Tucson's landscape

Those who haven't been to the Arizona desert might imagine it to be barren. It is anything but. Not only are there 2600 varieties of cactus in the area surrounding Tucson, but there are many trees as well. Green Valley is a city south of Tucson, and one might think that an odd name for a city in the desert. However, when one looks over this area from above, it is green, thanks to trees which hang onto their leaves throughout the winter and to the ubiquitous Palo Verde tree, which has a rich green bark which carries on photosynthesis even after the tree loses its leaves.

There is not a single variety of plant here that is similar to what we have in Minnesota. Even the grass is different, what there is of it. Tucson has very little grass; Phoenix, which has a better water supply and allows more irrigation, has many patches of green. However, the desert vegetation is richer in Tucson than it is in Phoenix.

Tucson has a different feel than Phoenix, both due to the difference in vegetation and to the difference in urban planning. Phoenix features a grid of freeways which cover an enormous expanse. Tucson has one freeway running through the middle of town. So, to get from one place to another in Tucson, you must drive through neighborhood after neighborhood. At first, it seems slow and cumbersome. Once you get used to it, using side streets is far superior to cruising at 70 mph on the antiseptic stretches of freeway. You find many little treasures on the side streets of Tucson. Funky shops. Non-chain restaurants, most of them Mexican.

When you go out to a mall in Phoenix, it is possible to believe you are at West Acres in Fargo. Refugees from the midwest are everywhere. In Tucson, you have the feeling that the locals predominate. I seldom see obvious snowbirds, although I know they are here.

Oddly, Tucsonites view their city as small, although it is approaching one million population. When I told a native the other day that I lived in a small town in Minnesota, he said, "smaller than Tucson?"