A Different Kind of 4th

I have been up in Tucson for several days, spending each night with a different friend.

On July 4 I left one friend’s house and landed at the next, Pam’s place, around 2:00. Pam and I ran an errand and then went to the newest Ethiopian restaurant in the city, Cafe Desta.

Cafe Desta is at the five corners area just south of downtown, where 18th Street, Stone, and 6th Avenue all come together, clinging to the very south end of Stone.

There were only two tables of customers when we entered, an Anglo couple and a group of five men from San Miguel, in central Mexico. At least three languages were happening in this tiny place! Because there are around ninety Ethiopian languages, two or three of them could have been used in addition to the Spanish and English.

Cafe Desta
offers a variety of meat dishes as well as vegan dishes, and prices run from about $8 to $19.

We settled on the “combo for two” which gave us a choice of samples from any of the meat or vegan meals. We chose two vegan – spinach and red lentil, a cheese, and two meat – lamb and chicken. It also came with salad.


The meal was served family style, which meant the five dishes and the salad were piled on a round Ethiopian bread, about 8″ in diameter, called injera. It is spongy and soft and is meant to be torn into pieces and used to scoop up the main dish. Each of us also got a basket of two pieces of injera.


Each of the dishes we sampled was delicious. The cheese was light but tasty. The chicken was in a gentle curry and the lamb in a tomato base. The spinach had tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices, and the lentils had a berbere sauce – whatever that is.

We spent the next half hour tearing pieces of injera and scooping different flavors, sometimes using the cheese as a topping and sometimes scooping up the cheese alone.

Grabbing food with the injera was fun, but I was unclear how to approach the salad. The meal is not served with utensils – the injera is the utensil. So, how to eat the salad? It didn’t want it wrapped in the soft bread. I finally just dove in, picking up pieces of lettuce and tomato and eating them.

Pam and I and our server all agreed that the combo of five we had settled on was just right, a wonderful blending of flavors, and so beautifully colorful. And the benefit to eating in this way is it takes time to pick up the bread, tear off a piece, scoop up a mouthful of the dinner and finally get it to your mouth. Hard for even the most diligent to simply shovel food into his or her mouth. It is a slower, friendlier way to have a meal.

Although we didn’t indulge, there were espresso drinks and dessert. I think it would be a great stop for just the coffee and desert, but I’m sure that wonderful aroma that enveloped me when I opened the door would make it difficult not to first dive into one of the main dishes.

We finished, waddled out the door, and headed back to Pam’s place where we recovered for a few hours, and then we were out the door for another new experience: witnessing the nightly rush of bats leaving from below a bridge.

The bats at the 22nd and Pantano bridge are Mexican free-tailed bats, and although they weigh only about thirteen grams, they are considered medium-sized.

Under the Pantano Bridge Under the Pantano Bridge – the bats hang in the small spaces between the spans of concrete.

Their bodies are about the size of smallish adult human thumb, but their wingspans are about ten inches. They can eat half their weight in insects each night.

This year there are an estimated 40,000 bats living under the Pantano Bridge.

The bats arrive here in April with the females already pregnant. They deliver later in the month or in early June. The babies will be adult sized and ready for the south migration when they are only three months old.

On this night, the babies were young enough that they “hung out” at the bridge while their moms went hunting.

Honest! There are a few bats in the sky around the big lights. Honest! There are a few bats in the sky around the big lights.

It was getting pretty dark when we left, and we saw fireworks beginning to light up the sky. We got back to Pam’s and soon the A Mountain fireworks began, so we sat on the curb and watched the whole show.

A fabulous fourth of July, and different from any I have ever had!

Escaping the Heat

It was hot. The forecast said to expect 97 (35). We needed a diversion. So, off to Tucson, where the forecast said it would be 106 (41)!

No, of course we didn’t stay there, but we had to pass through the eastern edges of Tucson to get to our destination, Mt. Lemmon, high atop the Catalina Mountains overlooking the city. The forecast predicted a high there of about 77 (25). We took off around seven and it was already hot. First stop: recycling. We hauled all the things Bisbee doesn’t recycle to one of the spots in Tucson.  A minute later we were off to the second stop: Beyond Bread.

