TUCSON AND SOUTHERN ARIZONA

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block includes several of Tucson's oldest adobe houses, now restored with historical and art exhibits, along with a spacious exhibit hall. Highlights include works from Pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, Latin American folk art, Western, modern, and contemporary collections. Visiting shows appear as well.
  • Arizona Historical Society Museum recreates Arizona's history with very imaginative exhibits.
  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum uses highly realistic enclosures to display the wildlife and flora of the Sonoran Desert. You're likely to see such elusive animals as desert bighorn sheep, black bear, jaguar, javelina, and river otter. Walk-in aviaries let you get close to hummingbirds and other birds. This is Tucson's top "Must-See"!
  • Catalina Highway/Sky Island Scenic Byway sweeps you from the Sonoran Desert to cool aspen and fir forests atop one of Arizona's "sky islands." The paved highway begins from the north edge of Tucson and climbs past viewpoints, picnic areas, campgrounds, hiking trails, and the nation's southernmost ski area.
  • Sabino Canyon's creek flows year-round, creating a lush oasis beneath towering canyon walls. A shuttle tram provides easy access.
  • Pima Air & Space Museum displays hundreds of aircraft from WW II to the present in the nation's largest private aviation collection. Famous planes include a gleaming B-17 bomber from WW II and a supersonic SR-71 Blackbird. You can take a tour inside the VC-118A/DC-6 used by presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Exhibits relate stories of the men and women who flew the planes.
  • Mission San Xavier del Bac, full of wonderful folk art, has served the Tohono O'odham Indians since the days of the Spanish in the late 1700s. A small museum highlights the church's history.
  • Fort Huachuca Museum relates what life was like for the soldiers, officers, families, and Indian scouts who served here. Buildings from the 1880s still surround the parade ground.
  • Tombstone, "the town too tough to die," is straight out of the Old West. Daily shows reenact the OK Corral gunfight and other violence that took place here. You can stroll the boardwalks, enter the old saloons, head over to Boot Hill, and even get your own Epitaph. Exhibits in the 1881 Bird Cage Theatre and the 1882 courthouse shed light on the momentous events and everyday life of early Tombstone.
  • Bisbee, tucked deep in canyons of the Mule Mountains, became a wealthy town in the early 1900s from its copper mines. A stroll along its narrow, winding streets will turn up many fine examples of solid commercial buildings and fanciful Victorian houses. You can take a ride inside the Copper Queen Mine—the most famous of all—and see how the miners did their work.
  • Chiricahua National Monument contains fanciful rock features that have weathered from the volcanic rock. You can see these on a scenic drive and on a network of hiking trails.
  • Amerind Foundation Museum, secluded among boulders of Texas Canyon, displays exceptional archaeological and ethnographic exhibits on American Indian cultures.
  • Kartchner Caverns State Park offers two tours in a living cave full of almost every type of cave feature known.

Tucson (TOO-sawn), with a metropolitan population of more than 900,000, may be "number two" in size among Arizona's cities, but it's a favorite for residents and visitors who appreciate the history, culture, and recreation of the "Old Pueblo." It's far older than Phoenix, and you'll see many reminders of the Spanish legacy while exploring the historic districts in town. A strong sense of history pervades the entire region. Good places to experience the Spanish heritage include Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, and the mission ruins of Tumacacori National Historical Park, all south of Tucson. In the southeastern corner of Arizona, you may feel the presence of the great chief Cochise, who once led the Chiricahua Apache without ever losing a battle. Later Apache did lose their fights, and you can learn about them and the troops who fought them at a fine museum at Fort Huachuca. The Old West lives on as well, in the dozens of abandoned mining camps, on the ranches where cowboys still work huge spreads, and at the OK Corral in Tombstone where the Earps and Doc Holliday shot it out with the Clantons. Allow time to explore southern Arizona. It's a big land with many attractions.
 

PLANNING YOUR TIME

On a short visit, you'll probably find it most convenient to base yourself in Tucson, which has many attractions and good public transportation. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum just west of town tops most visitors' lists as a "Must See." It's an outstanding collection of native wildlife and flora in a lovely setting. Tucson's long history invites exploration of the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block and surrounding neighborhoods. Your imagination will take flight among the more than 250 historic aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum—the largest private collection in the country. If you'd like to stretch your legs and enjoy nature, head in almost any direction! The stream-fed Sabino and Bear Canyons in the Santa Catalinas to the north offer hikes among lush vegetation and soaring rock walls. Or you can drive higher into these mountains for panoramas, hiking, camping, and the nation's southernmost ski area. Saguaro National Park has two units—west and east of Tucson—with splendid trails and scenic drives among the towering saguaro. The Santa Ritas to the south include the highest summit in the area—9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson—and, on a peak just to the south, the telescopes of Whipple Observatory.
    The southeastern corner of Arizona, which you can tour on trips of one or more days, holds some of the state's most atmospheric sites, such as the picturesque Spanish mission ruins at Tumacacori National Historical Park, the neat rows of 19th-century buildings at Fort Huachuca that date from the Indian Wars, the copper-mining town of Bisbee with its elegant early 20th-century buildings packed into narrow canyons, and the Old West town of Tombstone famed for it boisterous past. The Huachuca Mountains and other "sky islands" poke up in this region with abundant wildlife and exceptional birding opportunities. The maze of whimsical rock features farther east at Chiricahua National Monument enchants visitors on trails and the scenic drive.
    Southwest of Tucson, you'll see the white domes of some of the more than two dozen telescopes atop Kitt Peak, which has a paved road to the top, a visitor center, and guided and self-guided tours. Farther west, you'll see desert flora in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that grows nowhere else in the country.
    Astonishing varieties of birds, animals, and plants find niches in southern Arizona's rugged topography. Some species, such as the whiskered senita cactus and the colorful trogon bird, have migrated north from Mexico and are rarely seen elsewhere in the United States. The combination of clear, dry air and the many mountain ranges provides excellent observing conditions for astronomers. It's said that more of them live within a 50-mile radius of Tucson than in all the rest of the world! As you head farther into the southeastern corner of Arizona, elevations and precipitation rise enough to support grasslands.
    Summers are warm in Tucson and surrounding desert areas, but not as hot as those in Phoenix or Yuma. Temperatures peak in June and July with highs generally near 98F and lows near 70F. Even in the depths of winter, you'll often enjoy spring-like weather, with average highs in the mid-60s and lows in the upper 30s. Of the 11 or so inches of annual rainfall, over half falls in the July-September rainy season. Four ranges—the Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas, Huachucas, and Chiricahuas—have peaks over 9,000 feet and offer delightful weather in summer and deep snow during the winter.

On to Tucson