New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ambushed by a Pregnant Realtor!

I've been in Tucson for a couple of weeks now. People here are always warning me about all kinds of dangerous desert denizens. I've seen two rattlesnakes (one was huge), a gila monster, and a scorpion. None of them came after me, though.

Here's the huge rattlesnake crawling away from me.

But one morning, I was driving around the Catalina Foothills area of town, getting a feel for the area, looking for cute patio homes at foreclosure prices. I saw a "for sale by owner" sign and followed it into a neighborhood that was obviously too expensive for me. As I pulled up in front of the house, a well-dressed woman came out of the house and got into her car. I rolled down my window and called out, "How much are you asking?" She told me, and it was way too much. I smiled and waved and drove slowly away, cruising the neighborhood. I heard honking, and wondered if she was telling me I had a flat tire. But I've been conditioned by my time in Tanzania to never stop when a stranger honks for fear of being robbed. OK, not really. But I kept driving. As I circled around a few minutes later, I heard honking again and noticed the same woman following me. So I stopped the car, and got out to talk with her. She was a realtor, and almost let me drive away, until she saw the out-of-state plates on my car, which marked me as a likely target--er--customer. She got out of her car and said, "I hope I didn't scare you." At which point, I noticed that she was about 8 months pregnant, and said, "No, you didn't scare me," and tried not to laugh. She whipped out her business cards and asked what kind of house I was looking for. I explained that I hadn't decided to move to Tucson, but maybe I would someday, and now I'm on her email list. Which, actually, I don't mind because I enjoy looking at the houses for sale. So, pregnant Arizona realtor: less aggressive than the "flat tire thieves" in Arusha, Tanzania but more aggressive than rattlesnakes, gila monsters, and scorpions.

My vacation rental is in the Catalina Foothills area, so it's right up against the Santa Catalina Mountains and the desert. Lots of birds. Lots of hiking trails. Beautiful early mornings. Scorching hot afternoons. At my first rental, the parking area included a gate onto the Ventana Canyon Trail, so I made that my morning workout. It wasn't a very vigorous workout, because the desert so captivated me that I spent a lot of time photographing flowers and sitting on rocks watching birds.

 Purple Paddle Prickly Pear


 Greater Earless Lizard

 Saguaro flowers and buds.

 Don't know what this little guy is--my entomology training is failing me.
*Update added May 23: My new hiking friend Andree suggested this might be a bee assassin. This would put it in the order hemiptera, or true bugs. I thought of that, but wasn't sure, because true bugs usually have a diamond pattern on their wings. But a ranger in Sabino Canyon told Andree that this is breeding coloration. So there you have it: bee assassin looking for love.*

 Cholla flower--not as spectacular as the saguaro flowers. Cholla specialize more in thorns.

 Bee pollinating saguaro. Bats pollinate them, too, but I haven't been awake late enough to see that. Click here for a TED video on pollination that includes some incredible footage of bats pollinating saguaro flowers (thanks for the link, Janet!).

 Saguaro forest in the middle ground. And you can't see it, but there's a ravens' nest in one of the little caves up high on the peak in the background.

I was sitting on a rock at the edge of the trail with my binoculars trained on the cliff, waiting for some raven action. It's more like a monocular for me. My contact lenses are formulated to correct both horrible distant vision and always increasingly horrible reading vision. So my right eye sees through the binoculars fine, but my left eye (with its bifocal contact lens for close and middle vision) sees everything in a blur through the other side. Just something for serious middle-aged birdwatchers to think about before buying off on the whole monocular contact lenses thing. I was waiting on those ravens, two ladies hiked by fast. Just past me, one of them said to the other, "Oh, I've never seen one of those before." And they just kept on walking fast! I jumped up to see what they'd spotted, and it was a gila monster!

 No, it's not a good picture, but it's all I got! He's in there, the orange and black spots underneath the branches. He was about 12 inches long.

I can't believe those ladies didn't stop to watch him. I guess that's the difference between a workout and a nature walk.

My first rental had a lovely second-story deck that was shaded in the mornings, with a couple of saguaro and a nice mesquite tree surrounding it. The downstairs neighbors had a big bird feeder, so the mornings were a frenzy of birds...

 ...and javelinas!

 Curve-billed Thrasher on a saguaro flower.

White-winged Dove on saguaro.

 Gambel Quail

 Gila Woodpecker...

 ...digging under the rocks.

 He briefly wondered if I was a threat to him with my camera. But he decided no, and went back to work...

...and emerged with this dead lizard for breakfast.

But I had to leave the first rental and its lovely deck, because the downstairs neighbors not only feed the birds, they smoke--a lot. The cigarette smoke permeated my rental and really made me ill. But the wonderful Canadian owners of the condo refunded part of my rent because, they said, they didn't want me to be uncomfortable or suffer ill health effects in their condo. As sad as I was to leave behind the deck, I feel much better in my new rental. Renting to snowbirds (retirees who spend the winter here and the summer back home in a northern state) is huge business here, so it was really easy to find another rental on

This is the almost-courtyard outside my new front door, where I sit in the evenings and read and watch the hummingbirds fight and gaze at the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background. Plus, the pool here is better!

 Meanwhile, back in Ventana Canyon, hiking really early on a Sunday morning...

...with my really fun new friend Sue, whom I met at a hiking event I found on, we found more desert denizens--not dangerous, but a little creepy because of their near-perfect iridescent gray protective coloring.

 Can you spot the 3 inch long Canyon Tree Frog?

 Thanks to Cynthia for the ID!

 There are five Canyon Tree Frogs in this photo. Start at bottom left with a vertically oriented frog nestled into a crack. Got him? A bit to his left, find a wide crack in the granite and follow it up until you are about one-third down from the top of the photo, and find a vertically oriented frog nestled in the crack. Diagonally to the right of that frog, just below the black band in the rock, find three frogs huddled together, one horizontal and two vertical above him.

About a week and a half into all this blissful desert hiking, I realized that I'd barely ventured into Tucson at all. So I drove down to the University of Arizona and cruised the prestigious Sam Hughes neighborhood. The adobe houses were adorable, nicely maintained and painted in a surprising array of colors, and xeriscaped to die for. But I didn't get any pictures, because apparently parking is a problem so close to the university, so the streets were lined with "Parking by Resident Permit Only" signs. I headed over to 4th Avenue with its collection of student-oriented bookstores, cafes, bars, and tattoo parlors. And there I saw the most impressive, and puzzling, desert denizen yet....

...a giant Easter Island head sitting outside a bar. He started his Tucson career at a miniature golf course.

I think I need to spend some more time in the city and develop a feel for what Tucson's all about. I thought I was getting it when I saw the gila monster on only my second day here, but this Easter Island thing has set me back a bit. Anyway, I'm going to a Padres (AAA league) baseball game tonight, so that will be a good start.