Dear Family and Friends …
We stopped and Rose spotted an animal trotting along in the middle of the sand.
She said, “Charlie, look at the dog.”
I looked and said, “Rose … Rose, Rose, Rose.”
“That’s not a dog; that’s a coyote.”
Now Rose grew up in Phoenix and spent four years going to school in Tucson, but I’d been living in the Old Pueblo for a couple of months and I’d become pretty familiar with the wildlife in the area.
She reiterated that she thought the animal was a dog.
I reiterated that it wasn’t, mansplaining, “It’s a coyote.”
She then said, “Well, if that’s the case, what’s the man doing walking in front of the coyote?”
“Oh him … ummmm … wow, that’s a beefy dog, don’t you think? Beefier than your average dog. Easy to mistake for a coyote, I’d say. What kind of dog owner let’s his dog run wild in the wash? What an idiot!”
We kept walking.
Speaking of wildlife, there are all kinds of birds here in Tucson. Why not a day goes by when I don’t hear a new bird sound. (Translation: Every day I hear a new bird sound.) It’s like an arboretum or aviary, if you will, of feathered beasts, a menagerie of flighted fowl. I walk out of my house and I have to put in some ear plugs because of those damn chirpy, cheerful birds.
I tell everyone about these frickin’ birds.
So, the other day, when we were in the parking lot of the Saguaro National Park, I get out of the car and hear a weird bird sound.
Walking towards the entrance, “You guys hear that bird?”
No one answers because no one is listening to me, but me.
“I swear to God, every day I hear a different … oh wait … shit, it’s a dog … that’s a dog barking.”
That really happened. Sometimes being filled with awe and wonderment can be embarrassing.
But seriously, there are a shit ton of birds here. I’m thinking about getting some binoculars to do some bird watching. I’m almost old enough to partake in that activity. Not quite, but getting there.
I Can’t See My Feet.
One day I decided to walk north on Craycroft Road towards the Catalina Mountains. I didn’t really have a plan; I just wanted to walk up the steep hill.
I decide to walk north until I can’t walk north anymore. That’s one of those ‘stretch’ goals because Tucson is located in the southern-most portion of the United States and then, of course, there’s Canada.
But I’m enjoying walking up this hill. A hawk flies directly over me. That was cool.
Sadly, he was likely en route to a nearby backyard to snatch somebody’s little dog for dinner.
That’s a bitch, but ‘circle of life’ shit happens in Tucson.
I decide to stop at Sunrise Drive. Craycroft is steep. I’m up high now, close to the Catalinas; I can see all of the mountain ranges that surround the Old Pueblo. I’m awestruck with the views. I take pictures looking north and south and send them to Rose.
“Here’s where I walked to.”
I’m three miles from home and the sun is going down.
And my phone dies.
That sucks, but I’m not worried. I’ll get home superfast because it’s all downhill, baby. Except one thing. I haven’t had lunch and it’s dinnertime. So, I decide to stop at the burger place on the way back. No worries.
I start the long walk home happy. I get to a point where there is a gap in the houses to the west and I can see forever to the right, the valley, the city and the mountain range. And off in the distance – 12 miles away – I see a little letter A. It’s red … and it’s glowing.
“Oh my god, this is so cool.”
It’s the Sunday before the Wildcat Homecoming and the students have a tradition of painting the white “A” on A Mountain red. But it is clearly glowing. How did they do that?
I can’t take a picture. Dammit. I keep walking. Every time I can see the tiny Glowing A I stop and just stare at it, taking it in, trying to sear the image on my mind’s eye.
Found this online. Not a great shot, but you get the idea.
I stop at the burger place. When I sit down, I realize how tired I am. I haven’t walked up a big three-mile hill in a while, plus, it’s really dark out. I’m done walking. I’ll call Rose to come and get me.
Everyone I’ve met in Tucson has been super nice to me, but the burger guy won’t charge my phone. Apparently charging my phone would somehow harm him or the burger business. I take it in stride. No biggie. I’ll just walk home in the dark, what could possibly go wrong?
