We spent two weeks at Catalina State Park, the maximum stay allowed, and loved every minute of it. About fifteen miles north of Tucson, the campground is set in the flats at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The park also includes miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and a small riding stable. We traded laundry facilities, internet, and sewer hookup for awe-inspiring views and luxurious space between sites (rarely the case at RV parks).
Lily continues learning and growing. I have no idea what she weighs but it’s somewhere between thirteen and eighteen pounds I would guess. She reaches for and grabs onto anything within reach. Her teething makes for much drool and desire for something in her mouth most of the time. She loves when we read to her and lets us know with squeals, screams, and smiles. No rolling over, crawling, sitting alone, teeth, or words yet but much progress in all areas. We love hearing her laugh and make new noises in her attempts to copy us. She remains the best travel buddy and causes smiles on the faces of everyone who sees her.
We were able to take many walks within the park and saw some new wildlife. We watched a falcon chase down a bird in flight and saw millions of red ants busily working. We saw tiny lizards, vibrantly colored birds, ground squirrels and huge yellow wasps. On one hike with Ted we think we saw a gila (HEE-la) monster, a large orange and black venomous lizard. There was a colony of prairie dogs just next to our campsite too! We heard coyotes as we curled up in bed. The best sighting hands down was on our last day when we witnessed jackrabbit love—huge ears and very fast, period.
Whenever we left the park and returned at night we were struck by the darkness. We humans make so much light that the stars are faint nearer to cities and it’s a shame because the night sky is an incredible gift. Both Chris and I marveled at the repeated opportunities to watch both the sunset and the moonrise. It’s so hard to recognize their relationship at home mainly because of tall trees and small valleys. The moon rises about ten minutes later each day which causes its shape to be affected by Earth’s shadow. I never cared to wonder about this because I’ve never had such a clear, prolonged view of the sun and moon. Lily has been an incredibly reliable rooster lately which has allowed us to watch almost every sunrise as well. The mountains prevented the sun from hitting our little valley until it was well-risen but this made for spectacular streaks of light across the highest rock faces and a subtle, gradual beaming of light into the camper and over the mesquite trees of the campground. Often there would be a mist over the mountains in the morning that made it easier to appreciate their depth. The most distant and highest “layer” of the pass was the most misty and each subsequent layer was slightly clearer. There were about eight layers of mountain in Romero Pass so it made almost a series of V’s growing gradually smaller toward the campground. The same effect could be seen at sunset, to a lesser degree, because of the shadows created.
Plant life in the desert is vastly different than what we’re used to back East and has a lot to teach us about appreciating our own landscape. The saguaro (sa-WA-ro) cactus is the typical one you think of with a tall, thick, ribbed truck and arms that curl upward. These grow just one inch per year and they only begin growing arms after about seventy years. When they die, their wooden, skeletal insides are gradually revealed. We saw some that must have been many hundreds of years old. The palo verde trees have green bark so they can harvest sunlight even without leaves. Prickly pear cacti have flat, round “pads” and are partly edible (the javelinas love them). Mesquite trees grow wildly crooked limbs low to the ground and shed bean pods that feed all sorts of animals including coyotes.
We were blessed to eat two more dinners with Chris’ former supervisor, Rachel Moreno: a very special barbeque at her house with a whole bunch of current ACE XVI and XVII teachers from Phoenix and Tucson, and another at our campsite with Ted and his brother, Mike and sister-in-law, Rachel with whom we also loved spending time. Dr. Moreno gave Lily a small duck carved out of ironwood and we named him Pato.
Ted pitched a tent on our site one night and unfortunately froze but eventually thawed out on our hike the next day. Ted accompanied me on a hike up to the Romero Pools. Chris was the loving husband he always is and agreed to stay home with Lily. We had attempted this climb with “sling-along-Lily” and Chris but wisely turned around about halfway up. What an awesome birthday gift this was from Ted. The hike took about half as long as with Lily attached; it was a great workout even without her. We left the trailhead around 8 a.m. and spent a little over an hour at the pools. Most of the Catalina mountain rock is jagged and reddish but these pools are cradled by enormous, grey rock surfaces worn down over thousands of years. They are smooth and carved out in many places much like sand by the waves. We ate some snacks then mustered up our courage and jumped about twenty feet into one of the deepest pools of chillingly cold water. I was struck again by the feeling I had while birthing Lily: in the water and laboring “I never want to do this again” but once looking back at the cliff and holding Lily in my arms “I’d do it again right now!” which is a really interesting connection for me.
We visited the Tohono Chul Tea Room for a farewell lunch with Ted and his parents. Chris, Lily and I walked through the demonstration gardens after lunch and learned a lot about how humans get water in the desert (huge canals of diverted river water) and how we can do a better job of harvesting local rainwater and conserving what we have.
Our departure from Catalina was delayed one day by some wicked wind that shook the camper and brought along a teeny bit of rain. I am grateful to have been able to smell the scent of desert rain and to watch the clouds burn off the mountains.
We’re not nearly done with this trip but Catalina was a real highpoint for us.