Tucson Take-Aways: Prickly Pear Cactus is Delicious & Beer is a Phenomenal Hiking Reward

Tucson, Arizona was added to the trip, so that Hubs and I could spend some time with my Aunt, Charlotte.  In 6 years, Hubs and Charlotte have spoken on the phone, but only briefly met in person once.  Heh… that made me reminisce about the awkward meetings he has had with some of my family members. The first time he met my mom, and he hid around the corner of the store quivering in fear.  This almost 6 foot tall man was scared of meeting my 4 foot 11 inch Mom, but I digress.

Upon departing Moab, Arches National Park, and Utah, we hopped in our rental car and headed for the Airport in Montrose, Colorado.  Driving through the desert in Utah was quite fun.  Would have been more so with something other than a 4 cylinder rental sedan.  The speed limit was 85 MPH!  Going that fast in Virginia will getcha a Reckless Driving ticket.  But I digressed, again.  We made the three hour journey, hopped on an aeroplane after having lunch with Hubs’ step-grandmother, and jetted off to Tucson. 

Charlotte ferried us from the airport to our AirBnB in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.  Like good little rule followers, the three of us masked up while indoors or in a vehicle together.  We arrived at our accommodations with high hopes based on the photos.  Alas, the cleanliness left much to be desired.  The dried, unknown yellow substances dripping down the underside of the toilet seat.  The dirty dishes waiting for us in the dish washer, paired with the used coffee grounds in the coffee maker.  The soap scum that was thriving in the shower.  During the time of COVID, this was rather disconcerting.  I may have left the above comments on a public review of the place, only to receive a less-than-pleased response by the owner.  Who then tried to bribe me to change the review – he’d refund the useless cleaning fee if I gave him a positive review instead.  I keep digressing! 

Thankfully, Charlotte enjoys a good hike, and was courageous enough to trek up a few hills with us swift-walking nuts. Plus, being local, she knows where all the good hikes are!

Hike #1:  Mt. Wrightson Super Trail

The mountains are just on this side of the border with Mexico.  The circuitous route was steeper up with a meandering, slower descent (common sense tells you if you hike it backwards, it’s gradual up and steep down).  When we reached the saddle, we stopped for a snack.  While I am used to hiking snacks consisting of protein bars and other pre-packaged items, Charlotte surprised us by pulling goodies out of her pack that one would typically see on a charcuterie board.  A variety of cheeses, some delicious hot salami, crackers, and avocado made up for a classy bite! I’m going to have to up my hiking munchie game considerably after this.

The portion of the hike we completed was about 5ish miles. Once the sun began to shrink behind the mountain, it actually got a bit chilly as I found myself hunting for the sunny parts of the trail. It was a solid hike. Next time perhaps we’ll venture all the way to the top!

Hike #2:  Douglas Spring Trail

Bring on the desert hike!  Not particularly grueling with regards to elevation, but mentally challenging as hikers have to keep a watchful eye out for rattlesnakes sunning themselves along the path.  Saguaro Cacti littered the trail (duh, it’s in Saguaro National Park), along with a multitude of other threatening greenery with their lethal spines protruding out of them, just waiting for a hiker’s misstep off the trail.  A ravine provided a respite from the sun, and again, Charlotte busted out her premium grub.  The highest hill we climbed gave way to a decent view of Tucson and the neon pink resort, Tanque Verde Ranch, where my family spent New Years decades prior for our one and only family reunion ever. 

We passed quite a few other hikers, to include horses. Understandable, given that part of the trail is a horse back riding route. No chilliness on this venture either! The desert winter weather meant I was sporting shorts and a tank top. Too bad we had to return to Virginia’s winter weather soon after. Plus, we did not encounter a single snake, nor did anyone pierce an extremity on a cactus! But I did do a handstand next to one.

Charlotte does hiking right!  Not only does she bring fantastic, fancy snacks, but as a tasty reward for partaking in any hiking pursuit, she always pops the cap off a nice, cold brew to enjoy post-hike.  This will have to become a new tradition for Hubs and me. Cheers!

