Great cities often have great parks.
There is New York’s Central Park. Atlanta has Piedmont Park, and Chicago has Lincoln Park.
Well, although Tucson may not seem quite as big as those larger towns, it is a great city, and it certainly has it’s very own great Park!
While Tucson definitely has many neighborhood spots of green and places for children to play or folks to walk their dog, there is one place that would, by most Tucsonans, unarguably be considered ‘The Park’ in Tucson; Reid Park.
Reid Park is named for the city of Tucson’s first Parks and Recreation director, Gene C. Reid. It is fairly substantial in size, with a total of 480 acres comprising the grounds and facilities; including the 17 acre Reid Park Zoo.
As a Tucson native I have many, many, wonderful memories of Reid Park. I spent countless hours here as a child and young adult, visiting for field trips, birthday parties, lazy Sunday afternoons, and swimming lessons. Reid Park has flourished as an important urban center that really keeps involved with Tucson’s citizens and visitors by offering something for everyone!
Some of the Facilities at Reid Park include:
* High Corbett Field
* DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center
* Reid Park Zoo
* The Rose Garden
* The Lake and Barnum Hill Waterfall
* The Tennis Facility
* The Randolph Golf Complex
* The Horseshoe Pitch
* The Aquatic Center
* The Dog Park
* The Playgrounds
* The bike and jogging track
As you can see, that is a fairly long list of attractions.
I probably have a story for all of them, and not enough time to tell each one (unless you feel like buying me a drink when you see me next).
Right now, I will share just a few.
One of my earliest memories of Reid Park is from a school field trip. We were going to visit the Zoo. The first thing I remember from that trip is the modern art sculpture that greets you as you turn into the park via Randolph Parkway. It is a giant, silvery thing that looks like a series of doors, with the final door open and framing the park in it’s gap. Now, I was only a child when I first saw this sculpture, but even then I think I grasped part of what the artist was trying to convey. The impression one gets is that there is a whole world behind the door, ready to be explored and enjoyed; sort of an Alice in Wonderland invitation to walking past the threshold. I certainly was excited to embark upon my own expedition as they let us off the bus.
I was not disappointed.
The second thing I remember is what I will simply call ‘The Turtles’. Oh! The Turtles! To my six year old self, the turtles were a magical wonder! What are they exactly? They are a group of four cement turtle sculptures that sit just off of the playground. They are about 3ft high and 5ft long, and to me as a child they seemed huge! You could climb on top of them and take an imaginary cruise on their back, or you could climb under them for shade, and create a turtle fort. You could lay claim to all four and be queen of the turtles or you could have friends who all owned the most amazing turtle pets!
Painted in bright colors and sporting smiling faces these artistic, climbable, slowpokes were, and still are, one of my favorite things at Reid Park.
Of course, having a chance to see the terrestrial beasts come to life at the Zoo was an even more amazing experience.
Reid Park Zoo is really a joy to visit. It contains over 500 animals; including giant tortoises. It also has a brand new Elephant exhibit. The elephants have been there for a while but their current habitat is part of a huge renovation to the park and is called Tanzania Expedition.
Another thing that is great about the park is the water features – Reid Park’s two lakes and the waterfall and creek that connects them together.
There is a large hill at the park named Barnum Hill. This hill basically separates the lake from the pond and has a waterfall system that acts as a giant pump and filter for the two of them.
You used to be able to rent paddle boats for the pond and paddle out to bird island, which you can no longer do; but there are still plenty of ducks and geese that love to be fed with your old bread crumbs and other tasty tid-bits.
Which brings me to my next story about Reid Park. I am letting you know, the names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent.
I had a friend named Penny, who really wanted a dog when we were younger. Instead, her parents bought her a gosling. I am not sure how a goose equated to an easier time than a dog, but I suspect that was the thinking. When Penny received the gosling it was cute enough, fluffy enough, and novel enough to be even better than a dog. She named it Sunny. Sunny was a real sweet heart; until he grew up. Once this bird had reached adulthood, it was not so pleasant. I have clear memories of running from the thing as it chased us around the backyard, honking and shrieking, and generally creating an air of menace. Have you ever been bit by a goose? It’s actually rather hard and can smart quite a bit. Finally, after many attempts to work around Sunny’s not-so-sunny disposition, Penny’s parents decided he had to go. It was either that or simply leave the backyard to waste away as an in-enterable territory ruled by the dark lord of feathered fiends.
For some reason, animal control would not take him. So drastic measures were planned. Sunny would be released into the wild, to assimilate with other geese, meet a goose wife, and raise little geese babies that would proudly carry on the family values of terrorizing small children. You see, though, in Tucson, the wild is the desert, and there are not many places where a goose can meet a decent goose girl and make a decent goose living. If the plan of relocation were to work we needed three things:
Enter, you guessed it, Reid Park. Reid Park had plenty of geese already calling it home. Surely, given the limited options, Sunny could integrate himself with the local citizenry and possibly impress the father of a lovely goose maiden. Sunny’s future seemed, well, sunny. Could you release a goose into the park? I’m pretty sure it was an option that would be frowned upon. Never the less, the adults in our lives wielded their power to make a desperate decision and the plan was made.
