It was the beginning of our first full day on the road, and I was still getting my travel legs back. At 8 a.m. in the Arizona desert I could feel the force of the sun just revving up, so Rich and I elected to take our hike as early as possible. In the past, it’s been a ritual for us to take a daily 30-60 minute walk- but with the move we’d lost our rhythm, so today was important to get back into our routine.
We started out for a half hour walk in Picacho State Park, where we decided to put the hiking shoes on, rather than our standard flip-flops. If you read Rich’s post about this park, you may have seen the photo of the tarantula, so you’ll understand our choice here. In the burning sun I forced myself to focus on the beauty that surrounded me, taking in the wide variety of saguaro, prickly pear, and variety of other cacti and desert scrub.
Walking along mindfully, I suddenly saw something crossing the road in front of us. My excitement grew as I realized it was a desert tortoise meandering toward the yellow lines. I called out to Rich, who joined me in carefully approaching the creature. He was about the size of a large salad bowl and kept moving in spite of us. As Rich got close enough to take a picture, he tucked his head in and took on a defensive stance. We took a quick pic and retreated again to give him some room while he crossed. When he safely reached the other side of the road we took another photo, noticing what appeared to be a disdainful look in our direction as he took shelter in the bushes.
That was it, this slow-moving hard shelled creature made my day! You see, we’ve been out in the West for over 12 years, and I’ve been wanting to glimpse one of these tortoises during this entire time. Every state park we’d visit would have big posters on the wall, and the tortoise was often amongst the habitat listings -but we never saw them on our many hikes. After this sighting I was curious to learn more about them, and found a great website that explains why I may not have seen them before. Apparently, they are able to survive the desert heat by living largely in burrows- spending about 95% of their lives underground!
I saw my first desert tortoise when I was about 5 years old and have been a fan ever since. My father had found one when we were out walking in Southern California and held it up for me to see. My memory tells me it was the size of a tire, but I doubt it was that big. In any case, I’m inspired to put this guy on my short list of subjects to paint next for my Western Trails collection of fine art.
Anyway, as we continued along on our hike I spied an Antelope Jackrabbit, with ears that looked like the size of small pennant flags waving in the wind. In SoCal I’m used to the abundant rabbits hopping along the manicured lawns and desert terrain -but I don’t normally see these big-eared relatives! I was surprised to learn that most of them don’t live past 1 year of age, due to their large number of predators.
We finished up our hike by stopping in the sparkling, new Visitor’s Center and I enjoyed a quick chat with the Rangers. Getting into our Honda Element, I was struck by the feeling of being home again on the open road. After such a busy month of moving and preparation, we were grateful for the time to explore like this. Our next stop is in Tuscon, where we’ll meet Dan, a novelist and online friend of Rich’s, who is going to share some travel tips with us!