A Long Weekend in Tuscon

The Wednesday night before the United States became crazy about their toilet paper because of the Coronavirus, we boarded a Southwest flight to wing our way south to Phoenix where we planned to rent a car and drive to Tucson for a four day weekend. Our plane was full with kids going to baseball tournaments and adults wanting to see spring ball. By the next day spring ball and all the kids tournaments were cancelled. We continued on with our plans to go to Tucson. We had no clear agenda from the beginning. The weather in Tucson is so inviting in the spring, it is easy to stay outdoors and away from others.

Thursday, my husband picked up the rental car from the Phoenix airport. Rentals are expensive (or were when we started because this is high season). We chose the “managers special” to save money. That means you get whatever car is available. We got a new Jeep Compass which was a great car for touring the countryside. On our way out of Phoenix, we stopped by the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande site is a tribute to more than 650 years of irrigation in the desert. Archeologists are not sure of the purpose of the site but the monument houses the remains of the largest earthen building in North America. Civilization in this location lasted over a thousand years until about 1450 C.E. The location was abandoned. Without written word the people responsible for an elaborate irrigation, farming, and trading culture remain a mystery.

When we arrived in Tucson we checked into the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort. The Wyndham is located in the Sonoran Desert. When looking for a hotel in Arizona make sure to pick one with outdoor pools, and places to sit. The sunsets in Tucson are gorgeous and free. There’s nothing like sitting on your balcony after an afternoon soak in the pool with a glass of wine and watching the sun set in a colorful sky.

Friday we headed to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. The drive took us through the Saguaro National Park. Named for the large saguaro cactus, native to the area, we had our lunch sitting on a rock looking at the grand landscape. The afternoon we toured the museum which is actually an outdoor adventure showcasing native desert plants and animals. I particularly enjoyed the hummingbird exhibit. If you have kids with you, plan your trip to see the raptor flyover scheduled once a day right now.

Saturday we headed to the Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. There are 30 miles of trails in the recreation area. Once again we took a picnic lunch to eat outdoors. We had bought tickets to go on the tram which proved to be an open air crawler. Because of recent rain in the area, we were only able to get to the dams and see the flooding, rushing river. In dryer seasons, the crawler takes you all the way up to two glorious waterfalls.

Sunday we met friends. But by Sunday, the country was awash with alarm over the Coronavirus and things were starting to shut down. We were literally one of about 10 people on the usually bustling University of Arizona campus. If you were traveling during more usual times, I would recommend you plan Sunday to drive to Tubac about 40 minutes south of Tucson. Established in 1752, Tubac is a charming artist colony with gorgeous colors and eclectic items in all their stores. On the way down or back stop at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, meaning White Dove of the Desert. The Mission was built by Spanish Franciscans in the 18th century and sits on the Xavier Indian Reservations. You can’t miss it’s rising dome as you drive by on the highway.

Monday we headed back to Phoenix and an amazingly uneventful flight home. The plane was packed. As we walked through an empty Boise airport, we saw 6 or 7 people waiting for a plane to San Fransisco, one of the hot zones for the virus.

At some point, life in the US will return to normal. Americans love to travel abroad as witnessed by the lines at the 13 funnel airports this weekend. But we have wonderful sites here in the states. If we have to stay in our country’s boundaries for while so be it. We live in a glorious, mysterious place.

Idaho and The Martian—Both Surviving on Potatoes

Idaho greeted 2016 by dropping a potato on Steroids in front of the Statehouse.

potato in front of capital
Giant Potato ready for 2016 New Year Drop, Boise Idaho

Yes, it’s true, Idaho has a potato fixation. Thirty percent of all potatoes grown in the United States come from Idaho. The potato is Idaho’s leading agricultural crop. We even host a national bowl game, called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (suggesting that in some other unworthy location is another football game named for a tuber).


To publicize the game, the Idaho Potatoes Growers  annually send The Great Big Idaho Potato Truck across America. Great Big Truck The six ton spud spent 2015 traveling to 29 cities covering over 22,000 miles.  For folks into trivia, the giant potato is comparable to 32,346 medium potatoes, weighs 1,102 times more than the largest potato ever grown (11 pounds) and could be made into 1.5 million French Fries (pass the ketchup!) The national advertising for the commission features an Idaho farmer, who has lost the truck, asking people who see the giant roaming tater to send it home. According to the President of the Idaho Potato Commission, wherever the truck goes people shout, “Go Home!” (see clip below)

Given that Idaho is known for potatoes, I was not surprised when Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in the movie, The Martian (2015) survived on Mars by growing spuds. The movie is based on  Andy Weir’s novel (2011) of the same name. In interviews, Weir has said he tried to make the novel as accurate as possible.   The movie begins with the crew of Ares 3 collecting Mars samples  outside the spaceship. A huge sand storm forces a hasty exit. Watney, who is struck by an antenna as the crew flees to the ship, is left behind for dead. Watney miraculously survives his injuries and has  to figure out how to live on Mars,  contact NASA and contrive a way home.  A botanist, Watney knows that the potatoes available in the space station have the potential to grow.  His job is to “science the hell out of this!” until somehow help can arrive.  The main theme of the movie just like the Idaho Potato Commission advertisement for the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck is “Bring Him Home!”Potatoes and Mark.jpg

 The Martian is thrilling, funny, and age appropriate for a wide range of ages. I took my two children, a college senior and tenth grader on Christmas day and  both enjoyed it.  The movie is on the Oscar short list for Best Picture, Best Director (Ridley Scott) and Best Actor (Matt Damon).  If your family includes children ten or over and you need a family night together, watch The Martian.  You’ll have fun cheering Astronaut Watney on, you’ll learn something about solving one problem at a time instead of becoming paralyzed by doubt, and you’ll end up having more respect for the lowly potato.