Living Large in Carson City: What’s a Liberal to Do?

I sit around here and look at this place and I just want to get out, you know? I want to flee.

Hunter S. Thompson  

After two weeks of almost continual snow and freezing rain beginning the day after Christmas, Diana and I had had enough. Our normally mild winters in Carson City, Nevada took on a schizophrenic personae threatening our sanity in the worst possible way. Sure, we get a few snow storms a year, but nothing like what the end of December portended (our average snow fall is in the vicinity of 12 inches a year. There was already three feet in our backyard). January loomed in the near future as an unknown with the possibility of more snow and freezing temperatures. The real time image of three feet of snow on the ground was a soul killing reality we never signed up for or expected in the high desert. It is hell.

As self-respecting Baby Boomers, only one solution seemed logical. Flee! Run from the white frozen landscape of our beloved home and fly south to a warmer clime. We began exploring different options. Mexico seemed the logical choice. Warm weather, beaches, and tequila all offered the escape from our dilemma we wanted.

Yet, we have become disillusioned with Mexico over the last couple of years. Our old standbys Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo became either too expensive and crowded or plagued by Cartel violence, neither of which, we wanted to suffer. Baja was a breath of fresh air for many years, but even it had lost its luster. Today, Cabo San Lucas resembles the clownish east coast monstrosities of Cozumel and Cancun more than the small cozy city it was not so long ago. Our other destinations now reflected the rising cost that Covid 19 inflicted on an already depressed economy. Afterall, one of the attractions of Mexico was getting a better bang for your buck. No more. Add to that the hellscape of changing planes in LAX (coming and going) was something we swore never to inflict on ourselves in the years we have left on this earth.

Despite our Mexican travel aversion, all things Mexican still held a special place in our hearts. The culture, food, music, and people are a strong part of the attraction we’ve always felt for our neighbors to the south. Casting our travel net farther afield we began to look for a proxy that could fill our thirst for all things Latin without the bumps and ticks associated with actually travelling beyond the border.

Ultimately, one city stood out from all the rest, Tucson, Arizona. Sure, it was in the low desert, but Carson by contrast was in the high desert. Desert is desert, yes? We found the climate was actually quite moderate most of the year except for the deep doldrums of summer when neither man nor beast is foolish enough to venture out into the noon day sun. The prospect of 60-degree temperatures in January, however, looked downright inviting compared to the 20s and 30s we endured from atmospheric river cyclones we suffered repeatedly in December. Tucson gets very little snow, and when they do, it doesn’t pile up like it had this winter in our backyard.

Arizona’s history is an enigma in itself. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln created the Arizona Territory. It would remain a territory for the next 49 years until President William Howard Taft signed it into the Union on Feb. 14, 1912.   Arizona holds the distinction of being the last contiguous state (48th) to gain statehood. Tucson was the capital of the Arizona from 1867 to 1877. It was the largest populated city in Arizona until Phoenix surpassed it in 1920 eight years after Phoenix became the state capital.

It is amazing what YouTube can tell a person about potential destination point. We found residents and adventurous travelers had been chronicling Tucson uniqueness and posting videos on YouTube for years. The first thing we learned was that Tucson has a very special place in the food world of America and the world. For centuries Tucsonans have enjoyed a distinct regional Mexican and Native American cuisine dating back 4,000 – 7,000 years depending on the source. In 2015 the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded Tucson the coveted award as a City of Gastronomy; the only city in America to hold the honor.

As would be expected, Tucson offers a plethora of dining venues from pop up food trucks to fast food chain sites to the truly authentic Mexican restaurants with all the trappings. Many of the restaurants date back fifty years of service. None is more authentic than El Charro Café. Founded in 1922, the restaurant remains in the same location as the original. It holds the honor of being the oldest continuously run Mexican family restaurant in America. It’s “Mexican/Sonoran Cuisine” is lauded by national food magazines, television shows, and organizations who benefitted from the café’s generous community outreach.

