Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tucson Parks

There's a bit I once saw on Family Guy in which Peter takes a helicopter tour of Tucson. "Oh look, it's a park that's been paved over!" he says as he looks down, bored, from the helicopter. A few seconds later he passes over the same "paved-over park" again.

Family Guy makes fun of Tucson a lot. I think it's because they've made fun of everywhere else, and all the other places got offended. Tucson, on the other hand, seems self-aware enough to know that it's a town in the middle of the desert, so it doesn't seem to have a terribly high opinion of itself. I'm sure the town isn't universally humble but, come on, it's Tucson.

That said, last week I started riding my bike from one park to another in town for research. In the end I discovered that, holy crap, Tucson's parks are kind of great. Peter doesn't know what he's talking about.

I should clarify a couple of things before I start describing these parks. First, most of my park experience is from Louisiana. I've been to a few parks I enjoyed as a kid, but looking back I wonder if those parks were really just poorly maintained, yet I didn't care because I was a kid, with a kid's standards. Second, again, this is Tucson: the front yards of my neighborhood are all displays of rocks of one type of another, with the different colors of rocks helpfully indicating where one property begins and another one ends.

Which beings me to the first note about the parks I visited: they are all covered in lush, green, healthy grass. It was kind of shocking for me. People in other places tend to take grass for granted, but around here it's a rare sight. At my house we have a 20' x 20ft patch of grass that's quite a luxury and required regular maintenance. The fact that the parks here are grassy at all says a lot about the care Tucson puts into its parks.

Also, several of the parks I went to were HUGE, just acres and acres of grass, dotted with trees, benches, tables, baseball fields, and other recreational structures. At least two of the parks had multiple playgrounds and you couldn't see one from the other. Seriously, I was wondering around these parks, surprised to stumble into another, different playground after have just left one.

These playgrounds were fascinating to me. They tend to be the only part of a park (other than recreational areas for things like tennis or basketball) that specifically don't have grass. Instead they have sand, wood chips, or (best of all) this material that looks like cement but is actually soft and springy.

Every playground structure I saw was unique. There were common elements here and there: many had monkey bars, and they all had slides of one type of another. Many had steering wheels. However, the shapes, colors, and themes were all different,and they varied wildly in size. More than anything, though, they looked like a lot of fun, and I would have had a blast at these parks as a kid.

There was plenty there to enjoy as an adult, too. Even if you're not into sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, or whatever, there were other nice things to do. In addition to walking and biking paths, there were sometimes exercise areas with signs telling you how to use the various structures, complete with diagrams and recommended routines. Or, if exercise isn't a goal, one of the parks had large duck ponds to admire (dunno what ducks are doing in Tucson--are they lost?), creeks, an amphitheater, and a rose garden.

I didn't get to explore even a fraction of the parks in Tucson, but the ones I happened to see made me like this town just that much more.

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