pouring now, another wave of fierce and pounding rain. Life fragrance. Happiness.


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City Life, Tucson

Take this for a vernacular of place, of the relationship between land and city, the place of human beings in the desert, the ways we destroy what is mighty and beautiful, the temporary picturesque, the static mobility of urban dwellers, the many shades of brown, our curious mailboxes, and please god let it rain.

All in one.

Tucson

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Coming to America

The forces of nature were at work as I traveled. I’ve been reading so much about our relationship with nature, whether we are part of it or a devastating destructive force somehow outside of it. We flew into Chicago and I stared down. The city didn’t seem real. Didn’t seem within our powers to build, to transform the earth so. To leave such a mark.

How wondrous and terrible to be so high above it. In the sky.

This Chicago of skyscrapers — the bounding humanism of Louis Sullivan, the graft and corruption of the Monadnock, the early utopian ideals of Bertrand Goldberg, wondrous words and heartbreaks of working class communities, communities of colour written by Stuart Dybek, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry. Its early days and connections to the countryside and food production so described by Edna Ferber in one of the great American novels you have never read. Me sitting above all this, and millions of lives being lived.

I quite love it from here, but to get to O’Hare you keep flying, and flying. Miles of flat and sprawl.

The plane from Chicago to Tucson sat on the tarmac, and sat. And sat. ‘You gotta be kidding me, a storm?’ chided the six year old in the seat in front of me.

Natural forces. Lightening sheeting across the sky. We turned back to the gate. Frustrating, but gave me a few hours to see my brother and Sandy and my baby nephew, all of whom I love very much. I was one of the lucky ones, even without my luggage (medicine, face cream, special shampoo, a change of clothes, things I am shamefacedly so sad to do without). I had someone to call, and a bed for the night after stealing some hours of sleep from my poor brother.

Back in the air late the next afternoon, we came into Phoenix, 111 degrees. The plane sailed down for the landing and then abruptly banked back upwards. Fear. A cold front had come across, causing whirlwinds of dust, gusts of over 50 mph. We circled, the left engine grinding like the slight rise of panic in my stomach. I am slowly coming to hate flying for more than environmental reasons (the ones that maybe should be but aren’t strong enough to keep me from visiting my family). I am not ready to plummet to earth in a mass of metal.

‘You gotta be kidding me, a cold front?’ demanded a man somewhere behind me.

Now home in Tucson, happy to be back in heat that wraps round you like a blanket. Reeling a bit as always with the size. Everything is so huge here: cars, roads, empty lots, sprawling cities, people. We went to Target, and I thought perhaps a new phobia should be invented for fear of large stores, overwhelming choice, terrifying impossible demands on your capacity to consume. Even the shopping carts are bigger, and they have seats like little plastic cars for children. Bohemoths left blocking the massive shining white aisles while mom stares at rows of hairsprays. I don’t know why the carts bother me so much, far beyond her rudeness. The size I think, like the health food store with it’s giant canisters of super-food powder for $75.99 each.

I feel sometimes I see it all through post-peak-oil-globally-warmed-already-run-out-of-water-and-even-hotter-after-the-whimpering-apocalypse eyes. No one should possibly ask ‘why’ it has happened, but I imagine they will.

Tucson’s Everyday Architecture

Tucson’s everyday architecture sprawls across the desert in dusty houses and apartments, it feels utterly different from anything on East Coast or Midwest U.S.A. As much as it feels utterly different from anything in Europe.

When I go home now, I am ever more struck by just how sprawling it is, how much space lies between homes, how many empty lots there are, how much unused land. How small and boxy the houses are, yet how I like those better than newer developments — they are not pictured here because we only drove past them, tracts and tracts and tracts of them where houses never where before. Huge boxy houses that fill as much of the lot as they can manage.

