Friday, November 26, 2010

Pipes and Snakes

I've never been one when privileged to travel on business simply to confine myself to the hotel, the office and a conference room. While absolutely aware that the company pays the freight for me to be out of town and expects a solid return on its investment I've also felt that as part of the compensation it is not unreasonable to stop and smell a few roses while in new or at least different surroundings. As long as I'm not adding to the company bill I don't mind taking time on my own to explore local attractions and experience why others call the area home where perhaps I never would.

Having flown in to Tucson to save what would add up to almost half off the air fare I took Sunday as the day to make my way north to Phoenix where I would be for the rest of the coming week. The early morning wake-up call saw me heading west along Highway #86 towards the Sonora Desert Museum for the first few hours of the day. I was a teenager the last time I was here but remembered that day well for its extremely large but thankfully caged examples of the Arizona state pet, the Western Diamondback rattlesnake. I was wondering if that same monster was still there.

That one wasn't but the highlight of the day for myself and other tourists was most decidedly of the unplanned variety. Two male rattlers came across each other and decided to engage in a round of "Thumbs," trying to pin each other to the ground in a show of dominance for any females that might also be nearby. The unplanned part was that I was less than five feet from these wild snakes that were loose in the park! The nonplused park ranger said there were about 70 or so slithering around keeping them busy trapping one or two a day. These two were both a good four feet in length and the loser, mad enough at losing the fight was not at all happy at being disturbed by the rangers pincers.

Two hours drive west of town and in the deep Sonoran Desert is Organ Pipe National Monument. I debated even going because of the drive to get there, time at the park and then the two and a half hour drive north to Phoenix at the end of the day. I might never be in this part of the country again so it was a question of going or not bothering. I'm glad I bothered.

The scenery wasn't quite Rand McNally in terms of rugged desert with mesas and peaks surrounding a ruler-straight stretch of asphalt but near enough to a scene like that. Highway #86 ran straight as an arrow for a nearly hypnotic length before flowing with the land to Highway #85 south to the park. I was the only visitor this crisp October day at three-thirty in the afternoon. The rangers suggested the 21-mile drive on unpaved road to see the Arch Canyon which is typically a two-hour drive through the signature pipe organ cacti along with various odds and ends of local flora and fauna.

I didn't see any more rattlers though I surely felt surrounded by them at any given moment I was away from the car. I might not have noticed if one had crawled across my shoe, I was so taken with the surrounding wilderness. This is the Arizona of travel brochures, glossy tourism magazines and films featuring the Duke and Randolph Scott. This is the America that never makes the evening news around the world. This is the kind of land ignored at highway speed and dreamed about once you get home.
And it was surely worth the time to have an entire national park to myself if only for a couple of hours.

Gotta go.

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