I finish my shitty burger and head outside. It’s 100 percent pitch-black out. Tucson prides itself on being a ‘dark sky’ city, in fact, the international dark sky organization is located here. And that just means there’s not a lot of lights. When the sun goes down, it’s lights out.
I’m 10 feet from the safety of the burger parking lot and the sidewalk stops.
“I’M LOST! WHERE’S THE SIDEWALK? WHERE DO I GO NOW?”
That was embarrassing. I mean it was dark out, but that was an “over reaction.”
I get to the sidewalk on the bridge that crosses the wash. I can’t see anything. I mean I might as well have closed my eyes, because I couldn’t see where my feet were hitting the ground. Plus, cars were driving just a couple feet away from me.
I crossed the damn bridge, but now I have to get on the loop. I have to go underneath Craycroft, a major underpass beneath six lanes of traffic.
“Who or what is under there?” I wonder. They say the snakes come out at night.
If it wasn’t for the moon, the darkness under the bridge would have been complete.
Can you say, “speed walking?”
I walked my ass off under that bridge.
It can be scary imagining things.
So, I get on the loop and I’m a half-mile from the house. The loop closes at dusk, so if I run into any people, well, they’re obviously are rule-breakers, so, that’s not good.
I see a light shining on the trail fence. “What’s that?” It’s a single headlight, slowly heading my way. The headlight approaches, I’m blinded by the light, and then it passes.
No big deal, right? But what if he turns around? I better walk faster.
I come up to a bridge and I swear to God I see a black mass at the foot of the bridge … and it’s moving.
It keeps moving, but he must have already eaten … whatever that was … because it doesn’t attack me, so I keep moving until I get home.
(I learned later that the students don’t paint the “A” red anymore. They plant 260 flares in and around the letter and then light it up, which looks super cool up close and from 12 miles away.
Three Whoops and a Holler
Have you ever seen a horse just galloping along a dirt road all free like?
I have. I was hip deep in sand in the middle of nowhere in the desert near the Mexican border.
Well, I don’t know how close we were to the border, but to get to this next misadventure, we had to go through a border patrol checkpoint Charlie.
Here’s the deal. Rose is making great connections in Tucson and one of those connections invited us to a social event at Cowtown Keeylocko, which is 40 miles south of us. A “town” in the desert, a series of small buildings, was built by a legendary Arizona rancher Ed Keeylocko, who died in January of 2019.
This is from a recent Arizona Republic story:
There was once a rancher who built a tiny Western town in the southern Arizona desert.
The town was part real, part imaginary. There was a library with no librarian, a jail with no criminals, and a general store without a clerk.
The town population, much of the time, was one.
The man who lived there, and built the town, wanted to create a place that could be how the West really was, not how it was portrayed by Hollywood.
A black man who had faced adversity in his life, he wanted a place where everyone was welcome, from immigrants to city folks who stumbled off the beaten path.
Sounds all folksy and interesting, right? But this story isn’t really about this man or this town. I mean no disrespect to him or his legacy. This is more about how my brain works, my imagination and founded / unfounded fear of the unknown.
First of all, we think that 40 miles means it will take 40 minutes to get there. That assumption was incorrect. We slowed down quite a bit when we hit the dirt, country road with the giant car-busting, wash-board ridges. I’m getting pissed; I hate driving on those things, but then it got worse.
We have directions from Rose’s friend; she gave us mile markers to follow, but they didn’t always gibe with the Google Maps Lady. We get off the bumpy road; the roads now are just narrow lanes of sand.
Just to get everyone caught up, I don’t own a dune buggy, but that’s what we needed. At an intersection – in the middle of the desert – there’s a sign that says go right, but the directions say go straight.
The tiny intersection is a sea of deep sand. Possibly quicksand.
I begin hyperventilating.
I’m, for no good reason whatsoever, pissed at Rose. It’s a desert version of Laurel and Hardy’s fine mess.
“If we get stuck in this sand, we’re fucked.”
On top of that, do we go straight or turn? We pondered this quandary for a while.
We go straight.
We should have turned.
We do a loop of sand-driving. Straight, right, right. We’re close, like really close to Cowtown, but Google Maps Lady is confused. It doesn’t look promising in any direction. We’ve driven for 90 minutes. We’re a quarter mile from the entrance. I tell Rose I want to call it. Let’s go home. Put a fork in it, this trip is done.