I am struck by how in older neighbourhoods, so many of the newer houses look more like bunkers than anything. How much colour improves things, but can’t improve everything. How much I hate the fake look of expensive corrugated iron and false painted gaps in the plaster showing false adobe bricks. People trying desperately hard to make their boxes interesting, but doing it in a way that shares a terribly kitsch vision of the Southwest and a terrible sameness. Like the vigas that emerge from both sides of the house so you know half at least are false beams and carry no weight.

Everything false in its conformity to some southwestern idiom, a moving target from howling coyotes with neckerchiefs to kokopellis to the next culturally appropriated fashion that lies in wait. I don’t know what that means for us.

Strange too, just how many mobile homes will never again be mobile, despite the themes of wolves running wild, freedom. How lots with 5 to 20 of them have become housing integrated with all the other kinds of housing, a regular patchwork. I never much questioned mobile home parks further out in the desert where I used to live, or those lonely settlers perched in areas without services. But here in mid-city, how exactly did it happen here?

It struck me how streets look so much the same, one after the other. They are charmless really, and this is how we have chosen to build them. Charmless as a whole, but at the same time in my mother’s neighbourhood between Pima and Speedway, Swan and Columbus, there are some wonderful old houses you know people constructed themselves when this land was first subdivided, their uniqueness invisible unless you look hard. There are even a few lots here and there filled with almost natural desert where the old house is hidden somewhere back there behind it all. If you want the real, it is old faded wood with paint peeling, tiny houses with their big porches often screened in, dusty collections of assorted junk in the yard. Probably they were here before anyone else, definitely here before air conditioning. Back when porches were essential things. These lots stand as they were, refusing to believe the city has grown around them.

I love that kind of stubbornness.

I didn’t take pictures of all or even most of it, I didn’t quite know how. And some of these are from up along the Rillito where Columbus dead ends into it…the rich people’s homes conquering the hills, but an awesome old round stone house sits up there too. It’s not as fun taking pictures of what is resolutely non-picturesque, but I am going to try it more often, try harder. How else to capture the meaning of a place, this everyday dust and space that sits alongside all those beautiful things that people are proud of here, the gracious and historic buildings, the places we go to wonder or to relax. The desert. Yet none of this compares to the desert, and I am sad to think that this sprawl of wood and brick and purple-painted bunkers is what destroyed so much of it.

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Hiking the Tortalitas

[To get to the Tortalitas jump on the I-10 north to Tangerine, east to Dove Mountain Blvd and they’re happy for you to park in the Ritz Carlton Hotel — there is a map of the different trails at the trail head, and they are very well marked]

I’d never been up to the Tortalitas before, they are quite beautiful and not as busy as they could have been on the last sunny day of 2015. The trail starts off in the sandy wash bed full of winter-flowering chuparosas (justicia californica), the air full of the whir of hummingbird wings alli chupando, and the whistles and trills of their territories claimed.

Tortalitas

Tortalitas

We took the wild burro trail, climbed up past petroglyphs (the reason we came out here).

Tortalitas

Tortalitas

We passed more modern ruins too, an old cistern and poles of iron that of course were shot at. the collection of old bullet casings was unexpected, however.

Tortalitas

Tortalitas

Tortalitas

Then a climb up to the point where you can see the lushness of the wash below.

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Further up past limestone waves.

Tortalitas

Past saguaro picture frames.

Tortalitas

Up to Alamo Springs, remnants of an old damn from the ranch up here, and holes in the rock drilled by native peoples as water holes. There’s an informative sign even up here, it’s a little weird how much signage is here really, probably reflective of the hotel.

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And then back along the…I have forgotten the other trail that you come to at Alamo Springs, but it makes a nice circle and takes you from view to view on your way back:

Tortalitas

Tortalitas

until you reach the wash again, full of grass and pebbly sand beneath your feet that you can follow back down to the parking lot.

Tortalitas

And soon enough back to the hummingbirds.

Tortalitas

We passed a little colony of rabbits as well, but sadly didn’t see any javelina or deer.

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