Tucson, May 2020

If you know me/us, you know we like to travel. A lot. B does it for his job. Thanks to the shitshow that is our current world (… although less so, now), B hasn’t gone anywhere since this all began. Neither have I.

However, with things opening up a little … we decided that for our mental health, we both needed to get away. So that’s exactly what we did. And of course, where did we go? Tucson.

Tuesday, May 19

We didn’t leave super early like we normally do, mostly because we weren’t trying to make it to Tucson in a day. We woke up, went for a run, and got on the road about 8 or 9 am. We went a slightly different route, going through Utah and into Arizona that way.

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We stopped for lunch in Moab, which officially makes it the longest amount of time I’ve ever officially spent in Moab. We were also able to sit and eat in a restaurant for the first time in like two months, so that was nice.

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Arches National Park was closed (we probably would have stopped in had it not), but if you keep driving out of Moab, you come across Wilson’s Arch, seen here. You can hike up to it, but it was super honking windy, so we nixed that idea.

Our stop for the night was in Flagstaff, Ariz. Dinner was takeout, although we found out when picking up the food that we could have dined in. Whatever.

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Not where we stayed, but it was a super cool sign. We were technically on Route 66 at this point.

Food eaten: egg at home, Starbucks, car snacks, Spoke on Main (Moab), more car snacks, Texas RoadHouse (Flagstaff)

Wednesday, May 20

We woke up relatively early on Wednesday as we had a destination in mind for that morning and we wanted to get there when it opened.

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Wait, what’s this? Apple orchard?

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Yep, just part of Slide Rock State Park! I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it on Pinterest or it written about on travel sites. The rocks in the park/on the river are super slippery and form a natural water slide. It’s not that long, but it is super fun. There’s also a place you can jump from ledges into the water … which we both did after some hesitation.

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Taken after sliding down the rocks.

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Ledge jumping.

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When the bucket list item is worth it.

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Further up the river.

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We’ll be back, Slide Rock.

After Slide Rock, we deck changed at the car back into normal clothes and got back on the road. We didn’t stop in Sedona, but we did drive through – so cute. Will also need to return there at a later date to explore.

Our next stop was the Phoenix metro area. The drive down was absolutely stunning, particularly when we first started seeing the saguaros. We went down in the middle of blooming season and saguaros in bloom? Gorgeous.

We got lunch first and then did a short stop just for me.

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Been meaning to find this piece of interactive Kelsey Montague art for a while. Hoped to do it on either the January or (non-blogged about) March trip, but alas. Then a stop at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for more at home coffee for B in Scottsdale and Cadence Running Company in Gilbert for me for another pair of running shoes. B took over driving the rest of the way into Tucson and we detoured in Marana to the Pinal Air Park to mournfully look at all the parked airplanes not being flown thanks to the virus-reduced schedules.

We stayed at a new hotel in Tucson – the Westin La Paloma – mostly because we found a decent deal AND they had a lap pool. Pools in Arizona had opened on the 15th and this triathlete hadn’t swam in 75 days.

We checked in, tossed all the crap in the room, and got in a tiny swim. Really pretty tiny since I really felt the pool layoff (I tend to get nauseous my first swim or two back from a layoff, and this was no exception) AND I really needed food. But it was SO NICE to swim again.

Then dinner, and bed.

Food eaten: Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, In-n-Out Burger, eegee’s.

Thursday, May 21

I woke up early ostensibly to swim, but I realized I really needed food first. So food was had first. We called around to a few places to make sure they had dine-in (not everyone did), but Baja Cafe, the place Seton and Debbie took us back in January did, so that’s where breakfast was. From breakfast, it was off to Saguaro National Park (East) to go for a short trail run/hike.

There … I saw something very special.