Just then a dude in a Honda Element appears, he is also heading to Cowtown. We follow him and 14 seconds later we are pulling in.
It’s a few dozen miles southwest of Tucson and 50 or so miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Turn off U.S. 86 and head south down a bumpy dirt road. Follow the signs, or you won’t find it.
Driving in feels like entering an 1800s ghost town.
There’s a long row of rickety buildings made of wooden planks, metal, telephone poles, parts of mobile homes, and anything else Keeylocko could get his hands on. Generators powered the entire town, and there was no hot water.
“You just head west. Watch Kitt Peak, and follow the signs to milepost 146. Cowtown Keeylocko. You see a sign that says three whoops and a holla, then two whoops and a holla, then one whoop and a holla, and then you’ll be right in the town of Keeylocko. We have the coldest beer in Arizona, so cold you have to open the beer with your overcoat on.”
— Edward Keeylocko
I wish I could have met that guy. With his passing earlier in the year, his friends and family are raising awareness and funds to save the town. An admirable effort.
Blue Dog Saloon stands at the center of the buildings. Rose quickly runs in, to see her friends; she’s big on “networking” or, as some call it, “talking to people.” I eventually make my way to the saloon door. As I reach for the handle, the door swings open wide and three huge men pile out, all still chewing on the chili dogs served in the bar.
They were large and clearly hammered, but friendly as fuck.
They all introduced themselves and shook my hand.
The saloon had a dirt floor; Rose is working the room. There are people she knows, plus several locals. People are drinking and eating chili dogs. The bartender offers me a shot of his specialty moonshine. I accept. I’m living my ‘go with the flow’ philosophy, but I only have one. I’m not drinking, I’m worrying. From the moment I stepped in that motherfucking saloon, my mind was focused on one thing: How do we get out of here?
“Will we get lost? Will we get stuck in the sand? When does the sun set?
“We need to get going before the sun sets or we’re fucked.”
Okay, maybe I was focused on more than one thing.
I approached the guy enjoying the most shots; he’s got one of those beer bellies that defies physics, just huge and yet he could wear pants.
I bellied up to the bar next to him and said, “Are you going for the record? What’s the record anyways?”
And he took my questions completely earnestly and told me about a time he drank an ungodly amount of alcohol at somebody’s wedding and THAT was the record. We had a good conversation, I mean, as good of a conversation as one could expect to have in that situation.
I’ve been trying to channel my boy, Matt Podschweit, since moving to Tucson. Matt’s the guy at the table, who always asks the waitress for her name, introduces himself and everyone at the table. He’s one of those ‘friendly’ people. I’m trying to be like that too. And maybe not be too judge-y, but that’s in my DNA, don’t know if I can completely get rid of that.
While Cowtown Keeylocko is a popular landmark, the settlement where it is located has a sketchy rep.
Three Points is a settlement that has a “long-standing reputation as a gruesome place,” according to a 2004 Tucson Weekly article, and when people think of Three Points, they think of “drugs and crime and bodies in the desert or stuffed into the trunks of cars,” according to a local.
Rose is in the saloon networking.
“So, what is it that you do?”
“I’m into chainsaw art.”
“Oh, like carving a black bear out of a log?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Do you have a studio here in town?”
“Ummm, no, actually I do some of my best work in this shed I have real close by. Want to go see it?”
I walk in.
“ROSE! It’s time to go!”
We head out. As I start the car, someone raps on my window. They want to take a group shot. Can’t do a group shot without the Snyders.
Finally, it’s time to leave. Ned, the feller with the Honda Element, says we can follow him out. He’s had a few, but I’m still nervous about everything, so I follow him. Another couple joins the caravan.
We get to the first intersection and I know we need to turn right.
Ned goes straight.
I think, “Well, maybe Ned knows a better way.” I follow. The other car follows. Ned stops, gets out of his car. “I should have turned right there.”
We back up, turn around and follow Ned down the road. We get to another intersection and I know we’re supposed to go straight.
Ned turns left.
