The Drive: Exit into Tucson

I’ve admired many landscape designs along the freeways and arterial streets in Arizona’s two largest cities for decades.

A critical mass in their horticultural community gets sense, place, and designing for traffic speeds. Photos from 12/22/19:

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This is the first time I exited onto West St. Mary’s Road. Always informative and fun, colleague and friend Scott Calhoun suggested meeting at a parked food truck for lunch.

Since I arrived early and Scott was riding from afar, I had extra time. Burger King was good for a free parking space, so I walked the rest of the way.

ADOT designed some attractive concrete accents at the bridges.

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There’s no shortage of cyclists in Tucson. One cyclist on a mountain bike…

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Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis above a mass of Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa makes a pleasing vignette while waiting for the light to change. Both are seriously bulletproof species in a wide part of the southwest.

And the other cyclist on a road bike…

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I’ll work back to how I exited I-10. Room for plants to mature.

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Regarding a request to see more Las Cruces pics on my blog, which I’ve shown many, I replied, “I have more to post on Arizona because there is more good arid-region design and plantsmanship in a few blocks of Tucson or Phoenix than in a mile of Las Cruces and El Paso or 2-3 miles of Albuquerque.”

These huge, almost trailing gray shrubs are…Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp. During the monsoon season, I’m sure many locals or visitors are very impressed.

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They are spaced well for rhythm, as are their masses for structure. No need to design 3 times as many plants for immediate effect, only to later remove half or more. Or shear into muffins, cylinders, boxes, …

Occasional accents were tucked in, but one must be stopped to appreciate them. Or rolling the dice by walking along the right shoulder, protected only by a curb.

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A minor detail, but some different massing of plants away from the yuccas, then placement of the occasional yucca further from those masses, especially from the drivers’ direction, would have shown off the planting better.

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A few Texas Olive / Cordia boissierii were used, but those were off to the right side and not too visible.

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It’s time to walk back, to join my cyclist / plant nerd friend for some lonche.

This ocotillo had a hard night, yet it’s still trying to hang on by blooming.

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Now, I’m stumped…

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The color combos work, but I’m stumped at the tallish Dasylirion mass in front of the interesting design motif at the corner.

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The plants appear to protect the artistry from taggers, yet they block a large portion of it from view.

I’m standing taking this, so that’s not far off the height of a typical pickup truck or SUV driver. Though perhaps the art is more visible from a Bubba Truck height?

No matter it’s still very appealing.

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An inlet shows where passive water harvesting was employed, to allow storm water from the street to soak into the median plantings.

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Both of us showed up for lunch for one of the best tortas I’ve had. And we’re wearing short sleeves in late December!

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Inspiration: Las Cruces – Alpine – Marfa

What a great time! It started with a hike and ended with a drive, and there were more than a few stops. There’s usually landscape inspiration if you know what to look for.

Photos from Feb. 14-15, 2020:

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I shared one of my 3-times-weekly hikes with Gayle: a few national monument trails behind the neighborhood. Soft, gentle sand in the arroyos, firmly packed desert pavement on level areas, and slight elevation gains between the arroyos and my car.

In late winter, one can see the legibility found in good design. Green vs. dormant, negative space vs. mass, and flowers-optional.

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Always a surprise. Flowers on this old cactus clump this summer!

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A quick link from Kevin in Sweden on how creosote bush isn’t poisonous to many species including cacti or grasses, a common misconception in my state, perpetuated by range science courses and those who believe deserts are just dry holes in some vast grassland.

Countless examples occur around the Chihuahuan Desert.

It’s an easier, more fulfilling choice to learn from such examples of companion plants, than to be a contrarian.

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A few hours later, the serene hike then chaotic El Paso driving are far behind. The annual Valentine in Valentine event must require a 4 pm arrival to get the secret code, so we checked out something I drive by almost every trip to that area.

Pictures were taken but were not needed there.

Since this faux boutique’s commissioners are ignoring their original mission – decay back to the earth from which adobe is made – I choose to return its name to the place it’s actually near, 1 mile away. Prada Valentine!

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After another 40 minutes on the road and no deer carnage, it’s Marfa! Even a coffee roaster has a mini gallery in their lobby to enjoy some artists’ works.

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That was followed by a refreshing Ranch Water drink from the Capri, a block away. It was about the best experience in their town this trip: hospitality, atmosphere, or patronage.

But we were on the way to a serene room in another town, Alpine. It’s larger yet more like a small town.

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It was even more welcoming than that photo implies. Seriously deep sleep in southwestern comfort, only to shower, dress, and walk out into this! 

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A good coyote fence / step railing detail to employ some day

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Who tires of native plants when bold specimens are not just regional but local natives? Only those without their desert eyes on.

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I’ve learned that July 2013 in downtown Alpine was a “month of murals”, including these below showing their sense-of-place, not elsewhere’s.

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Wild west serenity

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Now, we’re back in Marfa by daylight, when one can see it.

That after the usual start following the last visit a year ago, or maybe a month or two. “What happened to that restaurant?”, or “they were open as of 2 days ago on Instagram, so what’s with the ‘for sale’ sign?”, or …

We found an OK breakfast where I’ve had great lunches other times. Then, a few blocks away to join our breakfast burritos with excellent coffees from a refreshingly quiet Frama.

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Chinati! Here one can see and be inspired more each visit. It’s a special place and always great to escape all the vibe-seeking from trendy visitors that much of Marfa has become.

Gladly, the opposite personalities are also found, if one knows where to look.

Pre-Covid-19 by a month, there are still so few people.

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Unfinished projects, too

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For now, interior photos from several buildings are posted, so you can escape whatever you need to and soak in something better. I’ll probably delete these.

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Judd’s 100 Works in Mill Aluminum are different each time in different light. In the light of thickening cloud cover, it’s subdued into almost black and white.

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From the enclosed to the expansive, Judd’s 15 Works in Concrete

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Waves, repetition…get it? That’s only the start. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen these works, always with a content mindset that’s open to learning more.

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That distant row of trees has me pondering what species were there before being choked out by volunteers of that noxious, invasive non-native species Siberian elm. They line the arroyo that soon joins in with Alamito Creek.

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It reminds me of similar areas on the great plains, especially where those lower into the prairies east of the famous 100 degree meridian. Those have elm, hackberry, walnut, cottonwood, and even some redbud.

No clue what once grew here

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Before the 4 hour drive back to Las Cruces, we walked the area just beyond the Presidio County Courthouse for glimpses of the iconic water tower and some of their architectural entropy.

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Marfa has even more examples of entropy than where I live.

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Plus, well-tended properties

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Hopes for the present and future

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Earlier and then later in the day, this spot always shines: the row planting of Desert Candle / Dasylirion leiophyllum by Chinati’s Chamberlain building proves mass and abstraction with a space’s architectural form is powerful.

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Or, “Who needs so many plants of one species. I mean twenty?” – nameless and without her desert eyes on.

In line with the above quote, our attempt to catch a good, pre-return drive meal and drink failed miserably. Photos for that are unnecessary to post, too.

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The drive back including the seemingly endless sunset were too good to photograph!

Early Spring: Desert Botanical Garden

With a wet, cool spring in much of the desert southwest, plants were thriving though a little late for spring blooms. Even in the low desert of Phoenix.

Monday afternoon was free, so I took one of my brothers, his lady friend, and her son to the Desert Botanical Garden for a few hours.

They really enjoyed it. Pics from 3/16/20:

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Chainfruit Cholla / Cylindropuntia fulgida joins other Sonoran Desert indicator plants such as Saguaro / Carnegia gigantea 

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The spare feel of this, where plants aren’t crowded together, seems to reflect the essence of the desert southwest. The splash of color from Chuparosa / Justicia californica against Organ Pipe / Stenocereus thurberi also softens the foreground without crowding.

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Always birds like white wing doves nesting in a saguaro

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Though the closures and fear of Covid-19 was about to hit, people were already canceling reservations in the Valley’s high season. This garden was not as busy as typical in early spring. Now it’s been closed for over 2 weeks.

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I’m enjoying seeing the yellow wall and other plants mellowing with age.

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Superstition Mallow / Abutilon palmeri is a large, open shrub with large, papery blooms.

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After spending so much time in the Valley over the last year and before that, I can spy Piestewa Peak far left where I’ve hiked. Plus portions of Camelback Mountain where I’d like to hike soon.

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And back to the beginning, as we head out. Blueish agaves, yellow Desert Marigold / Baileya multiradiata left, and Desert Bluebells / Phacelia campanularia on the far left.

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