Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Tucson Adventure - Day 7

[Composed: July 11, 2023, High in Tucson: 105°F ]

I regularly lecture impart Sage Uncle-Based Wisdom to the kids that part of traveling involves leaving your comfort zone. Whether it's going to new places or trying new food, we should seize the opportunity to try something different, even when our first reaction is: yuck, no thank you! And so it was this morning, the last full day of our Tucson Adventure, that I was asked to take a dose of my own medicine. Instead of waking up before sunrise and heading out on a multi-hour drive like I wanted to, Shira had me do the unthinkable: we slept in. It was rough, and I didn't love it, but I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to give it a try.

In fairness to Shira, it was nice starting the day without a clock hanging over our heads. Today we had a casual day planned: we'd swim in the pool, clean up our Airbnb, hit up an escape room and if all went well, we'd close out the evening with a short hike at sunset time.

The slow start afforded us a novel opportunity: we had the time to find, prepare and eat the fruit that dot so many of the saguaro cacti in the area. The fruit are positioned at the top of the cactus' arms, which typically grow to be 40ft tall. Fortunately, one of the cacti on our Airbnb's property grew in a twisted fashion so we could pick its fruit with ease.

The kids then helped me use a lighter to burn off the tiny spines on the fruit which ward off predators. Finally, T scraped out the red-seed filled bounty onto a plate where we could all try a spoonful. Bottoms up!

We all tried the fruit (hurray for leaving our comfort zone!), and none of us were particularly impressed. I found the taste to be pretty neutral. It wasn't bad, and I enjoyed adding it to my cream cheese and bagel, but it also wasn't anything special. For the natives living in this area, I'm quite sure these fruit were an invaluable and tasty resource.

More than the taste, the fruit made me appreciate just how in tune the saguaro cactus is with its environment. The saguaro, like other plants, needs to defend itself from creatures big and small. At the same time, it needs these same creatures to do the critical work of spreading its seeds to fulfill its mission in life: make baby saguaro cacti. The solution to these extremes is ingenious. The cacti, including the fruit are covered in gnarly spines which keep wildlife at bay. When the seeds are ready for distribution, the fruit burst open, displaying a bright read, spine free, irresistible feast for bird and man alike.

After an epic dip in the pool, we headed off to an activity T had suggested (and I had initially hemmed and hawed over): an escape room. We picked Ace of Escape's Six Shooter Bunk House Escape, which turned out to be the perfect choice. This was the first time the Tampa kids had done an escape room, and it could easily have been a high stress endeavor (are we really locked in a room??). Ace of Escape has found the right balance of making this a challenge without inducing anxiety. They made it clear you could leave the room anytime you wanted (say, for a bathroom break), they offer gentle clues to keep players moving and they even let me snap a few pics in the room to capture the moment.

I went into the escape room experience 100% sure that Shira and I would have to carry the kids. Sure, we'd let the kids put the combination in the lock or turn the key, but the real work would be done by adults.

Yeah, no. Not even a little bit. First of all, this was not J's first escape room and I found him zipping through the clues. At one point, I found myself saying: J--slow down--how did you know to enter that code?! C, D and T quickly got on board and all had successes of their own. I solved a puzzle or two, but I was definitely a small contributor to our success. The kids absolutely carried the day.

We busted out of the escape room with 13:04 to go! We received a few hints, but most of them were along the lines of: you're doing the right thing, just try doing it again. We were proud that we found the loot and solved the mystery. This experience, and Ace of Escape in general, are absolutely recommended. If you find yourself in Tucson and it's too hot for outdoor activities, Ace of Escape is a winner.

We closed out our last day in Tucson with a short hike to Signal Hill in Saguaro National Park. The hike takes you by some impressive petroglyphs, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but left the rest of the crowd unimpressed. I would have liked to hike many more miles, but even at 6pm it was still well over 100°F, so keeping the hike short was reasonable. Catching one last view of endless desert was special and was a fitting way to close out our trip.

On the way home, we got a bonus treat: a deer bolted across the road. We stopped and got out to take pics. This was the first time D had seen a deer in the wild, so he was psyched.

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