On The Dusty Trail To Las Cruces

It’s 275 miles from Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the crow flies, and it’s just about the same distance if you’re traveling by car.  You get on I-10 and head east, and it’s a straight shot on an unbending road that takes you past long freight trains rattling west and dusty mountains framed by blue sky, bright sunshine, and high clouds.

And speaking of dust, the section of I-10 from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the few places in America where you’ll see highway signs warning you of what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm.  As I took in the brittle, dry look of the surrounding landscape, with only a few desert plants here and there and lots of exposed earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine a dust storm kicking up.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any dust storms — the recent snow presumably tamped down the dust, and it wasn’t that windy, anyway — but I now know from seeing multiple signs that you’re supposed to pull to the side immediately, turn off all lights, set your emergency brake, take your foot off the brake, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled, and wait until the storm passes.

Shortly after you pass from Arizona to New Mexico you pass a notch in the southern border of the state that puts you within 40 miles or so of Mexico.  If you look south from the roadway you see desolate countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, more dusty looking mountains in the distance, and not much else.  You do, however, have a great selection of Mexican AM radio stations to keep you company as you roll along.

The Sun In Tucson

We came to Tucson, Arizona in search of blue skies, which are such a rare commodity in Columbus during the winter that we felt we needed to take a trip to find them.  Local lore in Tucson holds that it is sunny here more than 330 days out of the year.  The precise number of bright, clear days seems to vary somewhat depending on who is doing the telling, perhaps because the people doing the counting decided it was boring to sit and count the sunny days and it would be more fun to get out and actually do something in the fine weather.

And Tucson didn’t disappoint in the sunshine department.  When we ventured out yesterday morning it was cold, and the locals we encountered marveled that the Catalina Foothills mountains that border Tucson on one side were covered in snow and shining in the distance like low-lying clouds, as shown in the photograph above.  But the skies were a cheery, bright blue, the sun was blazing forth with superb intensity, and we had to use the visor of our rental car to allow us to move around town in the glare.  I immediately regretted that I forgot my sunglasses, but the sunshine was welcome even at that.

We knocked around Tucson and tromped through some of the desert areas, enjoying how the bright light allowed us to see every detail of the gigantic Saguaro cactuses and the other desert plants.  Later, we walked around the very cool Sam Hughes neighborhood adjoining the University of Arizona campus, where the colorful stucco walls of the ’20s-era Spanish style and Santa Fe style ranch houses glittered in the sunshine, the houses featured carefully tended desert plants and rock designs in their front yards, and some of the streets were lined with towering palm trees.  The sun was so bright that the shadows of the palm trees made it look like the sidewalks had been striped with black paint.

Oh, and we enjoyed some pretty good Mexican food, too.  Mexican food seems to go well with blue skies and sun.