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.
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 98ºF and lows near 70ºF. 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