There is a restaurant in Tucson my friends have eaten at in the past. They entered the address into their car's GPS system and we began to follow the instructions of the voice which emanates from the device, something I find slightly unsettling and eerie. It led us out of the parking lot and to a road heading away from the museum grounds. We soon found ourselves surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty. Saguaros, in some spots standing as close together as the trees in a pine forest, swept up the hills on a blanket of green sage grasses and yellow wildflowers. The red rock formations associated with this area of the country jutted up from the hillsides, capping their summits, their hue providing a brilliant contrast to the bright blue sky above. We pulled into a scenic overlook to gaze at this spectacular sight. My friends commented that it was just like going to the national forest we had eschewed, sans the $10 per car charge collected by the park service. From the overlook we could see the road ahead. As it neared a pass in the mountains it narrowed as it winded it's way to the top. Going through the pass we began our descent into Tucson. The hills were dotted with beautiful, and presumably pricey, homes. Set a good distance from one another they would offer the inhabitants sweeping views of the desert during the day as well as the twinkling lights of the city below at night.
Unlike the sprawl that almost defines Phoenix, Tucson seemed compact and manageable. A college town, even on a Sunday afternoon buses were evident. Proof of true public transit as opposed to a commuter transportation system found in many other cities. After lunch we took a brief drive through a historic section of the city. Early 20th century homes lined the streets. On a few corners stood the imposing yet graceful mansions of the wealthy early inhabitants of the city. Above the rooftops the venerable dome of the courthouse could be seen.
As we left Tucson we stopped briefly at one of the ubiquitous convenience store/gas station complexes that punctuate the American highway system. On a siding sat an idle freight train, it's boxcar's sides spray painted with bold graffiti tags reminiscent of the 1980's. As the train later ran along it's tracks parallel to the highway it lent a certain hip hop urban sensibility to the surrounding desert landscape.