"Around Arizona in Four Days"
Day Three - Wednesday - Flagstaff to Tucson

Dawn rose with ice on all the standing water and a thin layer of it over the car. Oh, it melted before we'd even driven back to the Galaxy Dinner for breakfast, but it was still cold.

The night before, I'd been glancing through my triptik, seeing what the route would be like the next day and noticed that, just to the west of Interstate 17 (the route I was going to take) was the 89A, going through "Oak Creek Canyon." This, the triptik described, was "considered one of Arizona's more beautiful canyons."

And guess what, it is.

I talked it over with Dee Dee and we decided "what the heck." It would add maybe an hour to the trip, but we were only going about two-hundred-fifty odd miles that day so that was no biggy. So before we dropped off to sleep, I penned in the route change on the triptik.

The 17 in the snow, south of FlagstaffFollowing breakfast, gas, and an oil change (hey, it was time again...), Dee Dee and I headed south on the 17, looking for the turn-off to the 89A. This proved to be more difficult than advertised - something we didn't realize until we'd gone nearly twenty miles down the snow-lined road and reached the metropolis of Munds Park. Sighing, we turned around, headed back, and discovered that the turn-off was just outside of Flagstaff.

Now the four-lane interstate was replaced with a narrow, winding two lane road that soon began hairpinning its way down the canyon wall, much to Dee Dee's discomfort (she's a bit acrophobic). The fact that it was reduced to one lane for much of the way down (due to construction) didn't help.

North end of Oak Creek CanyonIt wasn't too long, though, before we reached the bottom of the canyon and the road unbent to follow Oak Creek. The canyon itself in many ways is a miniature of the Grand Canyon, except that you get to be at the bottom of it, rather than the top. The northern end of the canyon is a beautiful riparian forest, filling it from wall to wall, with pines creeping up the steep sides. About five miles down it, we were cruising along, discussing our planned stop at Montezuma's Castle...and I suddenly got a major case of deja vu and realized, hey, I'd been here before.

The rocks begin to redden

Back two and a half decades before, on a family camping trip, we'd stayed at a campground in this very canyon. Now I remember that trip - and the campground - pretty well, but my mind had placed the area far to the east of where I was now.

Until my brain put two and two together, realized that Montezuma's Castle was one of the side trips we'd taken from that campground (amongst other sites clearly marked on my triptik), and went "Oh, here!"

Initially done in shades of gray, the canyon walls gradually redden and spread apart until you reach the small town of Sedona and Red Rock State Park. We stopped in Sedona long enough to grab a drink, hit the restroom, and take a bunch of cool pictures from the parking lot of the local Circle K.

The Canyon 'round Sedona More of the Canyon 'round Sedona
Still more of the Canyon 'round Sedona And, yes, you guessed it, even more of the Canyon 'round Sedona

Leaving Sedona, we headed south again on the 179 for a few miles until we returned to the 17. Soon we were searching for the offramp to "Montezuma's Castle", an ancient Sinagua Indian pueblo, imbedded high on a cliff face above the river.

There is a major air of unreality about it. Looking back at the pictures I took of the "Castle," I'd swear that, if I didn't know better, they were pictures of some Hollywood miniature. And not a terribly good miniature at that. Because of the lack of more than a few windows/doors and absolutely nothing human-sized to compare it to, the "Castle" appears to be something about five feet high, perhaps made out of plaster and some chicken-wire, built in a small gully behind someone's house...rather than a long-ago home for about fifteen to twenty Indian families.

No, that's not a model...it's the real Montezuma's Castle

By the way, Montezuma has absolutely nothing to do with this "Castle" (or "Montezuma's Well," ten miles to the north). The early settlers just thought it sounded romantic.

Leaving the Castle, we headed south once more and began to descend into desert again. And - also once again - the desert was spectacularly green, filled with flowers and large, awkward cacti as we drove though some pretty empty territory on our way to Phoenix.View from a rest stop twenty-five miles north of Phoenix

We reached Phoenix in the early afternoon and promptly hit a traffic jam, which slowed our plan of going through it as fast as possible (We weren't staying and/or sight-seeing there. I'm sure there's lots of things to see in Phoenix, but if I want to sight-see in a big city, well, I live in one). Still, it wasn't too long before we'd left it behind and were now speeding though the increasingly desert-like desert. After three days of temperatures at the low end, we were now up in the 70's - and Dee Dee tried to suck all that warmth in.

Picacho PeakHalf way from Phoenix to Tucson, we passed Picacho Peak (not at sunset, unlike this picture) and, sitting in the shadow of the peak, was "Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch..."

No, I'm not kidding.

In the fenced in fields south of the peak, there had to be four or five hundred ostriches strolling about, and many a sign telling you that you could feed them. Unfortunately, we'd already passed the exit to this tourist mecca - and offramps are spaced wide out here - but we promised ourselves we'd hit it on the way back. We bored on.

The sun was dropping beyond the horizon as we finally pulled into Tucson and started searching for our motel. This was made even more exciting by the fact that all the roads near it were torn up for construction, but we finally found it and checked in.

Both of us were extremely tired from the long day's touristing (not to mention the two days before it) as we started trying to figure out where to go to eat. Unfortunately, unlike Williams & Flagstaff, Tucson wasn't one of those places I'd hit last year, so I was as in the dark about where to eat as Dee Dee.

(In retrospect, what I should have done was an Internet search before we left on the trip - restaurant reviews, ads, maps, that sort of thing. Next time, I'll know better...assuming I don't forget).

Finally, after pouring through the ads in the phone book for a goodly while (this was the first motel/hotel I'd ever stayed at that didn't have restaurant flyers in its "ads" box - which ended up being not its only problem, or even its biggest), we picked one that sounded more or less interesting, then drove off to try and find it.

Now comes the terror that is looking for a restaurant in a dark city you know nothing about...

Tucson is surprisingly spread-out for a city of only about 365,000 people and we drove for what seemed like forever through badly lit, torn-up, or intricately over/underpassed interchanges, before we finally found the restaurant.

Which was in a dark area, only attracting a few cars to its lot, and in general looked like a spot a non-local did not want to stop at.

By now I had a major headache and a slight fever (fortunately, both vanished by morning, but right then, I felt like I was heading for a major ill) and Dee Dee was starving, so after a brief stop to get directions, and a slightly longer one to get reading matter, we went through the drive-through window at Taco Bell. Yes, in one of the capitals of Southwest/Mexican cuisine, we were eating Taco Bell.

You may scream now...

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