Hot days in Arizona

Our three weeks as non-parents have started off well.  After Eleanor landed we spent a couple of nights in Phoenix, taking advantage of the off-season cheap deals on hotels and restaurants.  The coolest day we had was about 109 degrees, which understandably drives off the tourists, but for us it’s only 5-8 degrees warmer than Tucson and we were able to score a nice business-class hotel with full breakfast for a mere $55 per night.  They weren’t making any money on us.

We were free to roam the area with no worries about crowds, so we explored whatever struck us at the moment: the village of Cave Creek, the shores of Bartlett Lake, the high-end shopping of Scottsdale, and various little restaurants all over the area.  We found a few “keepers” along the way, to be added to the list of recommendations that we are collecting for friends who visit the area.  (I’m also building a book of Tucson Tips for our future Airstream guests, which includes the stuff that we like and which is rarely mentioned in the standard guidebooks, like hole-in-the-wall restaurants, favorite hikes, and vista points.)

Restrictions on use of the Catalina National Forest have been mostly lifted now, thanks to a good kickoff of the monsoon (thunderstorm) season, which means we can once again drive up the Mt Lemmon Highway north of Tucson up into the mountains for a little cool relief among the Ponderosa pines.  On Sunday night we drove about five miles up the mountain to the Babad Doag Overlook, and watched the lightning show emanating from thunderstorms passing south of Tucson.  We didn’t get any rain that night at our home but the lightning from 20-30 miles away was spectacular.  We sat on a long stone wall along with four or five other couples and enjoyed a panoramic view of the city lights of Tucson, the distant mountains, and the crazy flashes of lightning bolts striking the earth every few seconds.  This would be an awesome spot for watching the submarine races if there were a few less people …

When the monsoon is active, our days are surprisingly cool, running in the 80s and 90s thanks to the moderating effect of the rain.  This is why July and August are not our hottest months.  But since Monday the weather pattern has changed to be more like June again, which means 0% chance of rain, 100% sunshine, single-digit humidity, and temperatures running on the low 100s.  That keeps us indoors most of the day (or at least in the shade), so we’ve taken to going out around 6 pm for a cruise, just to watch the sunset from some remote spot in the foothills.

Of course, that’s also the time the desert animals start to get active too.  Yesterday at dusk I saw four suicidal jackrabbits dash in front of the car, and one coyote (who was probably chasing a rabbit for his dinner).  Fortunately all of them were thwarted in their attempts to reach the Next World.  If we took an evening walk out in Saguaro National Park we would probably also have good luck finding scorpions with our UV light.

During the heat of the day I am mostly at work (at this point finalizing layouts on the Fall 2011 edition and working with authors on Winter 2011), but since things are fairly quiet we manage to break away for a couple of hours to do a few errands, get lunch, or hit a movie.  I’m not super-familiar with the retail scene in Tucson since I’m not the designated Shopper of the family, so during one movie run I was surprised to discover that the interior of El Con Mall has been for several years yet another one of America’s many dead malls.

I have a slight fascination with dead malls, possibly because we ran into many of them during our travels.  The life cycle of a mall strikes me as an interesting source of lessons regarding marketing, positioning, fashion and continuing investment.  I have a theory that many businesses fail primarily for lack of creative & fresh thought, although the owners who preside over those failures tend to blame “market conditions” or “changing interests” of the buying public instead of themselves.  The movie we went to see was not scheduled to start for an hour, so I wandered the silent (no Muzak, no people), dreary, and shuttered interior of the mall, theorizing why it failed and what could have been done differently.  Seriously, I think that walking & talking though a dead mall with a group of small business owners would be a fascinating and educational exercise.

In the evenings Eleanor has been experimenting with the food that we buy at ethnic grocery stores (Asian, Jewish, Polish so far), which makes dinner a far more interesting experience than going out.The photo shows Tuesday’s dinner of lightly seared Ahi tuna, some sort of noodle, and a medley/salad/chutney/I-don’t-know-what of Asian vegetables.  I didn’t ask a lot of questions — I was too busy eating.  The drinks were Chai tea made from a spice mix Emma put together last year, with condensed milk and palm sugar.

I’ve been asked several times about the tow vehicle hunt.  I have abandoned it, for now.  My criteria for a vehicle were extraordinarily stringent, and I eventually realized I’d made an impossible task.  What I really want is my GL320 back, and I can’t have that until September.  So the Caravel will remain parked in Texas for a while longer, and in October I’ll make the trip back out to fetch it.  Eventually I may find the ideal fun/part-time tow vehicle combination but I’m in no hurry.

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