Read Part 1 and Part 2, in which I detail my current commute.
There is so much beauty to be seen in Arizona that even a commute through a decidedly urban area feels extraordinary. When I worked in a lab at the University of Arizona just north of the center of town, I had a thirty-minute drive from the far northwest town of Oro Valley (though the post office still considered it Tucson). In order to get into Tucson Proper from my house, I had to drive around the Catalina Mountains, work my way through one of three major town arteries, and navigate through the western edge of campus, looking for a parking spot. And the return trip home involved the same choice of streets and doglegging around the Catalinas again. With the obvious exception of driving around mountains, sounds pretty mundane, right? Nope.
The Catalinas are the predominant range in northwest Tucson. (I know this confirms my geekdom, but check this out for a neat explanation of how the Tucson Valley was formed.) I got to soak in the northwestern face of them every morning, the sun hidden away behind their peaks or just cresting them to cast strange shadows.
When I wasn't looking at the mountains, I was contemplating the growing subdivision where we lived. There was always something new going up, whether it was a road or a new grouping of houses or a school, etc. Progress is a bittersweet thing. On the one hand, it's comforting because it means that Life Goes On. There's something reassuring about watching an area thrive and seeing people take ownership over a little chunk of land, tend it, nurture it, and do the same for their house and (hopefully) those inside. On the other hand, there's still enough untouched desert running up into the Catalinas that it doesn't take much to get caught up in the idea of what this land was like before humanity invaded in their modern manner. I often wondered what it would look like to see the area just as nature created it, with no rows of houses, no dots of business complexes, no scars of roads in the light brown of the land.
I had several options of routes to take me to my destination once I dog-legged around the Catalinas. They each had their own pros and cons. The main city drag of Oracle was only used when I was very rushed and needed the higher speeds because it wasn't very aesthetic and the traffic got heavy and stupid the closer this road got to Speedway, one of the University's primary roads.
The very scenic route of Ina to First was used when I had a lot of extra time and the heat index wasn't too bad. The land there (at least the last time I saw it) is composed of large stretches of undeveloped desert with houses getting toward swanky dotting the landscape (the really swanky houses crop up further east on Ina and on the northern parallel streets). This road also treks along the foothills of the Catalinas, which presents its own spectacular beauty regardless of the development by the street. The only break in the beauty of this route, driving along sweeping desert up to a valley crest, was the blanket of brown smog covering the Tucson Valley and marring the usually bright blue sky.
Very often I took River to First, though, as it was a good compromise between the speed of Oracle and the scenery of the northern section of First. The best part of the River Road route is that the road parallels the Rillito River, which is a large dry bed except for a few weeks every year during the monsoon seasons. Still, seeing that river bed always awakens something of the geologic and cultural history of the Southwest for me.
On the return trip home, I got to stare at the southern face of the Catalinas. While beautiful in and of itself, the view was made even more spectacular during the monsoon season: all those jagged, rocky peaks against purple rain clouds so dark they were nearly black, the lightning zigzagging across the sky. Outside of monsoon season, a quick glance to the east would show a typically magnificent color show of a sunset, the little moisture in the air catching the sunlight and twisting it into oranges and pinks and purples. The only view that might've bested it would've been to be driving into the northern face of the Catalinas during sunset. The sun strikes the rock and turns it a vibrant red.
There's really not much more to my drive home. I mean, what could compete with that spectacular mountain or sunset view stretched in front of me? Well, there was that amazing swath of open desert between the main drag and my subdivision with a view beyond to the Tortolitas.
Man, I miss all of this. Keep your fingers crossed that Mark gets a job down there very soon! And stay tuned for the final commute blog, Part 4: Adventures in Germany.