I wanted to stay longer in Guadalupe but forced myself away, with promises to return when I can hike up into the lush mountain canyons. I left that morning not knowing where I would end up at night-it was the kind of wonderful day that I had a general direction to travel but let myself stop anywhere that seemed interesting.
Sometimes going to places I’ve never heard of is a total bust, and I think “well, that’s why I’ve never heard of it.” But then sometimes I get such a pleasant surprise that it makes up for any additional time.
Chiricahua National Monument is a place like that. Think Bryce Canyon but grey instead of red, more forested and with half of the people. It is an Apache name that means “Land of Standing up Rocks.” It is a totally bizarre place, so much fun to wander around in, and the first place on this trip that I really got outside of my head and just traveled where my feet planted themselves.
After I got back to my car from a hike down into the grottos it was after noon and I needed to start directing myself toward a campsite. I always stop at the highway visitor centers when I enter a new state and grab a road map and a guide to state parks. It was the weekend and an unusually hot one (meaning I would have a lot of competition) so I needed a plan B and plan C just in case. I originally wanted to disperse camp in Ironwood National Monument but then read on the NPS website that it is a known and active corridor for illegal immigrants, and as such not particularly safe (I cannot imagine being in any actual danger from the immigrants themselves, likely just their coyote guides, but I do understand that if you see them, it’s not good for either of you). I was thinking about sleeping on top of my car instead of going through the trouble of setting up the tent (my friend Kristen did that once when she ended up somewhere unsavory at nightfall), but instead I re-routed onto a highway that went close to three different state parks around Tucson.
That direction also took me past Saguaro National Park, which I would have gone out of my way for anyway. And again, it blew my expectations away. These cacti don’t even start growing arms until they are 75 years old-imagine!
I timed my drive right at sunset and saw some magic. Again, this place took me completely out of my stress exam-apartment-job-study-research-apply cycle. I got into the giddy place when I just repeat “Wow! Wow! This is so pretty! Wow!” outloud to myself. It’s my favorite. And the cacti were blooming!
That night I ended up at Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson in an overflow area next to college boys bragging about how spicy the food was they ate in Thailand, and that time they got caught with their girlfriend over at their parent’s house. Blech. But I couldn’t be brought down from my desert-gorgeousness contact high. I made myself a nice vegetable curry dinner, put in my earplugs, and had my first really warm night’s rest of the whole trip.