We traveled south from Scottsdale to Tucson on our pilgrimage to here, camping at another of Arizona’s wonderful county parks. This time it was Pima County’s Gilbert Ray Campground on the same road as the Sonoran Desert Museum and the west entrance of the Saguaro National Park.
Gilbert Ray is a gem of a place set among a saguaro forest and a desert that is green with palo verde, mesquite, and creosote bushes This is a no-reservations campground but there were some good choices when we arrived. We selected a site that faced west toward the mountains and across a wide open valley of darkness which allowed breathtaking displays of the night sky on the clear and cool desert nights.
From the campground, we were minutes away from the spectacular Sonoran Desert Museum. We had been here decades ago and the years have been good to the Museum which has grown and flourished. This is a predominantly outdoor experience where paved paths take you to numerous exhibit areas – like grasslands, riparian desert landscapes, cactus gardens, aviary, and a geology exhibit about ancient Arizona. The real treat for us was zoo-like collection of native wildlife which we got to see in the cooler morning air. The mountain lion perched up on a high and shaded ledge dominating his open area. Nearby we got to see bobcat, Mexican black bear, big horn sheep, and the rare Mexican wolf, all remarkable creatures native to this ecosystem. From our trip years ago, we remembered the prairie-dog town exhibit and revisiting it this time, we came with our own recent experiences of the little critters in North Dakota and Montana when camping. Let’s just say that since North Dakota, we have been wishing for the successful restoration of their major predator, the black-footed ferret.
We got to experience a raptor free flight demonstration featuring some star performers. These birds of prey are untethered and fly free right over the heads of us visitors. This is a remarkable opportunity to see native raptors in their natural setting. The demonstration we saw included a Chihuahuan raven, Great Horned owl, and a prairie falcon, named Frank, who did a couple of fly-bys but spotted a couple of Cooper’s hawks and decided to hang out with them for a while, prematurely ending the demonstration. Here, Nature is in charge.
We had expected to be here a couple of hours but before we knew it, four hours had passed and we were hearing the call of lunch and afternoon naps in T2, out of the warm sun.
Our time here in Tucson included the warm reunions with friends. At the campground, we met up with friends we had made at our very first campsite at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina back in January 2015. Our paths have crossed several times since then, including time visiting them at their beautiful home in Vermont. On this trip, we planned to introduce them to our friend who lives in nearby Arizona City. Peter had built a labyrinth in the desert with him many years ago so each time we visit, we look forward to our time walking the labyrinth. This time, we had a sunset visit to the desert, a meditative walk of the labyrinth, and time for reflection on the gifts of this pilgrimage, and especially the heart-opening connection of friends.
For our morning synchronicity, as we were heading out of Gilbert Ray, we pulled into the dump station to empty our tanks and get some fresh water and chatted with the big fifth-wheeler ahead of us. Turns out they are also full-timers and we quickly learned they were from “a little town in southwestern New Hampshire”. Yeah, you can guess the rest. They were from Keene and after the usual, “Oh, my!”, and hugs of connection, we learned that they have been living on the road for one month longer than we, having headed out of Keene in November 2014 to our December 2014. As we parted company, we gave them a copy of our Monadnock at the Millennium book (the inventory of which is steadily declining as we continue to make connections like this) and sent along best wishes for their travels.
On the way back north to Cottonwood, Sedona, Kingman and then Death Valley…
Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, traveling around Arizona and on their way to Death Valley, as they explore the U.S. in their Airstream.