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Day 166 - Caves & Cacti (Photo's Added)

We visited Colossel Cave just east of Tuscon, then Saguaro National Park, also east of Tuscon.

storm 62 °F

First things first, the brakes were fine. Seems they just squeek a little when they get hot. So we didn't have to spend half the day at the car shop and were able to hit the road earlier then we expected, leaving time to sightsee afterall.

The first major brown sign we passed was for Colossel Cave Mountain Park in Pima County. Mom asked me to pull over so we could go through it. Throughout this trip, Mom has repeatedly told me how much she hates caves and will not go in one. She suggested that if I wanted to visit one, that would be fine, but she'd wait in the rig. I don't know why, but after we left the car shop this morning, she seemed especially 'up' for doing some sightseeing. I thought she was joking, but she really wanted me to turn off for this!


This is a county park on the east side of Tucson that contains a large, dormant underground cave. When we got to the gift shop/ticket office, they told us a tour was just leaving if we wanted to join it, but that there were 363 steps involved and about a 1/2 mile walk. I expected Mom to say she'd wait at the gift shop, which was fine. But she said she thought she could make it. After I recovered from shock, off we went down into the cave... The lady at the gift shop said that if she found she couldn't continue, to let the guide know and he'd make sure she could get back out. Once she got inside, she was a bit apprehensive, but decided to continue anyway.


This wasn't a very difficult cave as caves go. Between 1934 & 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) installed lights, walkways, steps and handrails to make this accessable. They also built the main administration and entrance buildings in the top photo.


Our guide for the tour was Dave. He carried a flashlight, which he occasionally used to point out various formations and features of the cave. He was very well informed and didn't seem to mind having Mom on the tour, although it occasionally slowed the group down a bit. He said she did much better than some other guests he's had from time to time!


Here is Mom descending down one of the stairs. If you look closely, there is a slight glow to the left of the step she is on. This is one of the lights. The wiring was initially installed by the CCC in the 1930's, now the fixtures are covered with fiberglass that blends in with the cave walls quite well, leaving enough light to safely explore the cave but not too much to take away from the feeling that you are in a (somewhat) dark cave.


Some of the rooms and passageways in this cave are relatively large for a cave. It was hard to capture this in a photo, but if you look closely at this one, you can see some of our group at the bottom of this opening - giving you some idea of the scale.


This is a dormant cave, meaning that it has been dry for centuries so water is no longer contributing to the formations. However, they are still quite impressive as you can tell from the following series of photo's.


Mom made it all the way through the cave without help! I think she even enjoyed it (some), but was sure tired by the end. She also said she does not want to be stuck in a cave in an emergancy. She also does not want to try one of the more difficult tours they offer (I'm not sure why!) If you look carefully at the following picture, there is a ladder leaning against the wall on the left. This is part of their 'Ladder' tour, participants climb up and down ladders such as these, traverse some passageways on their knees, and generally follow much more difficult passageways. Of course, you are welcome to sign up for one of these tours!


After we finished the tour, Mom wanted me to take a picture of this giant prickly pear cactus that grew just outside the cave entrance. As you can see, she's still standing (but barely) after her caving ordeal. She pretty much took it easy the rest of the day (but I think she'd earned it).


The Saguaro National Park is about 7 miles north of the Colossel Cave, so we visited it also. They have a nice visitor's center (of course), which has a cactus garden outside (so we learned the names of a few more cacti). We also learned a lot about Saguaro (pronounced saw-WAH-row). These only grow in the Sonoran Desert, mostly in SW Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. Scientists estimate there are more than 20 Million Saguaro in this area.

Outside the Visitor's Center is an 8 mile loop drive through the NP, which we took. Here is an example of a hillside with a Saguaro 'forest'.


On the west side of the park, you can sometimes see the suburbs of Tucson beyond the Saguaro NP and mountains on the far side of Tucson.


Here's a similar view, but also with some of the loop road. The Saguaro don't always grow this close to the road, but you don't have to leave your car to see them up close and personal!


We could get close enough to see the ends of the branches looked like they had a white coating. We thought it might be a pre-flowering stage, but the reading material I bought at the gift shop says they don't flower until April. Also, they don't necessarily flower at the ends, so maybe this is related to growth instead?


We also learned that freezing can cause damage and even death to the Saquaro. On the left is an example of a healthy Saquaro, at 15' tall it is probably in the range of 70 years old. On the right, the sagging branches occur when frost affects the joint between the branch and the main trunk. This doesn't necessarily kill the plant, but certainly doesn't help it.


Finally, thought it was time to introduce a new type of cactus (for this trip anyway). Mom thought these looked a lot like miniture tree's. They are called Chain Fruit Cholla Cactus, or Jumping Cactus. Lots of variety in the desert!


By the time we completed the 8 mile scenic route through the park however, it was too late to make it to Phoenix tonight (especially since we were battling a very strong cross wind). So we're camped in a Flying J (similar to Wal-mart, they allow RV'rs to stay overnight free - large, well lit parking lots, but too many noisy trucks so I doubt if we'll do this again!). We plan to be at Raul Jr.s Friday, Mom wants to visit some friends of hers that moved to Mesa from Shelton Saturday, then Raul's mother Sunday.


Miles Driven - 122, Cumulative - 16,317
Camped at Flying J Truck Plaza near Casa Grande, AZ

Provisions secured: Gas $30.36 for 10.125 gallons at 126,095
..... Lunch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Posted by jl98584 21:26 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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As I've said before, you guys are having way too much fun. Next time you go on a trip, don't leave us behind! On a trip like this, I think an RV is a must. So, where are you going next year? Spain? lol

by drque

Wow,,,you have impressed me. I didn't think mom would do the cave either...
I am so glad you enjoyed it. I am not a true caver, but I did think Colassal Cave was interesting and pretty. I haven't been to the Saguaro National Forrest. You are probably just a week or two from the cactus blooming. That is always beautiful.. give my love to all in PHX...

by rllomas

I'll go anywhere you want next - as long as you pay for it?! Tent might be interesting, but a bit tough for such a long trip (and not possible for Mom, I'm probably borderline also). We're also sorry we're missing the cacti blooming, but we are beginning to see wildflowers along the roadsides (even in the desert).

by jl98584

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