For a bit of backstory, during this quarantine/shelter-in-place, I’ve reconnected with an old friend from the grade school days. She’s now actually a legit shaman and has been running in-person moon circles in California for a few years. However, as all of our lives have been transferred online (more than they already were), she decided to host an online circle. Since it was free and I was curious, I signed up. And then I did three more (and paid by the end gladly). During the moon circles, we do a guided meditation into our heartspace. I’d seen the Sonoran desert in three of the four and a Gila monster in the last two. The first time, it just showed up and the second time as an actual spirit guide. And then I started seeing them everywhere – all on my random desert feeds I follow on Instagram and even as a mural on some building off I-25 that I drive past all the time and SOMEHOW just realized that it had a Gila on it (I’d already noticed the awesome trout). So, on this trip, I had a feeling I’d see one in the wild. You need to remember, however, that spotting them is extremely rare. They spend something like 98% of their lives underground. In all my trips to Tucson (which is many), I’d seen one once and even then it was only crossing the road. I’d never seen one up close, so to speak. Both B and I thought that might change this trip. And it did.

But it might not have even happened. As we did our run, we ran a different path at the fork in the trail than I/we usually do. We could have just turned around and went back from whence we came, but I wanted to go the normal route. We would just finish the run distance whenever we came to it and then could just hike back.

On this whole run, I was constantly scanning the surroundings, looking for a Gila. And then I finally told myself, stop. If you consciously look for it, you won’t find it. (and you might hurt yourself for not paying attention where you’re stepping on a rocky trail.) So I finally started to let go. And as we approached one of the washes you cross … I saw something, stopped my Garmin, and squee’ed.

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B: “Why did we stop?”
Me, pointing: “Loooooook!”
B: “Where? What?”
Me, more emphatically: “LOOOOOK! IT’S A GILA!”
B: *squees with me*

Little lizard wanted nothing to do with us – we tried being quiet as we got closer (iPhone cameras, or at least ours, don’t zoom well and I wanted to actually get a damn picture) – but no, they waddled off and away from us. Which was adorable (go find one scampering off).

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You almost never see pictures of them straight, but this was the clearest I could get. And even then, this is the edited, enhanced, insta version.

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Wandering off into the desert.

Man, that made my trip. No joke.

We finished up the last little bit of the run and then continued wandering in the park a little.

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Saguaro blossom.

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Ahh, cacti.

After Saguaro, we considered riding … but swam instead and then just spent most of the rest of the day outside by the pool. Dinner was our one take-out meal in Tucson, as there was no way I was missing out on a cheese crisp (that came in a pizza box) and green corn tamale from Casa Molina.

Food eaten: Baja Cafe, Starbucks, food from one of the random Westin La Paloma restaurants, Casa Molina

Friday, May 22

Friday, we woke up and decided to try a brand new place for breakfast that I had seen referenced on the social medias – Joe’s Pancake House on Kolb.

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We both love low-key breakfast joints … probably more than we like the fancy/hipster ones. Plus all that food cost us like $15, which is even better. I like places like Frank’s/Francisco’s where you can get a killer food deal.

After breakfast, it was a bit of driving around exploring … partially to get me to some murals.

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I realized too late that I completely forgot about the new Tucson Together mural (and I need to find out where it is) … otherwise I would have tried to find that one, too. We also hit up a rock shop and then lunch.

Most of the afternoon was spent doing some admin work and lazing about the hotel room, but we did end up going on a bike ride before dinner and DATE NIGHT IN AN ACTUAL RESTAURANT AGAIN. We also tried a new place on the west side that we’d driven past a few times but never actually stopped.

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Inside.

It was DELICIOUS. B’s steak was fantastic and every time I grabbed a bone from my ribs, it just came out, leaving the meat behind.

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You kind of see that here. If you went outside to behind where that sign was, you can actually see the pit/grill they used. My kind of place. Highly recommended.

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The mud pie wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it still wasn’t bad.

After dinner, we quick hopped over Gates Pass for the sunset. Unfortunately we’re in the time of year where Tucson has like two clouds, so it wasn’t as fabulous as it was in January.

