By DK Davis, who edits a disability newsletter. Click to e-mail him for more information.

“What the heck is that noise? Raccoons mating? What time is it anyway?”

“That ‘noise’, is the alarm. The time is 3:15. A.M..”

“Please, kill me now.”

“Hey buddy, you’re the one that wanted to be in Tucson by noon.”

And so began our ten-day whirlwind trip to Tucson, Arizona.

Amazingly our plane was on time into Minneapolis, where I was plopped into an archaic airport wheelchair and whisked to our departure gate. It was at this point in the morning, after eleven cups of coffee, that I began to think about airport wheelchairs. Why do they always appear to have come off of Noah’s Ark? If they are not minus a foot-pedal, they are missing an armrest, a few spokes, or a seat. If it wasn’t so early, and I wasn’t so happy from caffeine, I might have been peeved.

As we made our approach into the Tucson airport, my wife pointed out that there was snow on the mountain tops. It was a strange sight, white against the backdrop of an endless red desert, red tiled roofs, and green golf courses. At the airport, we were met by a bald “punker” named Slash, who quickly loaded us onto an ancient bus, where I was strapped down, and we were on our way.

My first impression of Tucson was that it is a small town that forgot to stop growing. There are wide-open spaces throughout the city, covered only in cacti and sagebrush, while city parks are lush, green and accessible to everyone. The streets are wide, and laid out in a grid system, making it extremely easy to find all locations. The houses are mostly of the Mexican hacienda style, with no front lawns. A lawnmower is an unnecessary item in Tucson, but a knowledge in tending cacti is a must. Each front yard is dominated by various types of cacti, some sprouting yellow flowers, some purple, while amongst others, you could almost picture Wile E. Coyote chasing his nemesis.

Our main reason for choosing Tucson for a late winter holiday was sunshine and baseball. Tucson is home to no fewer than three professional baseball teams in the spring, playing in the Cactus League. Within 120 miles, there are seven more teams. For a huge baseball fan, such as myself, Tucson is paradise. Now I just had to convince my wife that she was going to enjoy herself.

Before seeing our first ball game on Sunday, we decided to drive to the town of Tombstone on Saturday. After 50 miles of bumper to bumper freeway traffic, we exited on a secondary highway, happy to relax and sight see for the final 25 miles. I was excited to be going to ‘The Town too Tough to Die’, as Tombstone loves to bill itself, but didn’t know what to expect.

We started with lunch at OK Café, where waiters and waitresses are dressed like cowboys and gals. The menu was simple but good, and the atmosphere was friendly and very western. A small ramp had been erected at the front door to make the place accessible. It was just a small thing, but thoughtful and helpful.

Tombstone is most famous for its ‘Shootout at OK Corral’, between Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers and the local gangsters, the Clantons. Anyone unfamiliar with this piece of history can read numerous books on the event, rent several movies on the topic, or better yet, you can see a re-enactment of the shootout every day at 2:00 p.m., in the real OK Corral. For five dollars, we watched several actors recreate various old West situations, each ending in gunplay, with the final act being the OK Corral fiasco. It was an entertaining performance, sprinkled with humor and historical information.

Afterwards, we toured the many shops of Allen Street, impressed with the beautifully ramped curbs and shops, where you can find every conceivable knick-knack ever made in the Western World. Apart from the usual items such as T-shirts, key chains, hats and coasters, there were taxidermied rattlesnakes, scorpion paperweights, cowboy gear, and an infinite number of crystals and semiprecious stones. There are also several art galleries and restaurants, along with The Bird Cage Theater (bullet holes still visible), Crystal Palace Saloon, and many other historical buildings that can be toured.

Perhaps the most unique sight in town is located in the Rose Tree Inn Museum; the world’s largest rosebush. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, this petite fleur, is absolutely amazing. Covering more than 8,000 square feet, this white Lady Banksia is a vision to behold when covered in millions of miniature white blossoms. In the afternoon Arizona heat, I was impressed at how cool it was sitting under the beautiful ‘tree’.

Our final stop of the day was Boot Hill Graveyard. Tombstones’ infamous cemetery is home to everyone that died of natural or unnatural causes during Tombstone’s heyday. Each cross not only has the person’s name, but the year s/he died, and the cause of death. For example: ‘Chin Lee – Hung by mistake, 1879′. Unfortunately, the cemetery is built on a hill (Boot Hill), and is entirely covered in soft gravel, making it almost impossible for a wheelchair to navigate.

