Also known as my birthday road trip.
Before we start … a few things you need to know about my birthday:
– I hate it.
– It sucks.
– People suck at remembering it (including my own family/parents).
– It’s at a terrible time.
It’s July 5. The day after a holiday. In a very hot part of the summer. This year, I had a few things going against me:
– near a holiday
– on a holiday weekend (fell on Sunday)
– during COVID
The whole point of going to Tucson in the first place was to do a birthday ride up Mt. Lemmon (since, you know, Tucson is 100 degrees this time of year and I figured biking up to 8000 feet would at least take us out of said heat for a little bit). That plan got tossed out the window partially with COVID (hill training, I have none), but also because of the Bighorn Fire that started in June and closed down the Catalina Highway. Birthday plan? Gone.
We were considering not even going to Tucson … but I committed to putting together some donations for some local Tucsonans who were bringing a load of stuff to their family back on the Navajo reservations and I didn’t quick whip up another couple masks for nothing, dangit. So we went and tried to make the best of it. It worked. Kind of.
Thursday, July 2
Like our last trip, we woke up, went for a run, and then got on the road. All in all, day one was extremely similar to our May trip – stop for lunch in Moab, stop at Wilson’s Arch, spend the night in Flagstaff (but this time eat in at Texas Road House as opposed to getting take-out).
Food Eaten: egg/oj/coffee/lemon bars at home; Starbucks; car snacks; Sweet Cravings in Moab; more car snacks; Texas Road House (Flagstaff)
Friday, July 3
The original ORIGINAL plan was to try to do an open-water swim somewhere outside of Mesa, but my National Parks interagency pass had expired and I wanted to try to get that renewed first (swim spot was on National Forest land). So, we drove straight on through to Tucson (with a tiny stop in the Phoenix metro for B to get a pound of coffee at Coffee Bean). We did stop at the Pinal Air Park again and found this:
We stopped by Saguaro National Park West to try and renew my pass … but couldn’t. And learned the guard booths at SNP East also currently weren’t staffed. I got a phone number to try to get a hold of someone to get a pass mailed to me as, according to the person I talked to, online orders were taking about three months.
Checked into the hotel and then went off to wander a bit.
I did some restaurant research before heading down … but not clearly enough as the place I was hoping to hit up for dinner (Cafe Santa Rosa, for authentic Native American cuisine) was closed for the holiday weekend. Of course. So disappointing food on the patio at the hotel it was.
Food Eaten: Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, In-N-Out, random stuff on the patio at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass
Saturday, July 4
Despite not having a technically valid pass, we went on over to SNP East to get in a trail run/hike that morning anyway.
We tried a new place for breakfast in Ghini’s French Caffe.
Definitely not the worst place. I’d go back again, but probably to try their lunch menu.
From breakfast, more murals!
On the back side of this same building, they had a series of mini murals painted about Tucson. I took pictures of them, but I’ll put here what they said:
There is something special about Tucson.
Something not so tangible. More conceptual.
It is a place to find your truth, find your courage, find your you.
This city, its sky bursting with stars, fills your heart,
Leaving you, somehow, someway, homesick
Before you’ve even parted paths.
Come here for a day, a year, a decade, a lifetime. Be born here,
Raised here, or transported from a land afar, the desert doesn’t
Discriminate, offering its magic to anyone who plants their feet
On its dusty terrain.
Find healing in the sun, redemption in the monsoon’s rain.
Here, amidst the saguaro and the wren, there is peace.
There is possibility. Alchemy to help through the pain.
You are where you are meant to be, a child of the earth, a spirit free.
Let yourself go. Surrender to the music of this sweltering city.
Drink the spirits, devour the cuisine, journey through the culture.
Adventure into the backdrop the everyday sightseer never sees.
Dry in heat, abundant in heart, here you will find what you seek
And encounter those you are destined to meet. Love?
In this wild west, you’ll stumble across it, expose it,
Explore it, and, perchance, lose it.
But will it be worth it?
Yes, one million times, yes.
Tucson is a place you will not soon forget.
(I know, right? Chills when I read it. SO TRUE.)
