Blog #8 – The Outhouses of America’s Nat’l Parks

Last day of the trip spent was with lots of cacti, border patrol, quality time in the van, prickly pear lemonade, and – of course – glorified portapotties. Exploring Organ Pipe National Park, I came across another “bathroom” at the start of Alamo Canyon Trail. Compared to a similar structure at the Saguaro National Forest mountain pass, this toilet felt like a golden throne. On the outside, these “bathrooms” appear as well-built and consciously-designed structures decorated in wood and stone. On the inside of the Saguaro National Park one, though, I was accompanied by flies that did not move, a horrid smell, and a lack of toilet paper. Luckily, the one at Alamo did not have flies and had ample toilet paper, but only had one toilet. My suggestion to all National Parks is that, if they want visitors to spend more time on their land, they MUST improve their facilities. My first of many great suggestions (that should be feasible) is complimentary hand sanitizer. Please. At least users will feel better about the experience if they have the chance to anti-bacterialize themselves.

Tangent aside, I loved Alamo Canyon – all the lizards and hummingbirds, and especially walking along the rocks of the dried-up wash. I was introduced to lots of new cacti, especially more of Harvey’s favorite: the Teddy Bear Cactus. In all honesty, I am slightly disappointed that I never saw a rattlesnake or scorpion on any hikes for the sole reason of being able to say I saw one in person.

Blog #7 – cute, little Ajo

After spending a lot of time learning about Tohono O’odham traditional agriculture in class and for my research paper,  I finally got to listen to Arizona locals talk about personal experience and recent efforts in the field. Nina and Sterling from Ajo CSA came to talk to us about desert farming and desert foods, as well as show us what the small town of Ajo has been doing to try to revamp and restore the local food system. I surprisingly enjoyed the white tepary beans very much, even with the fact that we were eating them at 8:30 in the morning. Touring a dry field, I still do not understand how ANYTHING grows out here in the desert. I wonder how easy it would be to feed the whole world if all crops could grow without any water or reach harvest in just 60 days…

With the afternoon to explore and the evening to interact with locals, Ajo became my favorite place of the whole trip. The town has an impressive history, but one that unfortunately ended abruptly with the demise of the mining industry. With historical sites such as the Curley School and its accompanying art movements, the town has the potential to be something great again – something that locals and groups such as the ISDA are working hard to make come true. Hopefully this small southwestern town will find itself back on the map one day.

Maybe this is a stretch and would not be something that locals would like, but I think Ajo could be a great film site, just saying.

Ajo street murals

Blog #6 – Build That Wall (NOT)

Our first activity of the day was visiting one of the border checkpoints on the reservation. I am not sure what I was really expecting, but all I can say is that it felt very weird to be able to stand in both countries and stare miles down the dirt road that runs along the border. Being able to see the landscape helped give me a better understanding of the possibility of changing the physical border barriers, mostly that the desert sand and massive flood washes would pose much more of an issue than most politicians who have not been on-site can fathom.

We had the opportunity to listen to another tribal member today – Selso Villegas, head of Water Resources Management for TON and self-proclaimed “earth doctor.” Selso is a prime model of a tribal member who left the reservation for higher education and a different style of life who decided to return to the nation and offer his services to better the nation. Based on our talk, I would describe Selso as the natural resources peace-maker of the tribe, always looking out for the betterment of his community while keeping both federal parties and O’odham parties satisfied. What struck me most about talking with him was that the O’odham have not only a creation story, but also a destruction story – one that says the earth will be destroyed by people while the O’odham stand by without stepping in to protect mother earth. Based on this belief, Selso said that the way to survive climate change is founded on the fact that the human purpose is not to procreate, but to adapt and survive (Darwin, is that you?).

Before making the drive to Ajo we backtracked to Kitt Peak Astronomical Observatory to find magnificent views of Baboquivari and the rest of the land as well as discover massive telescopes on the mountain. I did not read much into how these giant telescopes work, but interestingly enough, as tall as they are above ground, most of them extend much farther underground in the body of the mountains. I wonder if this has something to do with light supply or reflection/refraction?

Blog #5 – Friar & Joe Joaquin <3

While I did not sleep much the first night at the mission (desert creatures and crucifixes on the mind), the 2-minute commute brought us back to the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum to get first-hand opinions of tribal members on issues such as land sacredness, the border, O’odham cultural characteristics, reservation borders and size, economic development, renewable energy, and others [to last us the 7 hours]. When asked about place-sacredness and development, one speaker’s answer surprised me a little: he said that those places of greatest sacredness/importance are not even spoken about, and some tribal members don’t even know of their location, etc. Another speaker was a member who also worked for the DPS, giving an honest perspective of the border and cartel activity. His thoughts and stats, in my opinion, proposed another reason why the US should legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Despite the physical toll that 7 hours in a wooden chair took on my body, the time spent listening to different voices of the tribe was enlightening and helpful in gaining greater understanding of this tribe.

For night 2 in the mission the dinner crew had the honor of feeding Joe Joaquin the most elegant spaghetti with marinara that has ever been tasted. While the spaghetti was not actually anything special, the chance to listen to Joe talk about the salt pilgrimage was. In the wise words of Pat: “Joe Joaquin basically runs shit around here.”

