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Sky and Anne Hilts picked us up at the Tucson Airport and we headed for their home below the Tucson mountains. Tucson is surrounded by mountains with Mt Lemmon being the highest at nearly 9000 feet. Their home, like most we saw, is a flat-roofed pueblo-type building. The many nooks and crannies are filled with family photos, family trees (Anne can trace her family back to Charlemagne), shells, Sky’s medals (he was a navy doctor during the Vietnam war) and books.  

There was a piano in one corner (Sky is a very competent jazz pianist and serenaded me one night, bringing back memories of a jazz pianist I knew years ago). Anne’s hobby, apart from birds and other wildlife, is genealogy. She can trace her heritage back to Charlemagne, and giving my ancestry on Dad’s side, we’re probably related somewhere along the line!

The garden consisted largely of Sky’s passion ‘ cacti ‘ and one had to be very careful of stepping backwards. And both Anne and Sky advised me not to walk around bare-footed! Some of the cacti had spines over 8 cms in length, and others were like fish hooks of a size capable of hooking a good-sized Marlin. My favourite cacti were the saguaro Cereus giganteus, the cactus of cartoon fame. Another interesting plant was that from which mescale and tequila is made.

We ate our meals in style, sitting at a 17th century table with French provincial chairs, drinking wine from antique glasses and eating delicious meals with French sterling silver cutlery while gazing out the large picture window, across the cactus-studded garden to distant mountains and watching birds and Harris’ Ground-squirrel and Cottontail rabbits feeding and cavorting not far from us.

New birds included Costa’s Hummingbird, Silky Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker (feeding on oranges in the yard), Verdin (a cute little bird with a yellow head and rufous wing patch), Gambell’s Quail, Lucy’s Warbler, and many others. We sit at the dining-room table watching these quail with their cute little topknots chasing off any other wildlife that comes near them from the Cottontail Rabbits and Mourning Doves to the White-crowned Sparrows. The little pond in the yard is partly covered by netting. This is so the baby quail don’t fall in and drown.

Yesterday morning we had been invited to a potluck with a renowned anthropologist Susan Lobo and the local writing group. I had a long conversation with Barbara, a psychologist interested in education, and she, Susan and I decided we had a lot in common and would keep in touch.

After leaving Susan’s, we drove to the top of Mt Lemmon ‘ nearly 9000 feet - through the most spectacular scenery. Sky and Anne knew a little about the geology. I only wish I’d longer in this fantastic place so I could learn more about it.

On the lower slopes Suguaro were prominent, then at the top fir and pine kicked in. Birds were rather scarce, but we did see Scott’s Oriole, a rather uncommon bird, I believe, and Yellow-eyed Junco, a pretty little bird only found high up on mountains in conifer forests. Near the top was a famous little pie restaurant in a tiny village called Summerhaven. A recent huge fire had decimated the village leaving only the pie shop standing. 

Many new, grand houses were being erected, the value of land had soared, and the little pie shop was designated for destruction. When we arrived, Julie, the shop manager was being interviewed by journalists from the University of Arizona. Discovering my background in tourism, they decided to interview me as well. Having tasted Julie’s blackberry, and banana crème pie, and noted that the shop was crowded with satisfied diners, I had no doubts that this little place could pay its way. Not only that, there were Yellow-eyed Juncos hopping around the tables outside!

There was snow at the top of Mt Lemmon and it was cold and blowy! The only wildlife was Yellow-eyed Junco. Sky told us later that the Cascades, the mountains we’d driven through while staying in Salem, had the heaviest snowfall of any place in the US, up to 20 feet. He told us that the cabins are often covered with snow so the owners have a stack on the roof with a trapdoor, and out of that pokes a pole with a flag. Owners skiing in the area can then dig down and enter their cabins.

I spoke at the Tucson Audubon Society on Monday, April 13. This is the largest Audubon chapter in the country, with several thousand members. Unfortunately the microphone had broken, and I had to yell to make myself heard, not an easy task in a huge auditorium! After the meeting several board members congratulated me on a ‘fantastic’ lecture (hoping they didn’t mean it was in the realms of fantasy), and asked whether I would be prepared to guide TAS trips in Australia. I’ll have to think about that. I don’t much like big groups.

The next morning Michael and I flew back to Los Angeles.

Learn more about Denise Goodfellow at http://www.denisegoodfellow.com/.

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