The legendary Tia Monica Flin founded El Charro and set the tone of the cuisine from the first day of operation. She holds the claim of inventing the chimichanga after accidentally dropping a burrito into a deep fryer. The results are now history. El Charro Café is a must visit when visiting Tucson’s colorful array of Mexican eateries which is not to say there aren’t many others on the list.

Considering that Tucson’s population is just over 500,000 (a million plus for the entire metropolitan area), visitors might well fear congestion and overcrowding. Not to worry, Tucson has one thing going for it – land, lots of land. The city is spread out across a vast landscape with only the downtown area resembling a major city in terms of density. Many longtime residents decry the fact that there is only one major freeway (I 10) which runs from Phoenix south to Tucson where it takes a ninety degree turn to the east near the south of town.

Having lived in large metropolitan areas many times in my life, this bitch just doesn’t hold water. Most streets are boulevards four to six lanes on each side. The one thing Tucson does not need is another interstate highway cutting through the sensitive landscape that surrounds the city. Besides, one of the most pleasant things we found in traversing the Tucson streets is the near universal speed limit of 40 miles per hour. No namby pamby 25, 30, or 35 miles per hour for Tucson. This may seem like a small thing, but believe me, the elevated speed limit allows for a swift and safe way to get from place to place. 

Then, of course, there is the accommodations issue. Tucson is the home of The University of Arizona (founded in 1885) so expect the cast of usual chain hotels, motels, and Airbnbs. It is important to note that Tucson is a Mecca for retirees and their ubiquitous travel trailers and motor homes. We chose a small but elegant Airstream trailer in one of the huge RV trailer parks (1100 sites) on the south side of town. We chose Rincon South for the adventure of staying in the brand-new Airstream trailer mentioned above. Our weeklong stay was less of an adventure and more of a happy ordeal that we probably won’t do again.

Let me first say, I do not mean to denigrate our choice. The trailer was brand new, sported a comfortable queen size bed, a full kitchen, and bathroom with shower (more on this later). At 16 feet long and 8 feet wide, it wasn’t the most spacious Airbnb out there. The best I can tell it is an Airstream Bambi which is one of the smallest Airstreams built. The entire trailer could easily fit into our sunken family room with loads of space to circumnavigate on all sides. Okay, so it was small. Yet, it provided us with a place to stay in a completely safe and secure base.

The interior height was roughly 6 foot four inches from floor to ceiling. For the most part, this wasn’t an issue. I am six foot two inches tall, so there was an issue going from the main part of the trailer into the bedroom and bathroom, but what’s a few head bumps and scalp scratches when you are having fun? The one place where it was a huge issue was in the shower. Adding the shower stall reduced head clearance to about 6 feet with the shower head level with my chin. For the entire week we were there, I never took a satisfying shower due to being hunched over most of the time to actually bending over at the waist to wash and rinse my hair. This was hell.

Overall, our choice yielded a great experience, but one that we wouldn’t repeat. We are tall people, but I am sure that shorter travelers might not find this an issue. Add to the fact that the owner lives next door. Any questions or issues were quickly resolved without the hassle one often finds in other Airbnbs that have absentee owners who show up to give out keys then disappear for the duration of your stay.

Finally, Tucson’s flora and fauna and rugged landscape are as beautiful today as it was 7,000 years ago. Home of the Saguaro Cacti which are found in Arizona and the northern Sonora region in northwestern Mexico, they are truly a remarkable sight as they spread out over the desert and mountains that ring the area. Places like the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park will leave even the most jaded traveler in awe. The desert is a harsh environment, but the wildlife and natural landscape make the area a must-see attraction.

Note: The trip kept on giving after we returned to Carson. Both Diana and I came down with Covid the day after we returned which lasted two weeks. It’s snowed almost constantly since we got home. This last day of February we are expecting 8 to 9 inches of more snow with another storm predicted for the weekend. Tucson is great. Winter is hell.