Tucson hasn't aged gracefully.

I've always thought that the ancestors of the Tohono O'odham who settled the Tucson Basin must have lived here for the scenery. Surely they, like most of us who've come along later, realized that this is a tough place to make a living--not much game, lots of malaria and stunning, godawful, life-threatening heat for five months a year. (For them, there was no ice. No electricity at all. Think about it.)

It had to be the mountains, the changing colors at dawn and evening, the big cloud pileups of midsummer that kept them here. Like all us present-day light-junkies, your average pre-Conquest native person must have sat and watched the Tucsons turn dusky purple every night and thought, "It's totally against my better judgment, but, damn, I'm staying."

Almost everything about living here has gotten easier, but the views, sadly, are not what they were 4,000 years ago. There's the brown cloud, the bimbonic, drug-dealeresque mansions sprouting higher and higher up the slopes--I was astounded, coming in from the west the other day, to see that two Port-O-Manses now sit actually atop the Tucson Mountains north of Gates Pass--and, everywhere and all the time, the sheer screw-you hideousness of the city. There's no escaping the fact that Tucson is one ugly town.

This becomes more painfully obvious by contrast. Visit almost any other city and you'll find hideous sections, but mostly there's some character, some sense to what people have put up there--the built part will be at least interesting to look at. And I'm not talking foo-foo cities--your San Francisco or Paris--I'm thinking of Chicago, of Baltimore. These are places where you can walk for miles just enjoying the thousand variations on the basic idea of the brick wall.

What have we got that's worth looking at here? San Xavier, a few dozen Joesler buildings and a couple old neighborhoods around downtown. And that, my friends, is it.

Ugliness, on the other hand, we've got. Take the nearest major intersection to my house (please). That would be Craycroft and Speedway, and it's got my vote for Ugliest Intersection. Ever stopped and looked at it? Yes, of course you've stopped--like you had a choice--but have you looked? The eye tends always to be drawn upward, toward the mountains (whence comest our help) and the big clouds: What you see if you can stand to keep focused nearer the ground is something else again.

I took these photographs one clear, hot afternoon last August, when the nimbocumulus were foaming upward on every edge of the valley. I'm thinking of making a set of postcards: Vistas de Tucson.

Maybe we should have a contest for ugliest view in Tucson. Send your photo entries to mailbag@tucsonweekly.com or send them by regular mail to Ugly Tucson, Tucson Weekly, P.O. Box 2429, Tucson AZ 85702. We'll print the worst of the lot.

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