Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Quirky Side of Tucson

Tucson struck me at first as a pretty stale town without much funk or personality.  Perpendicular streets laid out in a neat manner and lined with strip malls, parking lots, and boring stores.  But wait, what did we see in a strip mall parking lot?  A larger-than-life but anatomically correct (as verified by Dr. Dresser) black bull and matador (we don't know if the matador is anatomically correct).  The statue, named El Toro, brings life to the boring parking lot and makes you wonder how it came to be.  Come closer and take a look at the bulls “parts” which are frequently painted various colors and designs by local pranksters.  When we drove by, El Toro’s testicles were neon green with the face of Frankenstein.  Wonder what they will be painted for the holidays?

Now we are starting to see beyond the sterility and realize Tucson is not all brown buildings and cacti.  There may be some quirkiness here.  It is time to do more digging into Tucson’s funky side.

I know of no other city that takes an intimidating animal like a rattlesnake and makes a bridge out of it.  The 280-foot Rattlesnake Bridge has pedestrians safely walk through the innards of a diamondback rattlesnake allowing them to pass safely across a busy street.  The local artist has won several awards for the creative melding of pedestrian safety and artistic design.  Just to warn you, the tail contains a motion sensor that triggers a rattling sign and the eyes light up at night in a menacing glare.

Next on our quest to discover more of Tucson’s soul, we headed to the El Tiradito Wishing Shrine near the Barrios (means "slums" in Spanish) district.  This is the only shrine dedicated to a murdered sinner (“El Tiradito “means “castaway” or “fallen one”).  Wait aren't we all sinners?  Where is my shrine?  Oh yea, I’m not dead yet.  The origin of the shrine is disputed but each story has a common theme of murder and betrayal.  Legend has it that if you light a candle at the shrine and it stays lit all night your wish will come true.  Darn, I forgot a candle.

The Wishing Shrine is well attended.  There were over two dozen candles burning when we visited.
Now I know who buys those religious candles in the grocery
Betsy looked at me and said "don't even think
about eating that cinnamon roll."

The Garden of Gethsemane may have biblical meaning but it also has ties to Tucson.  Felix Lucero lay dying on a World War I battlefield when he made a deal with the Virgin Mary.  If she would let him live, he would dedicate the remainder of his life to creating Christian art.  Felix did not make good on his promise until many years later when he fell on hard times and was living under a bridge in downtown Tucson.  He began sculpting using damp sand, debris from the nearby riverbed, and plaster to make various religious statues.  Years of weathering and vandalism have taken a toll on the sculptures.  Today they sit in a quiet, tree-lined park that bears his name and are being restored through a generous private grant.  The restoration work is being done by a local artist who anticipates the work to be completed in two years. 

Jesus has had his head restored and now the artist is working on his hands. 

One of the more funky, cool parts of Tucson is downtown on 4th Avenue.  We were lured there for the 4th Avenue Winter Street Festival and happened to stumble on a 25-ton Tiki Head towering over The Hut nightclub.  This stoic structure was once part of a miniature golf course that went defunct and now lives on as the greeter to a tiki bar.  The free festival was quite impressive and entertaining with over 400 arts and crafts booths, 35 food vendors, 2 stages, and street performers that entertained us for a few hours. 

The Tiki does not look like he is having fun at the festival.  
 So now we have seen another side to Tucson and are eager to venture even more off the beaten path.

"Jovert" the funky Tucson High School group that was rocking the steel drums.
Everybody needs a tie-dyed Darth Vader shirt! 
Desert Vintage sells vintage clothes in the desert.
Go figure!

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