Call me slow, but it took a long time for me to realize what people meant when they referred to Tucson as a "college town." I guess I just assumed they meant that we lived in a city that housed a university. I didn't understand that our economy is dependant on the crowds drawn to town every August until I spent a few summers hopping from empty bar to even emptier bar and reorganizing my schedule to accommodate the fact that almost every business within a 25-mile radius of campus switches to "summer hours" as soon as the dorms empty.
All bitterness aside, I view fall with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, as students turn the campus area into a traffic nightmare and locals return to hiding, I feel misplaced. I don't like having to share the places I've loved all summer long with thousands of other people. I'm sort of selfish that way. On the other hand, if I can ignore the population increase, it's easy to get excited about the cooling temperatures and all that they bring with them. As tank tops are traded in for sweaters, holidays come at a rapid pace, beginning with Labor Day.
After a weekend of barbecues, parties and well-deserved laziness, my partner in crime suggested we head to Sabino Canyon to enjoy the slightly-under-100-degree temperature. As much as I love nature (I don't), it shames me to say that I had never been to Sabino Canyon. Oddly enough, wandering aimlessly through the horribly barren desert has never been high on my list of priorities. It's probably right up there with seeing Dave Matthews in concert, and I don't even consider him a real musician.
We packed a small lunch and a lot of water and headed northeast in the early afternoon. Had we considered the fact that the sun is directly overhead at noon, we may have started our journey a little earlier; unfortunately, we didn't consider much of anything. After paying $5 to park, we were handed a nice map of the area and an informative flier on the dangers of mountain lions. Apparently, if you see a mountain lion, you shouldn't approach it.
Feeling not completely safe, I entered the visitor center bathroom certain that a mountain lion was waiting to pounce on me as I was otherwise preoccupied. Luckily, all I found was the nicest bathroom I've ever seen at a national park. This would be the only non-creepy bathroom I would encounter. The next best featured heavy aluminum doors that creaked while opening, and the ability to hear (and be heard by) everyone within 50 feet.
In the wake of the monsoons, the desert was alive. We were surrounded by green and saw butterflies chasing each other against the backdrop of the deep blue sky. If we were more romantic, we may have been inspired to discuss our future plans in moronic detail; however, we aren't that romantic. The majority of the words I uttered were either unintelligible or unfit for publication. It isn't that I'm just out of shape, it's more like I'm a wimp and bugs like to eat my flesh.
Wandering off the path, we found ourselves faced with the decision to walk through ankle-deep water or turn around and find another way - I have since learned that hiking in wet shoes is a disgusting, bad idea. Even with my wet sneakers and welt-ridden arms and legs, I could see the true beauty in nature. Suddenly, it didn't seem to matter that I had piles of homework waiting or that laundry needed to be done. All that mattered was that I was in beautiful, untouched desert. I felt at one with nature, until I spotted a dirty diaper and saw a mosquito heading for the back of my knee.
Two miles later, we collapsed into our air-conditioned car. As I took off my slimy socks, I realized that as much as Tucson may be a "college town," there are still a few places where I can be more annoyed by nature than by an overcrowded campus.