June 18 – July 6, 2002
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We were in no hurry to get on the road, so we dawdled around packing and making sandwiches while the morning traffic into and through L.A. cleared. We had a nine-hour drive ahead of us, from Santa Barbara to the western outskirts of Tucson. We pulled out at 9:15 a.m., headed south on 101 past Studio City, Universal City and other Hollywood locations. Traffic was fairly heavy but moving along at 60-to-65 miles an hour. Our timing was as good as it could be since we passed through downtown L.A. shortly after 10 a.m., a low ebb in the daily tidal waves of commuters. Oddly, northbound traffic was bumper-to-bumper and in gridlock when we slid through the 101 South-Interstate 10 East exchange at 10:45 a.m. It was a whiz, thanks to Casey’s advice on timing.
I enjoyed the cool temperatures of the Coast, which came to a gasping halt at lunchtime when we stopped for gas at Palm Springs. We opened the car doors into the desert oven of July. The Mohave Desert, which takes in most of Southern California, is only bearable because of air conditioning. The thermometer at one rest stop down the road in Arizona registered 105 degrees. I was fascinated to watch a lizard carefully thread its way around a picnic shelter by staying in the shade made by the shadows of building posts.
Betty spelled me for an hour at the wheel when I became unusually drowsy. Possibly I was having a rebound effect from the muscle relaxant I took yesterday along with the thrice-daily doses of anti-inflammatories. It was 110 degrees when we passed through Phoenix; Sally’s air conditioner was running near max. Thankfully, motorists’ time through the Arizona desert is shortened by the state’s sensible speed limit of 75 mph. I was told that Troopers generally let drivers get away with speeds of 5-to-10 mph over the limit when traffic is light, but definitely ticket at 11 mph over. So we pushed it a little and made good time east-bound on I-10, arriving at our Holiday Inn Select at 6:15 p.m., with the sun still high in the sky. Our motel was one of several properties clustered in a roadside lodging/eating colony between Marena and Tucson.
We dined on country cooking at the Cracker Barrel, with Betty opting for a vegetable plate and me going for grilled chicken. It was good.
The Holiday Inn had a better-than-usual, Continental breakfast buffet that was included in the room price. Offered were muffins, bagels, breads, fruit, boiled eggs, instant grits and biscuits and gravy. Nonetheless, I ate lightly, as did Betty, in deference to our increasingly delicate digestive systems as we age. A map in a tourism brochure indicated that Tucson Botanical Gardens was near I-10, so we got off the interstate to have a look. But after several miles in traffic down Speedway and still no Gardens sign in sight, we realized we’d been had by the mapmaker. We returned to the interstate, annoyed that our sister botanical society would be a party to such deception. I ought to take the time to write a letter, but probably will not. This account is being written six months after the trip, from notes made daily in a journal as the journey unfolded. I can now appreciate what Walter Cronkite was talking about when he described his retirement: “I get up a 7 a.m. with nothing on my calendar. But by 11 I’m behind.”
South of Tucson, we again visited the beautiful White Dove of the Desert, a popular name for the old Spanish mission of San Javier del Bac. It is still a working Catholic Church that serves the Tohono O’odham
|Betty at San Javier del Bac|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Restoration on the centuries-old building is still underway. But most of the work in the church proper appears to be complete. Some writers have called the interior “The Sistine Chapel of the Southwest.” I think that’s a big stretch even though it is beautiful. The restored gilding, tiled floor, hand-carved altars and primitive artwork that decorates the murals impart a sense of spiritual peace that I’ve experienced in several of the great cathedrals of Europe. As is my custom when visiting Catholic churches, I lighted a candle in memory of my Irish Catholic forebears. We purchased a small, pottery statuette of St. Francis of Assizi in the mission gift shop. St. Francis is the founder and patron saint of the Franciscan order, which still staffs the mission and tends to its flock of Indians and tourists. The 6-inch tall statuette is a stylized design crafted by a local artist with no formal training, April Romo DeViver. It looks great in our home at Christmas, alongside a hand-painted, pottery mission church we had purchased at nearby Tubac on a previous trip.
South of Tucson in the retirement community of Green Valley, we met with Ken Herb, a real estate agent with whom I had corresponded earlier. He has lived in Green Valley for 22 years and represents Coldwell Banker. One of our Memphis friends who is affiliated with the company had put me in touch with Ken about six months earlier. Ken had kindly provided me with information on properties in the area. I had been interested in looking into the possibility of buying another vacation home around Green Valley since our last visit.
We looked at several villas and town homes in Green Valley proper, where gray hair rules. Children under 18 cannot reside (visits are OK) and at least one member of the family must be 55 or older. Prices are relatively cheap due to the low value of the Sonoran Desert land and velocity of the market due to the aging of the Green Valley population. The retirement community has a population of 25,000 and an extensive array of services that appeal to mature adults. There are several excellent golf courses, facilities offering classes of every description and a raft of well-equipped fitness and recreation centers. Green Valley is self-contained but close enough to Tucson (pop. 850,000) to have easy access to the services a city can offer. But it is a laid-back oasis of winter warmth, tidy homes and desert beauty and peace.