We called ahead for our (late) lunch spot to make sure they were open, learning the lessons of the night before. When doing food research for Tucson, I came across a lot of lists of Black-owned businesses. Some of the barbecue places intrigued me, and I settled upon Original Mr. K’s BBQ. It was originally meant to help fund an Afro-American Heritage Museum. The museum (as far as I can tell) no longer exists, but the restaurant does. It’s both Texas- and Louisiana-based, but also hybridized with Tucson by using the desert mesquite wood. It was delicious and I could have bought them out of their cornbread.
We had a few other plans for the afternoon (namely, visit a sign museum), but I kind of hopped a curb trying to access an eegee’s and the curb had metal covering it (the f?) … and I got a flat. I couldn’t find my tire parts kit so we just used the roadside help with our insurance. The guy that came out put on my full-sized spare with a huge caveat (12-year-old spare; they typically don’t like putting on anything over 8), but eh, it worked. We were a bit blah after that, so the rest of the day was very low-key back at the hotel (hanging out at the pool and skipping dinner).
Food Eaten: Ghini’s French Caffe, Starbucks, eegee’s, Original Mr. K’s BBQ.
Sunday, July 5
Probably should have waken up a LOT earlier than I did this day. Ate breakfast at the hotel as we planned to just ride from where we were staying as opposed to driving anywhere (… since obviously original birfday plan of Lemmon wasn’t happening).
Then hoped for 37 miles (for 37 years), but it was like 90 when we started at 8:30, so we only got in 25.
We got back and B had a minor over-heating issue, but he ended up being okay (thankfully). As it was kinda late in the morning already, I just got coffee from the hotel ‘bux and then had it with the birthday cake I dragged to Tucson from back home.
The rest of the morning was spent hanging out at the pool as I wanted to get some water slide and float time in.
Then, it was off to wander the rest of the afternoon.
Dinner was at probably my favorite restaurant in Tucson, but it wasn’t the best meal I’ve had there. A lot of weird problems with my draft beer (just tasted so weird) and my tamale was overcooked. B’s fajitas were awesome though.
After dinner, we decided to try a new ice cream place out, too, in the Hub Creamery.
Then, because it’s me, I wanted to close off the day by getting a sunset. We thought maybe Tumamoc Hill, but it was insanely crowded, so we just popped over Gates Pass into Tucson Mountain Park to catch it.
Food Eaten: breakfast at J.W. Marriott Starr Pass, Starbucks, Kim and Jake’s cake, eegee’s, Casa Molina
Monday, July 6
We decided on a hike that morning closer to home, as it were, by doing one of the trails basically on the hotel grounds (but actually just in Tucson Mountain Park).
Back to the room to shower and then grab breakfast before heading to my tire appointment.
My Discount appointment went quicker than expected, so that was good. Discount Tire is the greatest when it comes to tires. Seriously. Buy your tires there. Always.
Post-Discount, it was off to the Bookman’s on the north side to sell my brother’s ancient old Atari Lynx and then we drove around getting the last of the street art I wanted.
We went back to the hotel to pack in the midst of some of this mural exploration as well.
Food Eaten: K&J cake, Frank’s/Francisco’s, Donut Wheel, Starbucks, Lucky Wishbone, eegee’s, snacks from AJ’s, Empire pizza
Tuesday, July 7
Ugh, this day. We left town relatively early. The original plan was to stop and wander in Sedona a little, but then we decided it was best to just get to Moab in order to maybe try to finally renew my stupid parks pass. Of course, we get to Moab and there’s no one staffing the booths at Arches. Dinner in town and we decided to try again in the morning.
Food Eaten: Waffle House, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Fiesta Mexicana (Moab)
Wednesday, July 8
We tried Arches again in the morning, but STILL NO ONE. I guess in theory we could have still explored the park like planned, but I was so frustrated and upset at this point.
To salvage the rest of what was kind of a meh trip overall … I took a detour to my favorite state park.
Then, just home.
Food Eaten: random hotel breakfast sandwich, Starbucks, Eagle Diner … dinner was something back home … Jimmy John’s, maybe?
The street art was good, sure, and there were a few good moments, but overall … don’t plan a holiday weekend birthday in the desert during a pandemic. Don’t be me.