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One last stop for a few more “bucket list Tucson photos” finally got me this sign:
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and driving to it got me this one:
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(For those not in the know, Magic Carpet was the BEST MINI GOLF EVER back in the day in Tucson. Fun, interactive holes, two courses … it was the greatest. R.I.P. I miss you Magic Carpet. One of the few Tucson things I deeply regret never being able to have B experience with me.)

Food eaten: Joe’s Pancake House, Starbucks, eegee’s, Baggin’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Daisy Mae’s Steak House.

Saturday, May 23

After one last swim for who knows how long (*cries*), it was on the road to get out of town. This was a weird Tucson trip in that we didn’t go the I-25-Hatch-I-10 route at all. Part of it was because that New Mexico still is pretty locked down, but part of it was also to experience some different stuff. We drove north out of Tucson to Phoenix and then detoured toward Kingman as B wanted to see how quiet Las Vegas was (and to extend the trip a touch longer).

This made it a drive neither of us had done before and one totally worth it as we drove past the tiny Arizona town of Wickenburg that looked TOTALLY AWESOME and became yet another place that we need to go back to and visit. Seriously, this is why I love road-tripping and taking weird back routes. You stumble upon the greatest stuff.

Nevada/Las Vegas was weird. I tried going to a JoAnn’s to find Vegas Golden Knights fabric to make more masks, but that was a massive fail and a half. What wasn’t was finally being able to visit the new Cafe Lola location in Henderson. Even though they didn’t have my pasteis de nada (boo).

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Roped off. No influencer pics for you!

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Weird feeling compared to the Summerlin location, but I think that’s more the fault of the current state of things as opposed to anything they could control.

B wanted to drive the Strip – that was weird, seeing all of the normally open doors shut and barred. When we left it was the happiest we’d ever been leaving Las Vegas. Usually we wouldn’t be that excited to get to our evening destination (Cedar City), but alas.

Food eaten: Waffle House, Starbucks, In-n-Out Burger, Cafe Lola, Brody’s Mexican, Crumbl Cookies.

Saturday, May 23

Our final day was the most boring day – just a drive day.

Or so we thought … as it decided to start spitting snow in Vail and then didn’t stop precipitating (snow until just after Georgetown and then steady rain) until we got home. Yay.

Food eaten: Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels, home snacks, food at the brother and sister-in-laws.

A little surreal to travel, but it was a much needed trip for both of us.

On Tucson in August

I went to Tucson at the beginning of the month so I could go to tri camp.

I drove down a day early, on August 2nd, so I didn’t have to rush getting to the first swim session on time.

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Driving.

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This really doesn’t do the clouds justice.

Tucson was still in monsoon season – or at least the tail end – and I experienced rain on my drive in. I don’t believe I have ever seen the desert that green – or, at the very least, have ever experienced it humid, which it was. Completely crazy. I texted my dad about it, and he said the best thing about the desert post-rain is the smell, and it did smell amazing, even by my hotel.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures during camp – my main focus was to get through it, and I did that. I did get to experience a new part of the region, though, in Sonoita and Parker Canyon Lake. The latter, about two hours southeast of Tucson, was like being in a whole other state. The saguaro? Didn’t exist down there. I felt like I saw more trees than cacti.

Post-camp, B came down so we got to spend a day together. Before I picked him up from the airport, I stopped for breakfast at Bisbee Breakfast Club.

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Menu. I had the Daredevil.

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Food.

I wanted pretty standard, so I went with pretty standard, but it was good. I’d go again to try something a bit more fancy for sure.

After I picked up B, we mostly just drove around. Neither of us wanted a crazy day (plus it was hot … that summer in the desert thing …), so it worked out. I showed him a lot of what I did in camp, which included driving where we rode at Gates Pass.

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You get a sense of how green everything is here. We even saw some blooms still on the saguaro, which is RIDICULOUS.

Besides driving around, I also wanted to bring home some green corn tamales for the family. I found a different place to try – La Mesa Tortillas – which was the smart move. Their tamales are so much better than Tucson Tamale Company (in my opinion), and their tortillas are to die for. Seriously. We bought some on a whim and it was the best decision.

