Odds & Ends



Now, to hear most Tucsonans tell it, Tucson is a perpetually grid-locked automobile nightmare. But we're not most Tucsonans, we've only been here about five years, so we know better. Prior to that, we lived seven years near Boston; we know a grid-locked nightmare with our eyes closed (the only way to drive near Boston), and Tucson doesn't have it.

That said, there are times when the traffic can get heavy, but it always moves along at a reasonable pace. And getting around Tucson is easy. The streets are laid out in a grid, east-west and north-south, with major thoroughfares about a mile apart, and semi-major thoroughfares in between those. All the major streets are well marked, making it nigh impossible to get lost. Pick up a map and you'll do fine.

Unfortunately, because of Tucson's size (area wise), driving is pretty much required when visiting. There is bus service, a small trolley downtown, and a free downtown shuttle bus, but I really can't say how convenient they are.

Flora & Fauna

Now, I don't want to scare you, but nearly everything in the Tucson vicinity stings, stabs, sticks, or otherwise perforates your body if you're doing something stupid (this is the cause the vast majority of the time), or not paying attention. The following are some examples of how to avoid a conversation with a paramedic:


Rattlesnakes live in the dessert very well, thank you. They can be out at anytime of the year. Anytime. The average cost to treat a person bitten by a rattlesnake is about $16,000. Read that again. Average cost is sixteen thousand dollars. That said, the majority, the vast majority of rattlesnake bites are illegitimate, meaning someone (not the snake, mind you) was doing something stupid. Often their explanations starts out, "We had been drinking...."

Avoidance is key. Watch where you step. Watch where you put your hands. Watch where you're about to park your butt. Wear closed toe shoes in desert areas. It is unlikely that you'll even see a rattlesnake in your travels about Tucson. If you're lucky enough to see one, or any snake (yes, lucky is the correct word), don't bother it. Don't prod it with a stick. Don't try to chase it away. Don't try to catch it. Just view it from a safe distance, and admire one of Nature's most fascinating creatures. Of course, if it is in an inappropriate place, let someone know. Follow this advice and you'll have a good story to tell, and it won't cost $16,000. If, by some chance, you are bitten, stay calm, and go to the nearest Emergency Room.

In our five years in Tucson we have been blessed with the good luck of seeing a total of four rattlesnakes, and maybe a dozen other types of snakes. They just aren't that common.


There are three species of scorpions that live around Tucson. All three are nocturnal, only coming out in the cool of the night. All sting. One, the bark scorpion, is potentially dangerous. During the day, they will hide under organic material, under rocks, and in stone walls, especially if it is somewhat moist. At night, they come out and catch small insects. Generally, people get stung because they put their hand, foot, or butt on one without realizing it.

So again, watch where you step. Watch where you put your hands. Watch where you're about to park your butt. Wear closed toe shoes in desert areas. Some people shake out their shoes in the morning.

If you do want to see these creatures, head out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on a Summer Saturday evening. Normally, there is a docent with a UV light (scorpions fluoresce) near one of the stone walls. It's really cool, and well worth a look.


Yes, Tucson has Black Widow spiders. We also have the Brown Recluse spider. Both potentially dangerous. So how do we avoid them: Watch where you step. Watch where you put your hands. Watch where you're about to park your butt. Wear closed toe shoes in desert areas.

We also have tarantulas. These are not, we repeat, not, dangerous to anything larger than a small mouse. You may see the males wandering around in search of a mate on July and August evenings. Feel free to watch these creatures, but do not harm or disturb them. They eat bugs, and lots of 'em.


Teddy Bear Cholla

A (Not-So) Cuddly
Teddy Bear.

First off, all native cacti in Arizona are protected by law so no digging, collecting, or otherwise harming a cactus is allowed. Even if it weren't against the law, we know our readers wouldn't do anything like that; they want to make sure to leave the places they visit in as they found them. Besides a number of these cacti can inflict a world of hurt if you're not careful.

Take Teddy Bear cholla (pronounced choy-yah) as an example. It looks fuzzy, but that fuzz is really spines, lots and lot of spines, each with backwards pointing barbs sometimes making it necessary to use pliers to remove them. Ouch. Other cacti can be a bit subtler. Prickly pear have glochids which are tiny barbed spines that can make you miserable. So, you know the refrain, watch your step....

Extra Animals


If you're lucky, you might get
the chance to see a bobcat.

A couple other animals that you might happen to see, if you're lucky: coyotes, javalina, bobcat, mountain lion, and black bear. The last two mainly in the mountains, but coyotes could be anywhere (central Tucson supports a population of about 200). Javalinas (which may look like pigs, but really are peccaries) tend to stay on the outskirts of town. Pretty much the same thing with bobcats. Watch for all of these near dawn and dusk.

Some animals you can't help but see are the ubiquitous Gambel's quail. Spot them in the morning and evening, and during the onset of summer, you get the privilege of seeing dozens of baby quail trailing behind their parents. Although they are cute, they also have an interesting survival trait. First, the female quail lays an egg a day for about 10-12 days, but they all hatch at the same time. And once hatched, they are good to go. Scurrying right after they're parents a a speed you wouldn't believe for a 2-inch high baby bird.


As everyone knows, the desert can be hot. Now, Tucson happens to be located in what's called the Arizona Upland, which is the coolest, wettest, and highest portion of the Sonoran Desert. Even so, summers are hot. Hot and dry. Hot enough and dry enough to be deadly. So if you happen to be here between, say, May and October expect a few days over 100 degrees, and follow this tips to make your visit as safe and pleasant as possible. First, use sunscreen. The sun shines 340 days a year, many of these without a cloud in the sky. Second, wear a hat. There's not a whole lot of shade in Tucson (desert trees are smaller and don't provide much shade), so bring yours with you. Third, drink water. Drink water until you slosh. At the peak of the summer a person can lose a quart of water per hour just sitting outside in the shade.

Two other deadly weather related phenomena occur here in Tucson. Both mainly in the summer: lightning and drowning. No we're not kidding about the drowning. During the summer Monsoon season (roughly July-September) we can get some pretty strong thunderstorms in the late afternoon and evening, which obviously bring lightning. Not quite as obvious is the flooding that can accompany them. As you move around Tucson you'll see a number of signs that say "do not enter when flooded." A few even have markers showing the depth; We know of a few that reach 8 feet. These low lying areas can and do fill up with water. Deep, fast, and unforgiving water. As an example, several years ago someone in a pickup truck tried to cross one of these areas. The truck was found about 100 yards downstream. The body was found seven miles away. If you happen to survive, you get to pay all rescue costs. That's what's known as "the stupid motorist law."