The film office of every state, every city, every country, likes to boast that its city, state etc. looks like every other neck of the woods in the wide world, with Johannesburg standing in for New York City and--I don't know, pick one--Dodge City subbing for the Champs-Elysees. Next thing you know, what with global warming, New Orleans will be doubling for Ice Station Zebra. This can get out of hand, but it is getting easier--what with a few splashes of CGI--to do a nip-and-tuck on Orion Avenue in Van Nuys and insert the Burj Khalifa. Not that they did that, but Tom Cruise would thank you if he could just hop across the street to Dubai from Charlies Weiners.
The last couple of weeks I've been spending some time in Oro Valley, something of a newish suburb north of Tucson. When I called Tucson home in the 1980s the town had recently incorporated. Now it's pushing 45,000 commuters. Still, there's some swaths that remain open and undeveloped. One of these is the charmingly-named Honey Bee Canyon. It's actually a wide wash that drains to the north. Follow the braiding ravines downstream and you'll find prehistoric rock art and jackrabbits the size of a--I kid you not--an Austin Mini. I was even trailed by a herd of cows that probably thought I had a bale of hay in my back pocket.
At sunset, I was struck by the dry, orange grass, the scattered dead-or-alive mesquite, and the looming ridgeline of the Santa Catalinas on the horizon. Remember the TV show "Cowboy in Africa" with Chuck Conners? Me neither, much. But it looked like that. The African savanna. Except that Chuck was busting wildebeests at Africa U.S.A. in California so I can only extend this analogy so far. But you get the idea.
The top photo is a classic pubic domain savanna shot from that continent across the pond. The bottom shot is Oro Valley; with a gazelle or two, could double in a pinch. The amazing thing is that Honey Bee Canyon is virtually surrounded by development. State Route 989 to the south, Oro Valley Hospital to the east, and a very un-Kalahari-like Safeway west.
Writer Ed Abbey used to say that when he could no longer pee off the front deck of his house, the neighborhood was getting too crowded. Ed could still manage that in Honey Bee Canyon, and pretend he was whizzing on a baobab while he was at it.