Westward Ho: Tucson, Arizona

Having left El Paso early in the morning,  we continued our road trip through the southwest.  On the third day of the trip, we were given a flavor of this desert landscape through Saguaro National Park and by tasting its most notorious wildlife later in the same evening.

Saguaro National Park

After spending our morning riding and playing games in the car…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Tucson AZ

…we were full of energy and eager to visit with Mark Burns again to continue working on our documentary!  But, first, owing to the long car ride that completely spanned New Mexico, we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the coolest rest stops in the country.

SHSU, LEAP Center, AZ

With our bodies replenished , we headed toward Saguaro National Park, just outside of Tucson, where we planned to meet Mark Burns.

Mark is very familiar with the park having photographed it during his National Parks photography project and visited multiple times afterward. He gave us some suggested lookouts to visit and we brainstormed where we could get the best shots. We began our visit with a trip to Valley View Overlook, a short half mile stroll to a scenic lookout over the National Park.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson

Besides, Mark’s expertise, we had our organizational president and the TSUS Student Regent, Kaitlyn Tyra, to look over us.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Kaitlyn Tyra

We read about the native cacti and wild plant life that grew throughout the Saguaro desert before soaking in the views of the overlook.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson

We took a few minutes to take photos…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

…climbed around on rocks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

…before heading back and onto the next excursion with Burns.

Our second stop with Mr. Burns took us to a cul-de-sac with pueblo style picnic tables and benches (done by the CCC).

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

Mr. Burns decided it would be a good place to shoot a panoramic photograph. He then went to his SUV where he opened a large, rectangular black box.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

Inside was an elongated rectangle with a triangular body whose head had the lens of the camera. This elongated rectangle was the home of 120 film used for the panoramic photo. As Mr. Burns explained, this special camera captured the scene by exposing four frames at the same time in a single shot. This created the long frame necessary to appreciate the entire landscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

After he grabbed his camera, we positioned ourselves to start filming and photographing his work. Mr. Burns explained the process of shooting a panoramic photo with a film camera and showed us the filter he often uses on landscape panoramas.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

The filter darkens the sky while brightening the ground to balance out the contrast between the dark ground and bright sky.

This process took a while, but it was a fun learning experience, with all of us involved.

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Once the photograph was complete, we caravanned to our third and final stop of the day with Mark Burns. The third hike was similar to our first in that it included a half mile trip to see the beautiful, untouched beauty of the park. This particular trail included prehistoric Indian petroglyphs. We hiked up to see the ancient rock drawing and were met with beautiful mountains in every direction.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns, Indian Petroglyphs

This was our first visit to Saguaro National Park and it couldn’t have started off better than it did with sight-seeing suggestions from Mark Burns! While we hiked to visit the petroglyphs, Mark Burns was busy setting up for another panoramic photograph.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

We made it back before he finished and took the opportunity to observe and photograph his work!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

After we left Mr. Burns, we decided we had enough daylight to hike a 2.5-mile loop named Gould Mine.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

The trail offered many pretty views…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

…and some interesting cacti.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

However, about two-thirds of the way through the trail the sun set.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

Although we were wrong about how much daylight we had left to complete the trail, we still managed to go though it safely and with excitement. Before we lost the sun, we managed to capture some amazing photos of the sky…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Ryan Brim

…and landscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Brian Aldaco

We were even able to find the perfectly-shaped cactus before it was too dark.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

Even though the last portion of the trail was traversed without sunlight, visibility was possible through our flashlights that provided safe travels through the trail. We made it back to the car soon enough with a slight detour that shaved time off our trip. After that hike, we were ready for dinner in Phoenix.

Dinner at Rustler’s Rooste

To end the day, we had dinner at Rustler’s Rooste. As we walked up to the restaurant door we noticed that the guests were greeted by a long-horned steer that introduced guests to the western theme of the restaurant. Inside, a country band could be heard paired with thumps of boots on the floor boards at a two-step rhythm. Were there a Texas flag displayed at the center of the dance floor, we would have felt right at home. Rustler’s Rooste did offer its own western feel different from Texas, one that we very much enjoyed.

When we sat down Professor Yawn told us we were free to pick what we wanted but he recommended the “Cowboy Stuff.” This plate included shrimp, barbecue chicken, beans, fries fruit, ribs, and much more food that could feed a whole wild west settlement. The menu had the plate servings marked well as it noted that it could be served for “two or a bunch more.” Accordingly, we ordered for a “bunch more” so that all six of us could eat. Before dinner arrived, the ambassadors went outside to check out the restaurant’s famous view and get their first glimpse of Phoenix!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Phoenix, Arizona, Rustler's Rooste

When we came back to our seats, it was with great surprise that we found rattlesnakes in our tables! They were however served in a plate an fired to an exquisite crisp.  This cooked reptile was also paired with another iconic symbol of the west, cacti fried to the same golden brown as the rattlesnake. Fortunately, the exotically delicious appetizers were not enough to fill us and keep us from enjoying our main course.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Phoenix, Arizona, Rustler's Rooste

Our meal was extremely filling and satisfying after a long day of hiking!

The ambassadors felt accomplished as they returned to their hotel that evening. We had now had a true taste of Arizona after we experienced one of its natural treasures by hiking in Saguaro National Park. Additionally, our adventurous palates led us to try some of the southwest most tasty treats. We are looking forward to the rest of our stay in the Grand Canyon State.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to news stories, having contributed more than 50 pieces in the past year. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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