An early flat tire was a blessing in disguise as I chose to join some fellow riders in the support van. Always one to push myself to ride every mile, it was fun to spend a few minutes chatting with some of my fellow travelers who were engrossed in conversation about the settling of the American West as they leapfrogged ahead for the shorter ride option.

 Today presented many different ride options including the moderate ascent over Gates Pass.  Needless to say, there were a surprising number of us who tackled this more challenging ride.  These “epic” options create an friendly camaraderie as we encourage and challenge each other on the way up then share high fives at the top.

The sheer numbers of Saguaro cactus that one can see from atop Gates Pass is overwhelming. They climb the hillsides above us and cover the valley floor below.  I continue to be amazed at how they thrive in the rocky landscape.  The exhilarating descent into the west side of Saguaro National Park was just an fun as the climb to the top and a great way to cool off before spending a couple of hours walking around the Desert Museum.

The Desert Museum might just be the most fascinating “zoo” I’ve ever seen.  It’s not really a zoo but a living museum full of desert animals and plants that’s in a spacious and natural setting.  The opportunity for close-up viewing of the vast number of living creatures that inhabit the desert help create a deeper understanding and appreciation for this unique environment. This is one of the highlights of the trip so far.

This evening a handful of us ventured into Tucson’s downtown for dinner. Though it’s my first time in Tucson, it’s easy to observe the energy that is transforming the downtown area into a hip commercial district that includes a number of newer (and quite full!) restaurants.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Mountain Empire!