We decided on a nicer dinner, so chose El Corral. I’m pretty sure I’d been there before, but it was probably somewhere back in the early 1990s, so I didn’t remember too much about it.

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We started off with their spinach artichoke dip, which had too much spinach in it to be good. Would not recommend (unless you like more of a spinach dip) or get again. For dinner, so many things looked good. Ultimately, B got their prime rib (delicious), and his baked potato was one of the best I’ve had. I got a combo, with mesquite grilled chicken (just a tad too heavy on the pepper; otherwise perfect) and their baby back ribs (cooked well; just didn’t like their BBQ sauce).

The main reason we chose them over another steakhouse we were looking at was solely for dessert. They had a mud pie on the menu, and a good, proper mud pie is hard to find.

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Not bad. Too much chocolate mousse, not enough cookie crust.

We were going to split it, but then B realized that the seasonal fruit cobbler was peach, so he ended up with that instead.

We met up with our TriSports friends Seton and Debbie after dinner at a local pub for a drink (well, B drank) as a great way to close out the trip.

The next day, a nice long drive back home with a killer sunrise.

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Dining in Tucson: Spring 2017 Edition

I’m pretty sure I’ve done a “Tucson dining post” but I may have just thrown in my food in past Tucson posts. Not sure.

Tuesday, April 4:

Leaving town, we snagged standard breakfast – Waffle House and Starbucks.

For lunch, though, we decided to try something a bit more … local … in New Mexico fast food chain Blake’s Lotaburger.

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We stopped here in Socorro, N.M., and weren’t that impressed. Slow (even for cooked-to-order), scatter-brained … and truthfully, really pretty mediocre.

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We will probably not be eating there again. Mostly because we don’t like eating much fast food, but yeah. No.

Dinner was our standard round-up of an eegee’s, fries from Wienerschnitzel, and fried shrimp for me and steak fingers for B from Tucson institution, Lucky Wishbone.

Wednesday, April 5:

We originally thought we’d get some sort of breakfast at the hotel, but apparently we weren’t fancy enough for it. So, quick google search later, and we found Oink right down the street from our hotel on Broadway.

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(I think he wanted to die.)

Oink was FABULOUS. Plus our server, Michelle, knew her shit. Great server in that she got us to buy more than we probably wanted. This place does flights of bacon (they have eight different flavors of bacon), and we were iffy about it, but finally did a half-flight, getting Applewood Smoked, Chef’s Choice, Honey Cured, and Sugar Cured. The latter two were the best by far.

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(Bacon flight, my food with a side of tomatoes, B’s omelet).

I love eggs Benedict but I rarely get it because really, it’s not good for you, and it’s super hard to find a good one. For some reason, I decided to try theirs (traditional), and it was DELICIOUS. B couldn’t decide what he wanted to do, so Michelle asked him if he trusted her and ordered for him. The amount of food that poor guy got …

He got the above omelet, the Oink Omelet (“A massive FIVE egg omelet, with bacon, sausage, ham and cheddar cheese.”), and a side of pancake. But not just your regular old buttermilk pancake. Oh no. Strawberry Cheesecake pancakes.

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“Our delicious pancakes drizzled with homemade strawberry sauce and cheesecake sauce.” They were way too sugary for me.

After that INSANE(ly delicious) breakfast, we did a later, light lunch at Choice Greens on Speedway.

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Choice is basically your standard choose-your-own chopped salad type of place (nothing all that special), but for us? It was just what we needed.

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B’s salad.

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My salad.

Dinner was at Casa Molina Del Norte on Campbell, pretty much only for the cheese crisp.

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Mmmm, cheesy.

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And the green corn tamales, my favorite. I also had a bean burrito while B got a chicken burrito. Delish.

Thursday, April 6:

Breakfast was purposefully early on Thursday so we could hit up the early bird special at Franks, on Pima just off of Alvernon.