“I’m yelling, ‘You’re going the wrong way.”
I am 100 percent that we should NOT turn left.
The guy in the car behind me starts honking.
And I think, “Maybe they know a better way out of here.” So, I turn left.
We drive 100 feet when Ned stops, gets out of his car and says, “I should have gone straight back there.”
This road is especially, ridiculously sandy. It’s hard to find a place to turn around, but I manage. But that third car, you know, the one with horn, they got stuck.
He’s just gunning it, getting deeper in the quicksand. Ned and I push them out.
We get on the right path, turn left off the sandy road and get on the bumpy road. I’d never felt better being on one of those bumpy-ass roads in my life. I didn’t need help getting out of there before and I certainly didn’t need to follow anyone anywhere now.
A giant jackrabbit runs across the road.
A horse passes us, running free.
I was so happy. Nearly joyful.
I could finally enjoy being out in the desert, see the beauty. The sun was going down and there was an amazing Arizona sunset. I relax for the first time all day, open my window and take it all in.
Snakes on the Loop
When I moved here, people told me to be careful on The Loop, anywhere near the wash, because it was very likely that I’d encounter snakes and javelina. It was not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Also, it was likely that we’d see bobcats, mountain lions, hawks, owls, lizards, spiders, scorpions, etc., etc., in our backyard eating our dogs.
But one of the reasons we moved into this rental is that it’s right next to The Loop, a 150-mile paved bike trail that goes all over town.
In July, I took my bike out for a spin. Just going to go around the block and by the end of that block I was dying of thirst. It’s hot here. I always leave later than I want to for my bike rides. For whatever reason it takes me about 90 minutes to get around to putting on those bike shorts.
On one ride, when I left it was 94 degrees and when I finished it was 104 degrees. That wasn’t pleasant. I had no water for the last five miles. The heat coming off the pavement was melting the skin off my calves.
But as time passed, the weather turned cooler and I got in better shape. I do out and backs, mostly. Every time I’d ride an extra mile, I’d find something interesting, like the Santa Cruz River. After riding by miles and miles of dried river beds, finding an actual river was exciting. There was lush vegetation on the river banks and the aromas were exotic and enticing. They reminded me of the smells that come with the monsoons. Or a cedar jewelry box.
I was happy. I wanted to talk to somebody and luckily there was an old man biking nearby.
“What’s that smell?”
And he answered, “Oh, that’s the scum from the river.”
“Maybe we’re smelling two different things.”
Later, I was riding along, taking a video of the river and noticed something on the path. I looked down and biked around a plump, four-and-a-half-foot diamondback rattlesnake, sunning himself on the warm pavement. I got super close to him to take a picture, like 20-feet close. He didn’t move. I think he was digesting a rabbit.
I was super proud of myself on another ride. I got off the loop and headed north. I could see the road ahead for miles. Eight miles to be precise, all uphill. I left the city limits and kept going up until the country road literally stopped at the Catalina foothills and the Pima Canyon Trailhead. That was hard. I mean it wasn’t North Cheyenne Cañon Road hard, but for me for now it was hard and I was happy. I ate my lunch and flew down the hill.
Later, I wanted show Rose where I biked, so we planned to hike that trail. But literally that week, news came out that the trail was closed because someone was murdered and their body was found on the trail. What alerted the authorities to the situation … three mountain lions were gnawing on his remains on the fucking trail.
So, they closed the trail.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we really are living in the wild west.
When we first moved into this lovely development, Rose had numerous encounters with a particularly pesky sewer roach, who was usually hiding in the dishwasher. I wish we had video of those moments. Hilarious.
That big bug was fleet of foot. One time he was cornered in the corner of the kitchen counter. I removed each item on the counter piece-by-piece, all of his hiding places, until he was exposed. I had my shot and I was going to take it, but then he quickly scampered vertically up the wall to hide behind the cabinet.
On our final encounter with him, he was in the sink and he tried to escape via the garbage disposal. Rose and I working in tandem, ran the water and turned on the disposal. But to make sure he was gone, for sure gone, we ran the water and turned on the disposal about 11 more times. We were laughing so hard.