The following day was the first of four consecutive days of baseball in two different ball parks. Hi-Corbett Field is located in the heart of Tucson, adjacent to a golf course and a large city park. As we pulled into the large paved parking lot (free), I couldn’t help but be impressed by the large number of parking stalls for the disabled. We quickly found our seats on the third base side, field level, and made ourselves at home.

We started by lathering on sun screen, finding our hats, digging out the spray bottle, and buying large lemonades. When the first pitch was thrown at 1:05, the large scoreboard read 75F with no wind. When you combined the heat, lack of breeze and aluminum siding we were seated on, the results were disastrous. By the fourth inning I had purchased, and drank, three large bottles of water, and was continuously going under the bleachers to cool off. By the time the game was over, I was sunburned and hallucinating. Oh yes, the Colorado Rockies beat the Anaheim Angels 7-4.

For game two at Tucson Electric Park, we were much better prepared. We brought along almost four gallons of cool water, along with our usual stash of heat protection equipment. Ironically, we wouldn’t need it in the ultra modern park. Not only was most of the wheelchair seating shaded, a blessing at 83F, but it was also about 35 rows up from the field, meaning a steady breeze was upon us for most of the game.

Pam and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, chatting with people from Washington state seated near us, and munching on ball park franks, soft tacos and sno-cones. If there is a downside to the new park, it is that they charge three dollars for parking, and there is only one ramp from the parking lot to the stadium. A ridiculous oversight considering the lot must hold more than a thousand cars. Oh yes, the White Sox beat the Mariners 9-3.

After two more ball games, we were ready to get back to nature. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum proved to be the remedy we needed. Spread over several square miles, this museum/zoo is home to numerous local animals, birds, reptiles and insects. We spent several hours wandering the winding paths, awed by the massive Saguaro cacti, thrilled by the great number of animals in large outdoor natural settings, and mesmerized by the aquariums of snakes, lizards, tarantulas and scorpions.

The last enclosure was perhaps the most impressive. It was a large mesh tent, home to hundreds of hummingbirds. The best part being that anyone could venture through the tent, seeing the flying fairies at extremely close range. Two benches in the middle made an ideal spot for sitting and counting the various types of birds. It was a serene way to end a relaxing day.

The following day we were informed by one of the locals that the best area to see wildlife in the desert, was in Saguaro National Park at dusk. So after a large Mexican supper (again), we aimed our rented minivan toward the park.

Upon arrival we learned there was a nine-mile circular drive, so we eagerly followed the signs. The single lane road twisted and curved through the desert, allowing us close up views of thousands of cacti, numerous rabbits and amazing glimpses of the setting sun. Near the end of our drive, just as the sun disappeared, we were thrilled to see a large family of javelinas crossing the road in front of us. They are a pig-like animal found in the desert, but not actually a member of the pig family. We both agreed it had been well worth the drive.

Our final two days in Tucson were rainy and cold, with the upper elevations receiving large amounts of snowfall. So we did what most tourists would do; shopped for souvenirs, read Agatha Christie, and ate.

Our room at La Quinta Inn was good, if a touch small, but had a small table that I could get my legs under easily. The washroom was good with a high sink, raised toilet and bath with telephone shower head. Since continental breakfast was included, my wife, Pam, would usually bring coffee, fruit and a muffin back to the room for us.

As a holiday destination, Tucson is interesting and fun. In addition, the city is easy to get around in, and very wheelchair friendly. Admittedly however, we chose not to use public transportation, and instead rented an accessible mini-van. For the more adventuresome, the Mexican border is only 60 miles south, and Phoenix is two hours north. As for things to do and points of interest, Pam and I saw only a small sampling.

The downside however is the high cost of motel rooms (our’s, a La Quinta Inn was moderate at A$89 a night), the weak Canadian dollar, and the simple fact that getting to Tucson is tricky. There is always one stop or transfer if going by plane, making for a long day.

As we flew through the terrible snow storm and turbulence on the way home, and as I wrote out my last will and testament, I could understand why so many Canadians winter in Arizona. But as a ‘true’ Canadian, I know there is something exhilarating about living through 120 consecutive days of minus 30…..not.