Monday, I awoke to a beautiful, sunny, mid-60's day in Tucson. It was a bit of a shame that my plans were to pack up and head west, but cruising down the highway with my sunroof open really isn't such a bad way to enjoy fantastic weather. In my opinion, non-interstate driving makes this even better, and that's exactly what I had planned.
I hopped onto the Ajo Highway and headed west. The scenery was beautiful, with plenty of saguaros and mountains to keep me company. I drove through the large swath of land that the Tohono O'odham Nation calls home, including their capitol of Sells, Arizona. I especially enjoyed listening to the Nation's radio station, which was eagerly promoting their upcoming rodeo festivities, encouraging their members to register to vote, and discussing other community events. They alternated between speaking in their language and English, and nearly every call for event participation seemed have the caveat of the Nation "not being legally responsible" in the event of some type of mishap, which I found to be a little amusing.
The blue skies and puffy white clouds gave way to wind, dense gray fog, and clouds, which added a mystique to the landscape that I rather enjoyed. I headed south at Why, Arizona, apparently named such because State Routes 85 and 86 originally intersected there in a Y-shaped intersection. At the time, Arizona law required city names to have at least three letters, so the town's founders named the town "Why" instead of "Y."
And now you know "Why." Ba-dum-dum.
My southbound trail quickly led me to my reason for visiting the area: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I had not previously heard of this monument before, but when I saw it on the map, I just had to check it out. It's apparently been a national monument for over 40 years, as it was designated as such in 1976, the year of my birth.
The monument was shrouded in the same mist and fog I had journeyed in for the the past hour, and made for some intriguing scenery. The landscape there is dotted with saguaro and organ pipe cacti and interesting volcanic formations, making for some truly otherworldly scenes. The organ pipe cactus is a relative of the saguaro, a giant "bushy" shaped cactus that can grow to over 20 feet tall. These cacti are relatively common in Mexico, but only occur naturally in the U.S. in the area around the monument.
After an afternoon winding around the monument's scenic loop, I pointed my car northward toward Ajo, a tiny town with a cute little Spanish colonial town center. The woman who checked me into the cabin where I was staying was about the sweetest person I've ever met, and informed me she'd lived there her whole life. Ajo was home to just three restaurants, and the grocery store was a combination IGA and Ace Hardware. As I picked up some groceries, I imagined that everyone knew everyone else in the store but me.
I spent Tuesday hiking the monument in sunshine, and it looked equally beautiful but completely different than it had the day before. I had intended to do a couple of the trails. However, my hike of the Arch Canyon Trail ended up being more than I bargained for when I unknowingly kept going on a steep, rocky, unimproved trail cut by hikers to the top of the mountain overlooking the "arch" in the rock. It was extremely challenging (and a little bit scary at times), but I did it, and the views were spectacularly rewarding.
I could have stayed in Ajo at least another day, but my reservations had me moving on, so I headed further west to Yuma, Arizona on Wednesday. Yuma is essentially located at the intersection of Arizona, California, and Mexico, and has the distinction of being both the hottest populated locale in the U.S. and the place with the most sunshine in the world. Yuma also grows a tremendous amount of the fresh vegetables you enjoy during the winter, so you can thank them if you enjoyed a salad, broccoli, or cauliflower today (I definitely spotted fields of all of those).
I strolled Yuma's cute historic downtown, enjoyed a craft beer sampler at one of its breweries, and visited a date farm where I slurped down a date milkshake in the sunshine. Yuma has the wonderful effect of making me feel vibrantly youthful, as it is obviously an extremely popular retirement destination. I think my hair might be the (naturally) brownest for miles around!
Yuma has been a good place to relax, as my battery was running a little low from moving around so much and my difficult hike. I can't say I've found anything to absolutely love about it, but I certainly haven't found much to dislike about it either. You'll never hear me complaining about the sunniest place in the world. Sunshine makes me very, very happy.
And tomorrow, it's westward ho again!