When Ruth & I dined at highly recommended Michelangelo’s Italian restaurant in Tucson, we met James Oliphant. When James found out that I was a travel writer, he wrote 5 of his favorite local attractions for me on a guest check: Kirchner Caverns, Old Tucson, Desert Museum, Hotel Congress, and Colossal Cave. He had previously told us about his absolute favorite: Tohono Chul Park. I had never heard of Tohono Chul Park. We went there the next morning and quickly recognized a low-radar for non-residents, 5 Compass marvel.
Travel & Leisure called TC one of the world’s 10 best botanical gardens. National Geographic Traveler named it 1 of the top 22 Secret Gardens in the United States & Canada. Notice the word secret. One Park handout says, “Over 500,000 Tucsonans have found and visited a truly diversified non-profit center–Tohono Chul Park.” Notice the word Tucsonans. What about Washingtonians like Ruth & me?
Background: the Park’s current 49 acres (it is huge) was once used for cattle grazing by the wonderfully named T. T Muzzy. Then the land became a major producer of dates and citrus. The also wonderfully named John T. deBlois Wack bought the property in 1936. Over the next several years prominent families owned a house on the spread built by Paul Holton in 1937. Tohono Chul came along in 1985 and evolved into a Park dedicated to the preservation of an arid region, water conservation, and the education of visitors via a profound desert experience.
Called the “Central Park” of Tucson, TC was named for local Native Americans, the Tohono O’odham, who inhabited this region for ages. In their language. tohono chul appropriately means “desert corner”. Run largely by passionate volunteers who act as guides, desert groomers, staffers of the superb gift shops, Tea Room, Greenhouse, etc., Tohono Chul is a place of hummingbirds, a Xeriscape Garden (low-water use), excellent Kioko Mwitiki sculptures, and, of course, a mind-numbing profusion of desert plants. My favorite experience was the South Loop Trail that lead to impressive saguaros.
When I paused to write a quote found in the Desert Living Courtyard in my notebook–winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all–I also thought of an oxymoron that somewhat describes the Tohono Chul’s desert/nature experience, organized chaos.