We left at sunset. The plan was to leave at twilight but Sunny was a wily and worthy opponent; it took four of us to get him into a cage and loaded into the car. He knew something was up and in his cunning he managed to knock us over several times and repeatedly slip right through our barrel holds. Finally though, we had him. At first, as we slowly pulled from the driveway, the honking was unbearable. I thought, this will never work, Penny’s parents are madmen, I shouldn’t be spending the night at these people’s house! Then, as if entranced by the motion of the car, Sunny did something I never saw him do before, he relaxed. Sitting there, in his cage, looking peaceful and quiet I remembered all the good times, from when he was fluffy and you could hold him without fear of loosing a finger. I almost felt like convincing my parents to let us adopt him. Then as the car braked somewhat hard, he snapped back into crazy mode and unbeknownst to him ruined any chance of remaining in a domestic paradise. No, I thought, that nutty bird has got to go.
We pulled up to Reid Park with very little light left in the sky. You could see a dim ribbon of moonshine across the lake’s surface. There was a soft wind and the gentle noises of the night – birds, lapping water, the ducks and geese of the park were walking lazily or lying about enjoying the cooling weather.
Sunny will never make it here, I thought gravely, it is a peaceful country, and he is like a raiding marauder. If anything, he will violently capture his bride, inciting the desire for revenge on the part of Reid Park’s Geese and live apart from them forever; on the wrong side of the hill.
It was a time I was happy to be a kid, and not have the fate of so many resting on my shoulders. The adults had resolved their course and now they would stick to it. We children were just along for the ride.
Penny’s father actually wore Camouflage. I am not kidding. He wore camouflage and a somber face. He handled the cage with the delicacy required of an armed bomb, which in a way, it was. I saw Sunny’s black eyes through the bars, shining wetly as he gazed around.
We were all speaking in whispers and there was a strange sense of anticipation and loss. Really, we all hated that goose, but somewhere inside I know we all felt guilty. What were we doing? We were about to do something possibly illegal, maybe bad for the ecosystem, and a duty to care for an animal you took in, was being shirked. Emotions were oscillating back and forth and hesitation was building a tension so thick it seemed more like High Noon than early evening.
I did the only thing I thought there was to be done. I said goodbye to Sunny and waited in the car.
Penny and I sat there with her mom, watching as a grown man dressed for war crawled on his knees and elbows as close to the park’s native geese as he could get, and softly, ever so softly, removed the latch and ushered Sunny into a new dawn.
As soon as he was out Penny’s father stood up and walked as briskly and furtively as he could back to the car. We sat there for a while, all of us, with our faces pressed to the windows, watching to see what would happen.
Sunny walked around, he seemed a little lost and alone. I was starting to tear up. Then, one of the other guess came to investigate him. I am not an expert on goose etiquette, but it seemed to go well. There was some noisemaking, there was some movement, and then they both began waddling towards the other geese. There did not appear to be any ill will in the exchange. However I will never know exactly what happened because we were already rolling out the park’s parking lot and into the lights of the city.
We talked for a while about how this was for the best. Well, the adults talked about it a lot, letting us know over and over, and that we should not be sad. Looking back they were probably talking a lot more to themselves in an attempt to rationalize the whole endeavor. Covert Operations can be traumatizing.
For many years after that evening, when I went to the park I would look for Sunny. It was more difficult than it would seem, to determine wether I was in fact seeing him there among the waterfowl. I mean, geese do all look a lot alike, and to be fair, most of my interaction with Sunny had been facing away from him; while running.
Still, I like to think of him living out his days in a place where he could be thoroughly goos-ish in all his ways. I like to think he found his goose maiden, and that today, when I go to the park, I see his Geese children running after the little kids, pushing them into the arms of their waiting parents to scoop them up and take them safely to the nearest picnic table.
Now that I am an adult. I appreciate one of the other attractions at the park a lot more than I did as a child. In fact, it is the perfect place to sit and reflect upon the past memories of my youth, such as the fate of Sunny the goose. This place is the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden blooms the most in the Spring months of March and April, and in the Fall for September and November. However, with over one hundred varieties of roses and eight hundred individual plants, you can find a beautiful blossom all year long. The colors and scents and amazing variety in shapes and size will dazzle the senses. The center of the garden features a large covered gazebo that had power and works beautifully as a peaceful spot to read, eat a quiet lunch, or simply contemplate. The garden is maintained by community volunteers and the Rose Society Tucson Chapter. It is also a popular spot for weddings.
Today I often visit the Rose Garden in the fall with my husband. You are not allowed to pick any of the roses, otherwise they would be gone and no one in the community could enjoy them, but it is a very romantic evening to walk hand in hand among the flowers and visit with each other without being pressed for time or having any modern distractions. It’s a great place to get to know someone and allow relationships, or friendships to blossom right along with the plants. My husband always enjoys hearing my stories.
To learn more about the Reid Park and where to stay while in Tucson Click on the Links Below:
I am including a video of the Reid Park Zoo Otters, because they are adorable and because they have always been one of my favorite exhibitions at the Zoo. If you ever do want to get together for that aforementioned drink I will be sure to tell you the story of the ‘Otters and the Magic Pink-Diamond Ring’. 🙂