We looked at a one-bedroom villa that was built in 1964 and on the market at a surprisingly cheap $39,900; a two-bedroom villa facing a communal swimming pool offered at $46,000; and several spacious town homes priced from $64,000 to $82,500. The prices made it tempting for us to buy another vacation property and rent it out during the peak winter season. But with the stock market in shambles and our son entering grad school next month, we decided that the investment is not for us at this time. We’ll likely revisit the possibility in the future.
We like the mild temperatures of Southern Arizona in the winter. Living in Memphis, we are used to the hot days of summer. Normal temps for February range from a high of 68 and a low of 41. The hottest month is June, when highs reach 100 and lows drop to 68. We have learned to avoid the Tucson area in the “monsoon months” of July and August, when afternoon thunderstorms are frequent. The area receives an average of 350 days of sunshine every year.
There is an incredible array of things to do and see in the Tucson vicinity. Among the ones we’ve so far missed but intend to visit at the Pima Air and Space Museum, which includes a military aircraft boneyard and JFK’s Air Force One; Kitt Peak National Observatory and its world’s largest collection of optical telescopes; and several of the nation’s finest birding areas.
|Lewis at "White Dove of the Desert"|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
For us, Tubac Golf Resort defines casual but elegant comfort. It is at once plush but un-ostentatious. Its character seems to be laid back but practical. The staff is extraordinarily friendly, perhaps taking on the sunny character of nearby Mexico. There are only 46 guest units, all in adobe and brick, one-story buildings neatly placed among the manicured lawns and plantings. Some face a large swimming pool, some face fountains surrounded by roses and some face the golf course.
The late Bing Crosby was an early owner of the resort, which has been a favorite retreat for the Hollywood set wanting more desert privacy than Palm Springs allows. Two Presidents of the United States have played golf here as have a galaxy of movie stars. Much of the Kevin Costner movie “Tin Cup” was played here.
There is no disguising the fact that Tubac is very hot in July even though the resort’s shade trees, lush grass, ponds and bubbling fountains are cooling to the eye. The afternoon temperatures rose to 105 degrees during our stay. A dry wind makes the heat more bearable that it would be back home in maximum humidity Memphis. Mornings in July are reasonably mild, with lows in the 70s and low 80s. Golfers pay a premium for early tee times. Summertime is the off season here and elsewhere in Southern Arizona. Our room rate was $90 a day, about a third less than it is during the winter. Mid-morning and afternoon golf was $20 – including a cart.
The town of Tubac was founded in 1752 by Spanish settlers. The same settlers moved to Tucson a few years later because of raids by the fierce Apache Indians. Tubac today is an artists colony that hosts a huge festival in late February that we’ve twice attended. The village serves up a neat collection of the history of the Southwest, adobe architecture and dozens of modern shops and galleries featuring arts and crafts. This year marks the 250th anniversary of what was once the capital of the territory.
The resort is on 400 acres that were once a tiny part of the historic Otero Ranch, which was established in 1789. It was the first Spanish land grant in what is now Arizona. The Sonoran desert elevation of 3,200 feet keeps Tubac cooler than the Phoenix area to the north. The Santa Cruz river, merely a trickle during our last visit and totally dry this time, provides enough moisture in the ground to support cottonwood, mesquite and other trees along its banks.
We drove south 20 or so minutes to Nogales, where we walked across the border into Mexico. It’s the easiest crossing we’ve made into Mexico and we’ve done it several times now. We parked in a fenced lot adjacent to a McDonalds and walked about a block to the border. Nogales is one of Betty’s favorite shopping spots because of the cheap prices and affability of the English-speaking shopkeepers, who seem to enjoy a bantering, bargaining dialog with the tourists. They all sell practically identical inventories of souvenirs, junk and Mexican crafts. It’s amazing how different the prices are at the dozens of shops and stalls within a few hundred yards of the border. With this being the off-season and the Peso’s value falling by the day, most shopkeepers appeared to be eager for American dollars and ready to deal.
Betty bought a bolo tie for me, after haggling the price down from $89 to $43. The slide is made of sterling silver with a marble-sized, centerpiece stone of lapis luzili. I hardly ever wear traditional neckties now that I’m retired, preferring western string ties to jazz up the golf shirts I usually wear to Sunday school. She also bought some silver bracelets, earrings, four quarts of vanilla, two liters of tequila and a mirror framed by hand-hammered tin and Mexican tile. We shopped for a couple of hours and Betty enjoyed it immensely.
Quite a few pharmacies have opened just steps from the border since our last visit. This is probably the result of an easing by U.S. Customs of restrictions on Americans bringing home small quantities of
|Betty outside drugstore in Nogales, Mexico|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The deep discounting of American drugs made possibly by price controls in Mexico and Canada pose major problems for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. It costs over $600 million to develop a new drug and bring it to market in the U.S. That investment must be recouped over the patent life of the drug, usually 10 years. It means that American consumers pay the “sticker price” while foreign consumers enjoy the benefits of new drugs without paying their share of the development costs. Price controls and loose patent laws in many countries (plus the drug companies’ willingness to accept artificially low prices in order to gain distribution) have created an intractable situation.
American consumers are enraged by the disparity in prices, as are many of the mouthy politicians who represent them. The steady stream of Americans crossing the border to buy their drugs is a frequent news and rhetoric topic today. But if the wave of sentiment should result in the federal government forcing the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to lower prices, the whole world will suffer. Cheap drugs will not fund desperately needed, scientific research into new compounds to treat such horrible diseases as cancer, Alzheimers and Aids.
Oddly, nobody is screaming for price controls on food stuffs, automobiles, gasoline, school tuition or wages. What is lost in the babble is the fact that neither Mexico nor Canada develop no new drugs. Their citizens get a free ride on the backs of American consumers who pay for the research through higher prices on the drugs they buy at home. All the political posturing and self-serving attitudes do nothing to advance the discovery of new drugs to improve the span and quality of life.
On our short drive from Nogales back to Tubac, all northbound traffic had to detour off I-19 to pass through a checkpoint manned by armed members of the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service. Trucks, SUV’s and suspicious autos were stopped and searched for illegal aliens trying to sneak into the U.S. Those caught were taken to a waiting bus that would eventually transport them back to Mexico, where everybody knows they’ll soon try again. I guess we looked OK since the guards waved us through.
I feel sorry for the hard-working illegals. They are desperate for work in the U.S. so they can support their families back home. But I have mixed emotions about their plight and pressure on the American job market. In the last few years, the Hispanic population has gone from virtually zero in Memphis to an estimated 80,000. The mainly Mexican workers have a significant presence in the construction industry’s dirty work, pouring concrete and ditch digging. Serving them are two radio stations, a weekly newspaper and a bunch of restaurants and specialty food stores called Mercadoes.
Once back at the resort, I cooled off in the mostly deserted pool and eased my sore leg in a vigorously bubbling hot tub. We savored a bottle of Firestone Vineyard’s Gewurtizrimer, then had a delightful dinner in the resort’s Stables Restaurant. It is so named because the old building once
|Lewis cools off in Tubac golf resort pool|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
It was a terrific, relaxing evening once the sun went down and the desert cooled. We strolled around the grounds and had a good time watching the Mexican freetail bats and the birds dart about to catch insect dinner on the wing.
While Betty slept in, I started the day with an unusually large breakfast in the hotel dining room – delicious ham, scrambled eggs, browned potatoes cooked with bell peppers and a Diet Coke. The mission-style room’s half-moon windows perfectly framed the view of the golf course and two large, Cottonwood trees. It was a great way to start the day.
Golf Magazine described Tubac a “must play course” in a 1999 article about Southern Arizona, saying “Front nine meanders through Old Otero Ranch; back nine wanders along banks of Santa Cruz River. Superb greens.”
Driving a cart, I teed off at 9:45 a.m. and played 18 holes in three hours. I was by myself and only went through one group so deserted was the course. The resort course is very nice and surprisingly plush and well watered given the desert environment. I’ve played well here before. But I must say I played better three years ago when the boxes had four sets of tees and I went off the yellow, or senior, markers. The distance then was probably 5,600 yards, which is more suited to my short drives (as Trevino once cracked, “the older you get the longer you used to be.”) The way the course was set up this time it played 6,893 yards off the championship tees (rating of 71.8 and slope of 126); 6,316 yards off the regular tees (rating of 69,3 and slope of 116) and 5,384 yards off the forward/ladies tees (rating of 65.4 and slope of 111).
I played the regular “white” tees, which put extra pressure on my game since I don’t usually have the length off the tee to reach greens in regulation on holes of 400 yards. There were three of those at Tubac plus two par 3s over 200 yards. One of the par 4s was 418 yards. No way, not even with a three-wood. I ended up shooting 45/46 for a 91, which was OK golf for me under the circumstances. The generous fairways, absence of hillside lies and true greens helped my game a lot. And my game has certainly been in need of a lot of help this year, mostly due to lack play because of an injured leg. I managed only three pars, which were cancelled out by three doubles and a triple bogey. I hit seven fairways but only 1 green because of the distance; I was short by 20 or more yards time after time. I took 35 putts, including 3 threes.
After golf, I took a mid-day siesta while Betty shopped in some of the town of Tubac’s 80 shops and arts and crafts galleries. She bought a thimble to add to her collection, a beaded necklace for her eyeglasses and a very nice, hand-painted Nativity set. Later, she took advantage of the resort’s self-service laundry (reasonably priced at 75 cents a washer load compared to the $1.75 charged at Casey’s condo complex).
We had another nice dinner at the resort restaurant. I opted for a Caesar salad topped with shrimp while Betty went for two enormous pork chops in a mango sauce. It was a clear night and the stars were brilliant and without number.