Driving in Tucson – And a Visit to Tucson Botanical Gardens

"Daddy's Old Sportcoat" Cactus

“Grandpa’s Old Sports Coat” Cactus © 2011 Bo Mackison

This cactus isn’t really named “Grandpa’s Old Sports Coat”, but honestly, my grand-dad had a coat with this exact plaid pattern in the mid 1960s. He never wore yellow flowers on the top of his head, not that I remember, but still. It made me laugh. And I needed some laughing the day I visited with these plants.

It was the day I finally decided to drive in Tucson proper. It seemed time to get to know the city. For over two weeks, I’d been avoiding the busier roads, because that’s how I drive. Even in mid-sized Madison, I often choose to drive through the city rather than drive the more efficient expressway. I’m not one who particularly likes to drive when there’s lots of swerving in and out of traffic. But, being solo in Tucson means there is no one else to hand the car keys to, so I drive. Sigh!

Star Lines

Star Lines © 2011 Bo Mackison

I planned on making only three stops, first two stores and then the Tucson Botanical Gardens. I found my first destination, the bookstore. I wanted to get a decent map of Tucson, and it made sense to go there first. Later, when my iPhone ran out of power and I no longer had my “cheater” map on my phone, I was glad to have the paper map. Inconvenient though it was to keep pulling off the road to check the map, at least I had a vague idea where I was.

Actually, vague isn’t quite true. I was “lost and found” a half dozen times on that first day driving unfamiliar city streets. But I kept finding my way through.

What was it that Robert Frost said? “The only way out is through.” (It was Frost, I looked up the poem, it’s in A Servant to Servants, I always thought that poem unusual, but interesting.) And here I thought he was talking about getting out of a challenging situation, or walking through  life when you hadn’t the energy for one more step.

I didn’t realize it was a perfectly appropriate quote for my driving habits, too.

A Thorny Situations

A Thorny Situation © 2011 Bo Mackison

After an hour of driving in circles–the one-way streets are always going the wrong way–I decided I couldn’t get too terribly lost if I kept heading south, then west, then south, then west. It worked. I wove my way through the streets, and finally arrived at a place that looked familiar. Whew!

In the middle of all that lost driving, I stumbled upon the entrance to the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The house which belonged to the donor of the gardens (once a thriving landscaping business) is now the visitor center and gift store. I wandered through several gardens, including the childrens garden, a sensory garden, and a little Zen garden, though I didn’t see everything. Next time.

A few of the cactus looked like they had seen better days. The cactus have good reason for looking a little disheveled. Tucson and much of Arizona had record freezing temperatures a couple of weeks ago. The cacti are not adapted for temperature drops to 13 degrees. A docent I spoke with said it would be quite awhile before they knew the full impact of the cold spell, but many plants, including the aloe and the prickly pear, looked like they might not recover.

Packer Green and Gold in Tucson?

Packer Green and Gold in Tucson? © 2011 Bo Mackison

I never did make it to my third stop – the REI on the other side of town. I wanted to get one of those snazzy flashlights that have a stretchy band like a head band. You can wear the light around your head, like a miner’s lamp, and then your hands are free for holding camera equipment and hiking sticks when you get caught a half mile from the trail and it gets dark. I think the sun sets more rapidly in Arizona than it does in Wisconsin.

When I was at the botanical gardens, I was quite remiss in getting proper IDs for these plants. I took their photographs because they had such interesting details, but quite forgot about checking names. I even found a green and gold plant–do you think there are a lot of Green Bay Packer fans in the Southwest?

This post has been a rambling affair tonight. It’s been a long day, not driving around town or taking photos, but doing paperwork. Yes, even in Tucson, even on days that are utterly delightful, there are days when work needs to be done.

Actually, I am quite thrilled. I was invited to participate in a summer’s worth of shows in the Chicago area. And so today–for eight straight hours–I filled out paperwork and other goodies that were required for the five shows I’ll be doing. Then I had to dash to the post office before closing time to send the papers express mail. It’s exciting news and it is a great way to start planning my summer art fair season.

Now to take a little time for some R & R, and then I’ve another drive planned for tomorrow. But not in the city. I’m heading to the mountains!


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for two months, exhibiting her photography in art shows, taking photographs, and blogging about photography, art fairs, and living life “solo.”  And she is discovering more than she had anticipated.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Go Pack – everyone is a Packer fan (maybe). I wouldn’t want to wear a sport coat with all those thorns. They look lethal. 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      As I understand it, everyone loves a winner. Hmm, maybe not the folks in Pittsburgh, though… 🙂

      And you wouldn’t be caught dead in a plaid sports coat, thorns or no thorns, Think the yellow flowers might be a nice touch though!

  2. I’m not sure I could find my way around Tucson now. I’m sure it must have really grown since I was there. Too bad about the freeze damage at the garden. It would be interesting to see how the desert plants fared and to watch them recover. Cacti especially are amazingly durable plants. THeat’s good news about your Chicago shows!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I hope you are right about the durability of cactus plants. I spoke with a ranger at Saguaro NP who said they had a record 10˚F and that they might not know the survival rate of the saguaro for 4 or 5 years, but they could lose an entire generation of cactus. They’re playing the wait and see game. I need to go back and ask what he meant by a “generation” of cacti though.

  3. These photos are just the best. I swear I KNOW that sports coat! Great photos, as always. We are worried about our cacti. Hardy or not, none of them can survive really deep freezes. They take a long time to die, however, and damage may not be evident for weeks or months. My yard looks damaged, but I haven’t seen all the damage yet. Better get out to the Saguaro NP and get my hiking in while this generation is still there! Of course, we now have your images to thrive on!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Don’t you just love that plaid cactus. I have got to find out more info about it. I didn’t know cacti came in plaid. Next we’ll be seeing paisleys, dotted Swiss, corduroy…

  4. Love the sports coat – too funny! Great Adventures always involve getting lost and found again in some form or fashion, and lady you are having one GREAT Adventure!

  5. The Packer Green and Gold shot is wonderfully colorful.

    Well done on finding your way around! I’d probably be so lost no one would ever find me again.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Of course, I couldn’t pass up a plant that was green and gold. Just wouldn’t be Packer-ly!

      Do you get lost, too? If I’ve got a map I’m good to go, but I can’t drive and look at the map at the same time. I’d love one of those talking GPS thingies!

      • I’m great with a map (which makes me the navigator on most trips), but have a terrible sense of direction. And, as you mentioned, I can’t drive and look at the map at the same time. I’ve seen people trying to do it and I suspect they end up in an accident of some kind eventually. A GPS thingie would be grand (although we’ve had them in rental cars occasionally and sometimes they are wrong… still, they come close!).

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