Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

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Young Saguaros

Forty-five minutes to Tucson

—Ron Sullivan

The next time Tucson is on your travel itinerary, weigh the advantages of flying. In-flight time between the Albuquerque Sunport and Tucson International is about forty-five minutes. Recently, our travels took us to Tucson and we chose to fly. About 275 nautical miles from Tucson, our Southwest captain came on the public address system and said, “Now, aren’t you glad you didn’t take your car today?” In addition to the very short nonstop flight is the cost—roundtrip coach fare was $118 dollars.

Staying in Tucson is a delight with lots of choice accommodations surrounded by natural beauty. First and foremost, you are embraced by the majestic Tucson and Santa Catalina Mountains. The Saguaro National Parks East and West are within easy driving distances. On a previous trip, we stayed at the Best Western, which has a comfortable downtown location. The room rate includes breakfast. There are several resorts and spas that blend into the desert wonders. On this journey, we chose The Westin La Paloma. It is one of Tucson’s older resorts. The property sits on 250 acres of the Sonoran Desert and was designed to be a showcase of the natural desert landscape. The mature vegetation is lush. There are over eight thousand saguaros, some between two- and three-hundred years old. Mesquites, sycamores, palo verdes, and cottonwoods provide a shaded forty-feet-plus canopy over most of the property. Replete with tennis courts, a golf course, sparkling pools, and walking trails, there is plenty to do at the resort.

Tucson has a rich multicultural history. Hispanic and Native American influences are homogenized with Anglo, African American, and Asian. As you begin to explore the various communities, you’ll begin to recognize significant distinctions. Our friends and father-and-son guides Tito and Pablo Carrillo were born and live in South Tucson. They offer a unique perspective on the cultures that vibrantly exist within these multiethnic communities. Tito, an adopted Yaqui, moves freely through the Yaqui Barrio Libre. It is a community that embraced Yaqui refugees during the turn of the twentieth century. Barrios Alicia and Dunbar are rich in Hispanic and African American cultures. Barrio Dunbar is named after the African American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Lunch at one of the many Tucson family-owned restaurants is a must. We chose El Güero Caleno Restaurante Mexicanos with its al fresco atmosphere. Delicious tacos and a salsa bar were embellished with roasted onions and jalapenos from a warming oven. A fine spray mist kept us very comfortable. Also on the list is Casa Molina Restaurante. They have been in business since 1947. There are three and we chose the one on East Speedway. The topopo salad with pulled chicken and garnished with avocados is a delight. Tito Carrillo’s Curio Shop is located on the restaurant’s premises and offers a wide selection of Mata Ortiz pottery and local arts and crafts. You can also book Mata Ortiz tours and attend pottery classes through their company Tortuga Tours. Visit their website at

Interstate 19 is a major artery that will get you to Nogales and the Mexican border. Along the route, the Department of Transportation has a designated interstate metric system to measure your travel distances and provides a courteous greeting to our Mexican neighbors. The formula is easy: five miles equal eight kilometers.

Just off Interstate 19 is the arts and crafts town of Tubac. Tubac has a plethora of galleries, shops and restaurants. The Tubac Inn is convenient to the gallery area and provides plenty of parking. Nestled within the gallery shopping area is the Tohono Village Trading Post and Gift Shop. It is full of authentic Native American arts and crafts and is owned by the Tohono O’odham Nation. You can find some of our local Pueblo artists‘ work displayed on their walls. Nearby is Curry Studio and Gallery. Gallery owner Carol Curry has a fabulous collection of local and regional artists’ works. She is an expatriate from Santa Fe and knows our Placitas area. Allan Bass, a potter from Rio Rancho, has work for sale in her gallery.

Tohono Chul Park is another Tucson treasure. The park’s nature trails and habitats are designed to showcase the flora and fauna of the Sonoran landscape. It is truly a living museum. There are docents who will guide you through the trails and gardens, sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. The Tohono Chul Park Tea Room provides a southwest-inspired cuisine.

Finally, just outside the city of Tucson is the most famous landmark on the Tohono O’odham (Papago) reservation. The Mission of San Xavier del Bac, located south of Tucson and alongside the Santa Cruz River, is an architectural jewel. It is sometimes called “The White Dove or La Paloma of the Desert.” Father Kino, a Spanish Jesuit, founded the mission around 1700. It is in the heart of the Tohono O’odham Nation and is one of the most beautifully restored missions in the Southwest. In a separate plaza area on the Mission grounds are gift shops showcasing Native American arts and crafts. Beautifully woven Tohono O’odham baskets are for sale and are reasonably priced. The shops are owned and managed by the Tohono O’odhams.

