As I mentioned in our Fun With Sewage post, Saguaro National Park, like Carlsbad and The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, is another one that does not allow RV camping on the grounds, and that our on line research lead us to Gilbert Ray Campground within the adjacent Tucson Mountain County Park. The great things is that unlike some national parks, the areas near Saguaro are pretty much just as spectacular as the park itself, and Tucson Mountain did not disappoint.
Before crossing the Continental Divide and entering Arizona, I had complete misperceptions about the state as well as “the desert.” Arizona has far greater diversity and beauty than I had understood, and so too this section of the Sonoran Desert. Sure, the TV nature shows go on and on about the incredible beauty and hidden biodiversity and jadda jadda jadda, but seriously, it’s mainly sand with an occasional what, lizard and wasp, right? Not so this area; it is exploding with life and so… unexpectedly green!
We liked it here so much that we extended our two day stay to a three, and didn’t even leave Gilbert Ray for the first two. We used the time to make some repairs on the RV, including the previously discussed sewage fiasco, but also our potable water system pressurization issue magically resolved itself (I think the check valve was just stuck), I reglued thee of our oak cabinet doors, and reconnected one of our metal understorage doors with the last of our rubber hinge material.
Aside from repairs and some reorganization, we spent the rest of our time enjoying the atmosphere of our large and lush campsite, particularly the evenings and sunsets. On our second night we attended a star party. Several of the residents and volunteers arranged for amateur astronomers to set up in one of the more isolated sections of the grounds and let anyone view the stars, moon, and other celestial bodies through a variety of telescopes, ranging from a small 2″ one on a tripod to a giant contraption about 7 feet long.
Only on our last day did we finally leave the grounds, in what is for us a rare instance of using the Big Kahuna as our local transport vehicle, we drove up to the Sonoran Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park itself. The museum is more like a combined open air botanical garden and zoo covering a much larger area than we expected and with excellent exhibits heavily focused on local flora and fauna. At $18 per person after a small military discount, we found it well worth it, leaving after several hours only to get to the national park in time for a short hike before sunset.
The saguaro National Park visitor center was the usual combination of modern, informative, and well staffed. We listened to the end of a lecture on the geological formation of the region, then got some advice on a short hike to Signal Hill where we would have a nice view of the park and get to see thousand year old petroglyphs. What the ranger didn’t mention was the washboard bumpiness of the dirt road leading up to the trailhead. Our fault, we didn’t mention we were driving a 52 year old bus. We were in no danger of getting stuck, it’s just that The Big Kahuna hate’s washboard with a passion and lets us know with teeth rattling shakes unless you creep along at a walking pace. We made it, but it was a bit of a combined lesson: ask about the road next time and we still need to resolve our local transportation problem.
It was almost with relief that we left the park and returned to our campground, stopping for one quick geocache along the way in order to keep up our streak of at least one cache in every state we visit. With some regret we spent our last evening in the Tucson Mountain, resting up for our longest drive yet the next day.