Evenings consisted of the three of us dining in the courtyard of my Aunt’s home.  Thanks, Beer Flu, for putting an end to normal, social activities. Anyway, Charlotte has gotten the Hubs and I addicted to a few particular items that we can apparently only acquire at Trader Joe’s  – baby avocados, Multigrain Veggie Chips, and Hot Salami.  I introduced Charlotte to the wonders of “Three Buck Chuck” – Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw wine that you can guess costs a whopping $3 (well, $2.99, but “Two-Buck 99 cent Chuck” just doesn’t have the same ring to it).  Thank you super low-cost wine production, resulting in insanely cost effective, and shockingly decent, wine!  We also introduced her to cauliflower pizza crust, as we piled ingredients onto the thin, crispy health conscious crusts. 

My Aunt’s home, an in progress desert home, was currently being renovated with a custom master suite.  She and her counterpart have a salt water pool with a great view of Tucson.  Her quirky other half, George, actually built the house from the ground up (obviously, with the help of a crew as George is not exactly the construction type).  The décor is just as distinctive as it’s creator.  I shall explain this with a description of good ole George: Tall, lanky, eccentric, somewhat reclusive musician with more knowledge bouncing around his head than Hubs and I combined. He donned a white leather slim fit suit with a bright purple shirt underneath when he attended my first mistake. He’s a very unique and interesting human, and once out of his shell, he’s delightful to ‘conversate’ with. One-of-a-kind artwork adorns the walls, to include a piece of a nude woman perched atop on a porcelain throne (commonly referred to as a toilet).  No quite my cup of tea, but to each their own!  My favorite part of the dwelling is s two-story library that is stocked with books from floor to ceiling.  It is a book lover’s wet dream! 

‘Twas a great end to our western escape!  And we thoroughly wore my Aunt out, and gave her NEW knee a hell of a workout both days!  I have a little piece of Tucson to remember the stay by… Charlotte sent me Cheri’s Desert Harvest as a Christmas gift. I never would have imagined syrup, jams and marmalade made from prickly pear cacti would taste so delectable, and be so very purple.

Fingers crossed we get to jet off to our next planned excursion to the Balkans in just two short weeks…

3 thoughts on “Tucson Take-Aways: Prickly Pear Cactus is Delicious & Beer is a Phenomenal Hiking Reward

  1. That Airbnb sounds awful. I wrote a post about our first Airbnb experience a while back We liked the one we stayed at (it was in England) but I wrote some of the cons (in general, not with this particular one) of Airbnb and boy, did I get some spirited replies. I knew I would, though. For some reason, people have very strong feelings about Airbnb.

    When I was in Tucson a few years ago for my first solo trip, I stayed at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. One of the reasons I chose it was that it had a free shuttle to the Catalina Mountain recreation area, so I could hike as much as I wanted without having to rent a car. I know not everyone is a “resort person,” but just a suggestion if you ever get back there sans auto.

    At Trader Joe’s, I’m a sucker for their dried coconut strips and dried ginger, but whole bags disappear into my stomach very quickly, and they’re basically candy, so I don’t get them that often. Oh no – we tried their cauliflower pizza crust and ripped it to shreds on the next podcast we did. Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about that one. 🙂

    1. We exclusively stayed in hotels or resorts until we discovered AirBnB when we got married in Slovenia in 2018. It’s just far more convenient having a kitchen with some of the trips I concoct! I will definitely keep that resort in Tucson in mind, since I know we’ll be going back in the future to visit my family. I’m certainly avoiding the last place like the plague. Annnddd I just perused the website for Loews Ventana Canyon… I’m convinced! Fitness Center, Pool and Spa for the win. My Aunt has a kitchen if I really need one!

      Trader Joe’s does have some tasty things, but I definitely find their selection severely lacking. Of the grocery stores I have frequented, Wegman’s (northeast, mid-atlantic thing) is by far the best place ever. The number of insanely delicious meals and foods they make in-house make me want to jump over the counter, and hug the food prep geniuses, but I do not foresee that going over well. I shall have to stick with verbally thanking them for all they do to make my stomach happy.

      Oh, and Trader Joe’s cauliflower crust… soggy failure. Our weird, and eclectic, array of toppings… delicious!

      1. Yeah, the rooms at Loews are in the “just fine” category (at least at the level I stayed in), but the location, views, shuttle, and other amenities (including an adults-only pool) make it somewhere I’ll stay again next time I’m in Tucson.

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