Rose wasn’t laughing when a tarantula crawled across her driver’s side car window, while driving around. Thankfully, she did not crash the car.
A Sedona vacation.
In October, we joined our friends, Dave and Teri, in Sedona. Dave found this place out in the country that was totally awesome. Each day we’d go out and explore, hike a trail, drink a glass of wine and then head back to home base. Make dinner, light a fire in the fire pit, hit the hot tub down by the stream. We had the place to ourselves. Dave would make these herculean margaritas. It could not have been better.
One night we went outside to see if we could see some stars. We’re in the middle of the country. Maybe we can see the Milky Way. But as luck would have it, on that very night, the Harvest Moon or yellow moon was large in the sky. The once-a-month full moon.
We can’t see any stars because of that full moon.
I said, because I’m hilarious, “Maybe we should walk down this lonely country road, put a little distance between us and the moon.”
So, we do.
We’re about three blocks from the house when we stop. We’re just chatting and listening to all of the sounds of nature in the country … including plenty of animal sounds.
I say, “Maybe we should head back before these animals … “
And before I can finish my thought, a pack of coyotes – not dogs – coyotes begin screeching. They are unleashing an unholy chorus of terror screams and they are on the move.
They are screeching and running … directly for us. It is obvious and clear to all of us. They are coming.
But we’re grown-ups. We don’t “lose our cool.” We do, however, start walking briskly towards the house.
Teri, who grew up in Arizona, says she knows what to do. I’m thinking, “It looks like Teri’s about to get eaten by a pack of coyotes.” But then she pulls out this Jedi mind trick – she flashes her flashlight in the general direction of the coyotes and they suddenly stop screeching and, more importantly, stop running. Teri saved the day.
“Let’s get going before they change their mind.”
Moments later, I hear what can only be described as the moaning of a donkey being eaten by a pack of coyotes.
I better wrap this up.
The kids came to Tucson for Christmas. We bought three queen-sized inflatable beds that just barely fit in our 1450-square-foot home at Hill Farm. We all could not wait to be together. Everyone placed way-too-high expectations on these days, but our experience somehow matched them. Gina, now a senior at Pacific Lutheran, flew in from Washington. Our music-maker Sam flew in from Colorado. And Carli Rose (our daughter) and Jon Rose (her boyfriend) flew in from New York.
Our own little commune.
There was an urgency to it all, because we know that being together isn’t a frequent or guaranteed thing anymore. We didn’t take our time together for granted.
Our favorite moments included … our time at San Augustin Mercado, hiking the Tumamoc Hill and Saguaro National Park, playing Spyfall on our phones, walking around downtown Tucson and Fourth Avenue, hunting for murals, playing Catan at the kitchen table, eating tacos at Boca, drinking beers at Ten55 and the Hop Shop; our three days in Phoenix, visiting the Roosevelt Row Arts District and discovering The Churchill, getting a tour of murals by Joey, visiting the Heard Museum and Arizona Science Center (big dinosaur) and celebrating Nana’s birthday.
Watching movies. Being together.
First Sam left, then Gina.
On Carli’s last night, we had an encounter. As we drove into the development, Carli shrieked, looking out the window.
“Carli, what is it?”
She gasped, “A javelina.”
Then I saw it. A very large beast, an animal that is part hippopotamus and part rodent. It looks like a pig or boar. A wild animal. Imagine a good-sized ottoman with little legs and a snout, running around our development.
I turned the car around and aim the car lights towards him. There are three big javelina running for cover. It was cool to finally see them. It was weird to see them in our neighborhood.
That’s it. That’s the end of that “encounter.” We didn’t get out of the car and ride the javelina bareback into town or anything.
Then Carli and Jon left.
Just me and Rose and our two doggies.
One day Rocky kept going outside and barking. I’d bring him in and then let him out. Three times. So finally, I went out and picked Rocky up.
“What’s going on out here, Rockstar?”
Rocky starts sniffing frantically. This way and that. Like a tracker. He could smell them.
It was real quiet … and then I could hear them in the distance.
Happy Martin Luther King Day.
Charlie | Rose | Carli | Gina | Sam | Kirby | Rocky
© Snyder Family Holiday Letter 2020