Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Catalina Highway, Mt. Lemmon, 9000 feet, and Irony

Backing up a bit... On the 22nd we all went for a drive on the Catalina Highway. Our destination was Mt. Lemmon, but as in so many things it wasn't the destination so much as it was the journey. I'm not even sure how to begin with this one. I mean, I've been to a lot of places in the U.S. I've seen some amazing sights. New York certainly has its share of scenic beauty, and I've seen a great deal of that. But... oh my. Never have I driven so short a distance (about 80 miles round trip) yet travelled so far and seen so much. To start out on a trip that begins in the desert city of Tucson, with saguaro cacti and temperatures in the 90s at an elevation of about 2500 feet above sea level, and end up almost 9000 feet above sea level with the air about 20 degrees cooler in the middle of a pine forest? Oh, and if you look that way you see another state? If you look down, you see the tiny little ribbon of a road that brought you up so high. A stretch of road that, moments before, seemed so incredibly high off the ground. The first view from the first stop lets you look out across the huge sprawl that is Tucson. It's a vast city. (Coming home the other day, we passed a sign denoting the city limits. 21 miles away from the city's center.) Not only did we get to look out over the city, but got to see heavy rain over parts of it. Heavy rain that blotted out the mountains beyond. Rain that looked like a part of the sky fell on the ground. (There's nothing quite like hearing thunder in the sky when you're a few thousand feet closer to the clouds.)

And waterfalls? Plural? We didn't go near them, but the binoculars showed us they were huge. Just as the binoculars showed us the unfortunate fate of the cars that drove off the road at the Seven Cataracts Vista. If there was anyone in the cars when they went over the edge, they certainly didn't survive. And they didn't even roll all the way down to the bottom.

Windy Point Vista was unanimously the scariest part of the trip. Mainly because the scenic overlook was built away from the side of the mountain so you were really looking straight down on... well, everything you had seen so far. Not a place for those afraid of heights, yet three out of four of us were just that. (Myself included.) I'm not ashamed to say that I clutched the iron railing as I took pictures. Yet, if you look at the pictures, you'll notice which idiot went up even higher to take pictures of the other three? Looking down at the road, and the previous stop, wayyyy down there... yikes.

And the sky kept putting on a show for us. Sunny, then cloudy, then thunder. Always raining over part of the city (or state). For us, though, it was comfortable and breezy.

Drive up a little (ha!) more, and there's a sign informing you that what you see in the distance is New Mexico. I do not know exactly how far that is, but Google maps estimates 120 miles as the crow flies. (That's like being able to see Montauk Point from Brooklyn, or Oswego from my parents' house.) (Putting things in perspective for my faithful readers.) (And don't quote me on distances, OK? Close comparative analogy, here.)

Also of note were the stone walls, made of indigenous rocks. What kind of rocks? Neat kinds. Like rocks with mica, and iron pyrite (fool's gold).

Further we drove, and things kept changing. There was a lake up there, but we didn't stop. At just over 8,000 feet, we hit the ski resort. And grass. Lots of it. Pretty cool.

On the way back down, we were treated to a textbook Arizona sunset. The sky changes so rapidly through so many colors, if you look away for a minute and look back it's as if you're looking at an entirely different sky.

The whole trip was amazing. We travelled the climatic equivalent of Mexico to Canada in under 100 miles. It took us a little over five hours, but I'm ready to spend another 5000 hours there. I want to explore every rock, every waterfall, every precipitous drop. But I'll need to get a few more cards for the ol' digital camera first...

Oh yeah. Irony. At the apex of our journey we encountered a family consisting of mommy (Barbie), daddy (Lloyd), and Brittany/Morgan/Paige/Paisley/Ampersand/Insert pretentious name here. Barbie did not shut up. Not once. Lloyd was taking pictures, but then it came time for the "spontaneous" photo of the little offspring. The kid was four, and wanted nothing to do with it. We think she was actually having fun getting Barbie all annoyed. (When we got back in the car, I turned to Deb and told her she was wonderful. She asked me why I said that, to which I responded "because you are nothing at all like that woman.") Here's the irony: Barbie & Company were on the same flight out of Tucson as Scott & Matt. Way to put a cap on the vacation!

No comments: