The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 4: Tarrying in Tucson

Our last episode found us enjoying warm, sunny weather in Tucson, AZ, at the Rincon Country West RV Resort. Believe it or not, we’re still parked in the very same spot – the RV hasn’t moved an inch for over a month! But that hasn’t kept us from doing all sorts of stuff, using a rental car to gad about the Tucson area for sightseeing, grocery shopping, and a certain recreational activity to which I am somewhat addicted. Here’s an update on our activities over the past three weeks.

Nov 16 – Dec 6: I’ll describe some of the things that we’ve been up to without trying to stick to a chronological report. Hopefully that will be more interesting for readers, though I’m also doing it in part because I can’t remember precisely when we did these various things (such is the challenge of a septuagenarian life).

First, I should say something about the RV park itself. There are a total of some 1100 spaces, about half for RVs and half for permanent structures that look to provide about 400 square feet of living space. The grounds are nicely maintained with hundreds of palm trees, tall, sculpted evergreens, and many cactus varieties. Nicely manicured grass areas surround the office, pool, and common use buildings. The roads are paved and provide ready access to any and all RV and “park model” sites on the property. Our site is a few hundred yards away from a common building with clean and well-maintained laundry, restroom, and shower facilities. It’s a bit farther to the trash and recycling bins, but that provides some additional daily exercise. During normal times, we would have access to pickleball and tennis courts, a putting green and practice golf net, outdoor and indoor exercise equipment, and a host of community programs. But these are not normal times, so essentially no one is using any of these things. Almost all the residents are keeping to themselves and practicing social distancing when outdoors, save a few who gather in small groups to chat at various times. Masks are required inside the office, laundry, and other buildings open to the public. Many people are even wearing masks when walking around outdoors. When it isn’t too windy, we sit outdoors at our site and read or do puzzles before sunset – which is often quite glorious. Otherwise, most of our time at the park is spent inside the RV, safely sealed away from the other residents. In short, we feel very safe from Covid here.

Sunset at Rincon Country West RV Resort

One final note about the RV park. There is one special outdoor attraction still operating – the daily running of the Rincon West (RCW) model railroad shown in the video below. This amazing display is maintained and operated by some dedicated park residents.

The RCW Model Railroad

As previously reported, the bike trails here are excellent, and one or both of us have been out riding nearly every day. These forays have mostly been in the range of five to ten-mile excursions, but we did make a long (for us) nineteen-mile (round trip) journey to view the 18th green at the Silverbell Golf Course, which we had discovered on our previous stop in Tucson in November 2018. We rode past several of the same locations from that earlier trip, including the Sentinel RV Park (where we stayed for 2 nights), Pat’s Chili Dogs drive-in (unfortunately closed due to Covid), and the Mariscos Chihuahua Mexican Seafood Restaurant. As I recalled the mouth-watering Camarones Rellenos – shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon – I decided I needed to eat them again before leaving Tucson. We eventually had takeout meals from Mariscos three times. Although they are open for limited in-person dining, we are not yet ready to eat indoors, whether or not a restaurant is taking appropriate Covid-era precautions. And yes, I had the Rellenos all three times, which probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me. Yummy!

One day, we drove to yet another cavern, this one called Colossal Cave, in Vail, AZ, 15 miles southeast of Tucson. This is a dry cavern, and our guide told us the formations have not grown since the last ice age some thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, many of the stalagmites and stalactites were broken off by souvenir hunters in the early 1900s before any steps were taken to preserve the cave, but there are still many very interesting ones left. This cave was not as impressive as the Kartchner Caverns I reported on in Part 3, but the visit still made for an enjoyable experience.

The Historic Colossal Cave Park Visitor Center
Formations in the Colossal Cave

We also made two car trips to the Saguaro National Park (SNP). This park is unusual in that it consists of two parts, SNP East and SNP West, separated by about 30 miles. Each part had a nice loop road with multiple pullouts for scenic vistas and hiking trails. The road at the East park was nicer – entirely paved for a smooth ride – but we thought the West park was better despite the rough, unpaved road there. The West park had more, healthier looking Saguaro cacti and other desert plants, and the vistas were just somehow more impressive. The visitor center at the West park was also more modern and had more to offer. If a traveler only has time to visit one or the other, I’d recommend the West park.

Saguaro Cacti at SNP East
“Javelina Rocks” at SNP West
Petroglyph from the Hohokam Era (450-1450 CE) at SNP West
Hiking Trail at SNP West

One Monday, we drove to the Sentinel Peak Park. This park is only about three miles from our RV Resort, within the Tucson city limits, but there is an elevation change of about 500 feet from the base to the summit, so we thought it would be good to drive to the top. However, as luck would have it, cars are not permitted on Mondays. We parked near the bottom and took a rather rough, winding trail for much of the journey up. We did end up walking along the road for the final ascent and back down again, mostly to avoid spraining an ankle or falling on my kiester. The views from the top were impressive, providing an excellent view of the overall Tucson area.

Shelter on top of Sentinel Peak
Sentinel Peak Park

For Thanksgiving, we had two Zoom meetings with family back in Minnesota, in Oregon, and Ontario. In between the Zoom meetings, we shared a meal with our two expat Minnesota friends who live nearby. We had takeout from a local restaurant – turkey, ham, stuffing, yams, and pie for dessert. It felt almost like a real Thanksgiving, though the family visits and excellent company felt more important than the meal.

Moving to another topic: if you thought you could read one of my blog posts without reference to golfing, I must now disappoint you. I came up with the idea that I should try golfing at least twice at every place I played. My theory was that knowledge of the course would always result in an improved score when I played the second time. Since I already played at the Starr Pass Golf Course as reported in the last installment, I made a return visit there. This difficult but gorgeous layout, with holes winding through the desert foothills, has three nines (Coyote, Rattler, and Roadrunner), and my second foray started on the Rattler nine I hadn’t yet played. I did pretty well on the new nine, despite three balls lost in the hazards, so I was pretty optimistic heading for the Roadrunner nine. But I managed to dump three more balls in the junk and ended up with the same 18-hole score as the first time. Over the last several holes, my left knee began complaining severely, so I’ll blame some of my troubles on that. And yes, I will have some cheese with that whine.

I also played twice at the aforementioned Silverbell course. This was my second most favorite Tucson course, after Starr Pass, with nice fairways and not-so-nice roughs and desert areas if you stray too far afield. It is only a par 70, with five par threes and only two par fives, so I would expect to shoot a bit lower score there, which I did. The first time, I drove the ball pretty well but hit into a lot of sand traps and lost two balls in the only water hazard on the course. I also lost one on the last hole because it was too dark, so I invoked the universal “no penalty if you can’t see” rule on that one. For my second round, I started out with two double-bogeys and a triple bogey in the first four holes, dashing all hopes of an improved score. But I fought back valiantly and ended up with exactly the same total score, and only one ball in the water.

View of 18th Green at Silverbell from the adjacent bike path

Then there was the Fred Enke course, not far from Saguaro National Park East, where I shot my lowest Tucson score the first time out. The fairways weren’t quite as nice as Silverbell and some of the holes were a bit confusing the first time around, but I avoided most of the sand traps and only lost two balls in the hazards, so I was quite satisfied with that effort. However, the second time was really bad. I yanked a bunch of drives severely left, resulting in a lost ball and multiple unplayable lies, fanned an approach shot into a hazard to the right of one green, shanked a couple of chip shots, and had two awful three putts. When the dust had settled, I was eight shots higher than the first time. So much for my theory.

17th hole at Fred Enke Golf Course
A friendly Roadrunner at Fred Enke

Finally, I played at El Rio, just a stone’s throw from the Marsico Chihuahua. I didn’t lose a single ball there, but virtually every hole had three or more sand traps surrounding the greens, and I ended up in many, many, of them. Even though I still managed to break 90, I had no desire to go back again. The best part of that round was the quick trip to pick up my post-golf Camarones Rellenos.

Recycled balls from, to replenish my dwindling supply

Finally, I have one more topic to cover. If you thought all the golf stuff was bad, this may be even worse. Several weeks back, while we were staying at the John Martin Reservoir State Park in Colorado, Pat showed me a new word game from the New York Times game collection called Spelling Bee. I just so happen to love word games, and I was already wasting a lot of time playing Words with Friends and doing two or three NYT crossword puzzles a day, so naturally I was thrilled to find yet another one to waste time on. Since then, I have reached the final level every day but one. But the real incentive of Spelling Bee is to find every single word in the daily list – if you do that you are awarded “Queen Bee” status. I kept trying for days and days and days without success, until November 28, when this happened:

My one and only Queen Bee!

The lesson I took from that accomplishment? Persistence pays. Or maybe it was just a really easy puzzle that day.

That covers our activities through today. Still so far, so good, feeling safe, though we’re getting itchy to hit the road with the RV again tomorrow. Stay tuned as the adventure continues …