Always yummy!
Always yummy!

We had initially figured we’d have lunch on the mountain, but there had been stories of crowds of people on Mt. Lemmon cooling off, and the ensuing long lines at the few restaurants. So we brought our picnic lunch.

Amazingly, we left Beyond Bread and didn’t head across the street to Trader Joe’s. That may have been a first.

TJ right across the street and we didn't go!
TJ right across the street and we didn’t go!

As we headed up Houghton Road we talked about getting gas, but there was about a quarter of a tank left in the little Toyota Echo and we figured that would get us up and down the mountain easily.

Up we went, taking in all the scenery and views. Striated rock. Changing plant life, from mesquite and saguaro to tall, tall pines, fir, and spruce. Vistas that went on for a hundred miles.  It is like driving from northern Mexico to Canada in twenty-nine miles of steep, twisty road.


We passed campgrounds, trailheads, picnic areas, and overlooks. Some of the names were great. For example, there’s the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. But underneath the name it says “Prison Camp.”

Then there’s the Seven Cataracts Vista. How in the world did it get that name? My thought was cataracts on the eyes, as I’ve had surgery on both eyes now. But one friend reminded me that it can also mean rushing water, or waterfall. That made more sense, of course. But there were no falls on this dry, dry day.

Hoodoo Vista. Thimble Peak Vista. Babad Do’ag Vista.

Then there are the trails. The most interesting name I ran across was the Phoneline Trail.

And the canyon names: Bird Canyon, Rattlesnake Canyon, Breakfast Canyon. Breakfast?

We made a stop at the visitor center about two-thirds of the way up. I had expected to pay for the visit, but the fee station was closed and the visitor center wasn’t collecting money, either.

Across from the visitor's center - more conifers! And cool, cool air.
Across from the visitor’s center – more conifers! And cool, cool air.

Once we made it to the top, we got out and walked a bit, visited the one store where I purchased some fabulous fudge, and we even managed to hit a yard sale. Yes, I bought something.

Beautiful ferns in front yard at the yard sale.
Beautiful ferns in front yard at the yard sale.

We hopped in the car, ready to ride some of the side roads, do a little exploring. But then I glanced at the gas gauge. We were a hair away from empty.

Empty? But we’d had nearly a quarter tank and had only driven about thirty-five miles since I’d last checked! But the miles were all uphill, and we were carrying three adults. I guess steep hills and a full load make a big difference to a little four-cylinder car!

So. Plans changed. There is no gas station in Summerhaven, the little community atop Mt. Lemmon. Why wasn’t there anyone like the guy I saw in the Baja, the guy on a lonely stretch of highway who had a 55 gallon barrel full of gasoline to sell?

Instead of wandering all the side roads as planned, we decided to head downhill to a picnic spot. We stopped at the Loma Linda picnic grounds with views to the north side of the mountain. We had a lovely picnic and I experienced something I hadn’t felt in quite some time. I was chilly! What a treat! We ate slowly and hung out in the cool for an hour or so, then headed back down the mountain.


Remnants of the huge fire on Mt. Lemmon several years back.
Remnants of the huge fire on Mt. Lemmon several years back.

This is where I explain why there aren’t a lot more photos. Simply put, I didn’t want to stop and start the car too many times. The Get Gas! warning light was flashing. Seemed smarter to keep heading down the mountain.

Highway view
Highway view
All kinds of activities available on the mountain.
All kinds of activities available on the mountain.

Down General Hitchcock Highway. Out of the pines. Into the piñon. Back to the mesquite and saguaro. Back to the heat.

We made it to a gas station, thankfully. We’d been discussing whose AAA card to use. I, as the driver, was wondering where in the world I would pull off if we did, in fact, run out of gas.

When we got gas, we found there had still been approximately half a gallon left in the tank.

Had the gauge lied?

And what about the flashing red light that warns the driver of an impending empty tank disaster?

Apparently, both the gauge and the warning light had overreacted a little bit. We could have done the side roads.

Ah, well. Next time. We’re sure to have another hot day!

FOOTNOTE: A fire has begun overnight part way up Mt. Lemmon, near the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. Thankfully, this one will not destroy Summerhaven as the big one did in 2007.