Another highlight of dinner was Friar taking our group photo saying “a third picture for the whole trinity, and a fourth because we are in O’odham land!”

please enjoy this picture of Harvey and Eric talking to a baby owl at the mission.

Blog #4 – Time on the Res

This morning we said adios to Tucson and headed back into reservation land. We spent time at Tohono O’odham Community College talking with the president and the head of a student outreach program. TOCC (with its 3 sites across the reservation) has been vital to the O’odham community members, as well as other students, in finding opportunity for higher education, the GED, and trade work. What is almost impossible to believe is that a student pays only $34 per credit hour – definitely not what W&L is charging me these 4 years… TOCC offers a lot of associates programs, most of which are set up to transfer to 4-year degree colleges. One thing I found most important about the curriculum is that each student must take O’odham culture and history along with O’odham language. One of the key steps to reviving Tohono O’odham traditions is to bring back the language among younger generations in order to tie the whole community together again. I was also amazed that the majority of the funding for TOCC comes from the Tohono O’odham Nation itself – a true example of the principle of community-centeredness.

Before making it to the mission in Topawa we took a short tour of the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum. The museum, only established 11 years ago, is still in the process of getting back artifacts from across the country and the world, as well as compiling knowledge of those artifacts to provide the best educational experience for their visitors and TON. I was amazed by the sheer amount of artifacts they already had, especially the pottery. What I respect most about the museum is that they really listened to the community when creating exhibits. Little did we know that we definitely did not see the last of this museum…

Blog #3 – Saguaro Nat’l Park

Never in my life have I seen (or been this close to) so many cacti in my life. But, I can say I’ve gotten to experience a different type of breath-taking beauty that hikes in the Blue Ridge or the Rockies couldn’t offer. While our loud footsteps and commentary were probably to blame for scaring away most wildlife, I was still awed by the over-90,000 acre landscape of the toughest, grittiest plant-life I have ever encountered. I have serious respect, and disbelief, of the ability of these plants to survive the desert climate, like the ocotillo which flowers with or without rain to ensure pollination of the desert every year. What stood out to me most was the characteristics of the flowers, mainly their waxy, plastic-like petals and how most bloomed when the plant shed most of its greenness. We were fortunate enough to explore the park trails during the “yellow season” of the desert. While the up-close view was spectacular, I hope to return in the future (probably in a cooler month and without tendonitis) to make it to the top of a ridge and look out over the whole park the surrounding area of Tucson below.

Blog #2 – San Xavier & Desert Museum

As promised, day 2 in Arizona offered more cacti, animals, and Mexican food. The day started on the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation at San Xavier. This mission site displayed the influences of Catholicism in O’odham religion, as well as emphasized the interconnectedness of nature and sacred entities. These aspects strongly exemplified the cosmological principle of place-centeredness, both in the church itself and on top the neighboring peak. Most notable about this mission site is the Papago and traditional native beliefs that remained prominent after the missionary work done by the Spanish. The first example of this that comes to mind is the shrine nestled in the side of the neighboring peak – the use of a natural structure to feel closer to the supernatural. Other examples could be found inside the church, like the exclusion of the four stations of the cross – leaving out parts of traditional western religion to maintain room for their own cultural beliefs. My question posed for San Xavier, then, is where in their religious assimilation did the O’odham draw a line to determine what they accepted from the new western influence and determine what would undermine their ancestral beliefs.

Before even making it to the Desert Museum (what I call a dry zoo), I met a strangely friendly roadrunner on the peak next to San Xavier. Then, at the museum itself I met a “teenage” mountain lion named Cruz who was enjoying an afternoon siesta in the shade. I must admit, zoos are a weak spot, and I try my hardest to visit a zoo wherever I visit. Admittedly, I probably talk to the animals too much and think way too many of them are cute.

Blog #1 – Pueblo Grande & Casa Grande

My first full day in Arizona has left me wishing I knew more Spanish…Joking aside, today introduced centuries-old artifacts and a taste of southern Arizona culture. Outside of Phoenix, we visited the remains of the Pueblo Grande, the central village of the Hohokam people. The largest remaining structures at this archeological site today are a ballcourt and walls of a platform mound. Based on their building techniques, the Hohokam seem to be fond of walls; yet, interestingly enough, these walls were not meant for defense. However, communities with walls remain a mysteriously popular topic in the current day…

After traveling to Coolidge and devouring the first tacos of the day at Robelto’s Taco Shop, we headed to Casa Grande – another Hohokam ruins site. The immensity of this structure was best taken in lying on the paved walkway and staring up at the adobe walls (which provided much-welcomed shade). An owl was standing guard at the ruins, perched in what looked like an ancient window, protecting the remains from giant pigeons.

The most surprising fact of the day actually came in the Tucson Best Western parking lot when we came face to face with an animal called a “javelina,” which, despite looking exactly like a wild boar, is more closely related to a mouse than a pig (says Eric).

Lots of cacti and strange animals today, and more to come.

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