Happy trails!

The lands less traveled are a treat

—Jodi Peterson,  Writers on the Range

After a late-February snowstorm left western Colorado frosted with white, I decided to check out the cross-country skiing at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It turned out to be an experience I can only call “manicured.”

I drove to the visitor center on a paved road, then skied along a well-marked trail to safely fenced overlooks with signs explaining the geology and native plants. The views of the two-thousand-foot chasm were stunning, but the whole experience felt too controlled for my taste. I wanted something wilder, something without T-shirts and postcards for sale, and I found it a few miles farther north, in the much less developed Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.

The Gunnison Gorge area is part of something called the National Landscape Conservation System, the nation’s newest system of public lands. Created by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in 2000, the system was meant to protect the “crown jewels” of the Bureau of Land Management. Before its birth, the most spectacular chunks of BLM land were often set aside as national monuments—then taken away from the agency and turned over to the National Park Service.

Babbitt meant the National Landscape Conservation System to change that, to give the BLM equal standing with the Park Service as a steward of some of the West’s most awe-inspiring lands. As Babbitt said, with this system “(the BLM) can become the greatest American land management agency, the one that sets the standard for protecting landscapes…and bringing people together to live in harmony with the land.”

Despite that bold vision, for the past eight years Babbitt’s brainchild has languished in bureaucratic limbo. Everything changed this spring, though, when Congress gave permanent protection to some twenty-seven million acres of wild and scenic rivers, historic trails, wilderness areas, national conservation areas, and national monuments under the National Landscape Conservation System. No future administration will be able to dismantle the system unless Congress approves. The codifying should also lead to greater recognition of these places and the kind of funding for them that makes sense. Although the system hosts about one-third of the recreation on BLM lands, it gets less than five percent of the agency’s budget.

In mid-May, I got to know my local national conservation area by raft, and there I found the rougher-edged experience I was looking for. Just downstream of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a dozen of us launched into the Gunnison River, courtesy of Trout Unlimited. To reach the river, we’d driven forty-five minutes on a rutted, rocky dirt road, then hiked a mile on a narrow trail that dropped past huge sandstone cliffs through a piñon-juniper forest. There was an outhouse at the put-in, but no boat ramp or interpretive signs. Our group floated downstream for fifteen miles, grinning our way over bouncy little rapids. We saw the tumbledown cabins left by uranium prospectors, watched swallows and ouzels and a far-off golden eagle, caught and released fat browns and rainbows.

These public lands aren’t newly acquired; most have been under BLM management for decades. But the National Landscape Conservation System takes a fresh approach to their management, setting aside sweeping landscapes and entire ecosystems rather than isolated pockets. In Nevada, for instance, Black Rock Desert/High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails is one of the few places in the West where you can retrace the steps of the pioneers and see the land exactly as they did, from mountain range to mountain range, says Brian O’Donnell, executive director of an advocacy group called the National Conservation System Foundation. “It’s not just wagon ruts in a sea of development,” O’Donnell says.

Utah’s 1.8 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and California’s five-hundred-thousand-acre Trinity Alps Wilderness Area are both vast wild areas, preserved for their ecological and recreational value. Other units reflect other priorities: Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument protects ancient Indian ruins, for example, and New Mexico’s Prehistoric Trackways National Monument conserves Paleozoic animal tracks and fossils.

Unlike most BLM holdings, these lands can’t be leased for new energy development or grazing. But the system’s emphasis on community involvement and support means that existing mining, drilling, and grazing are grandfathered in to preserve historical working landscapes. Visitor centers, when they exist, are typically located in a nearby town, so that tourists don’t spend all their time—and money—on federal lands.

That keeps the experience wilder, too. “It’s the sportsman’s Park Service,” says O’Donnell. “These are places where you can hunt and fish and disappear.” And these are just the kind of places we need more of in the increasingly controlled and regimented West—no pavement, no postcards, and no T-shirts for sale.

Jodi Peterson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( in Paonia, Colorado, where she serves as associate editor.






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