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Franks is awesome because of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ the “If you are here before 9am, Monday-Friday Special” (holidays excluded). For $1.75, you get two eggs, home fries or hash browns, and a biscuit, slice of toast, or tortilla. We each got the special and then added on drinks and a side of bacon, because bacon.

Lunch was the all-you-can-eat sushi at Sushi Garden on Broadway. I had greatly enjoyed it when I was doing Tucson solo back in November, so decided to bring B there. As is fairly standard with all-you-can-eat sushi (with all-you-can-eat lunch buffet added) … we pretty much rolled out of there.

As a result … dinner … wasn’t much of a thing. We did stumble on a brand new gem on the U of A campus (Campbell and Speedway) in Desert Dream Ice Cream.

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In that day’s edition of “it’s a small world,” the owners used to (well, still technically; in the process of selling) own an ice cream shop in the small town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. My family and I vacationed there way the heck back in the day and, when shown the picture of the ice cream shop, I’m pretty sure I ate there, too. Because our family always ate ice cream on (summer) vacations.

They’d apparently just been open for a few weeks and are still trying to grow the business. For their sake, I hope they do well, because that Mud Pie ice cream I got? On point. I’ve mentioned here several times how we prefer more “traditional” ice cream places, and this place hit that. So good.

Since the ice cream kind of settled our stomachs from the sushi disaster, we also grabbed a quick snack at Wienerschnitzel just for some protein. Mmm, corn dogs.

Friday, April 7:

While we weren’t able to manage climbing Mt. Lemmon on this trip, we hit the Lemmon climber’s coffee shop for breakfast in Le Buzz Caffe off Tanque Verde.

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Brandon got a bit more of your standard breakfast in the Two by Two by Two (two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon).

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I got orange juice (because most places in Tucson have fresh-squeezed and it is SO good) as well as the ham and cheddar quiche. The coffee was great – I’ll mention that first off – and so was the OJ, but the food? B thought his was mediocre and I felt there were too many herbs in my quiche. We’re not sure we’d come back for an actual meal. For some caffeine and a sugary snack (they had some divine looking pastries)? Absolutely.

We couldn’t be in In-N-Out territory without stopping at least once, so that was lunch.

Dinner that night was at Pinnacle Peak, part of Trail Dust Town off Tanque Verde and Kolb.

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We sort of felt like steak (mmm, mesquite) and wanted to avoid whatever place we went to down near the airport a few visits ago, so decided to hit up Pinnacle Peak. B had one of their regular steaks (mediocre) and I had their ribs (pretty tasty, actually). It was what it was – slightly kitschy, not fancy … it worked. I also grabbed a scoop of ice cream from one of the other shops in Trail Dust Town afterward.

Saturday, April 8:

We were planning on hitting up Omar’s Hi-Way Chef Restaurant for breakfast at the Triple T truck stop since we knew it was good … but apparently they are no longer 24 hours. Since we had no other options for breakfast on that side of town … we decided to go try and find a place in Benson. And we did.

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We stumbled upon the Farm House Restaurant (no web site) off the main drag (4th Street) in Benson, Ariz. Technically they weren’t even open when we showed up, but the guy (from Pueblo, Colo., originally, in that day’s edition of “it’s a small world”) says that if he’s up early, he just goes in and opens up early. Ahh, small towns.

It was a fairly standard breakfast – eggs and bacon and hashbrowns. Neither of us was impressed with the carb side – B did not like his biscuits and gravy and my banana nut muffin was super dry – but it did the trick.

Lunch we took a huge gamble and stopped at a Furr’s in Albuquerque. I hadn’t eaten at a Furr’s in … 25?ish? years? … back when they were still a cafeteria. Apparently they’re a buffet now … and they’re terrible. The two redeeming parts of my meal? The fact that the “servers” asked you if you wanted lemon for your water (yes please!) … so the water, and the cottage cheese. That was tasty. The rest of it? Never going again. Don’t go there. Urp.

Dinner was at our house … but no way was I cooking after being in the car that long (and we didn’t really have food in the house), so pizza it was. Hooray for Domino’s.