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Southern Arizona Is A Perfect Blend Of History & Adventure

True, northern Arizona may boast the Grand Canyon and the middle is infused with the energy of the big city, but as far as the perfect blend of culture and outdoors is concerned, Tucson hits the sweet spot. It’s just what happens when simple geography – five mountain ranges encircle the city, creating a basin swept by cooling breezes – mixes with vibrant Native American, Spanish, Mexican and pioneer roots. Take a close look and you’ll fall in love with Southern Arizona, its  communities and the landscape of mountains and rolling desert grasslands.

Must See, Must Do

  • Hike the Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro National Park after a summer monsoon rainstorm.
  • Tour the world class Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Arrive early – cool mornings are the best time to find the animals active.
  • Attend the “Christmas at San Xavier” concert featuring live performances by the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Sons of Orpheus Choir at Mission San Xavier del Bac.
  • Watch a sunset from the scenic overlook at Gates Pass.
  • Dig into a Sonoran Hot Dog – a juicy all-beef frank topped with bacon, tomatoes, mayonnaise, beans, mustard, grilled onions and jalapeño sauce is a tradition at a University of Arizona Wildcats Baseball game.

Step Into History

What’s not to love about a city so rich with history that it goes by the nickname the “Old Pueblo,” a turn of phrase honouring its importance as the crossroads in the settlement of the western frontier? Southern Arizona has deep roots in the ranching and homesteading traditions that opened up the West. It’s on dude ranches, working cattle ranches that open their gates to visitors, in mining towns like Bisbee and iconic Old West settlements like Tombstone. More steps into history:

  • Look for the turquoise stripe on the sidewalk to follow history along the free Presidio Trail self-guided walking tour. The four-kilometre trail begins at The Tucson Presidio – the re-created adobe-walled fort that marks what once was the northern frontier of the Spanish empire in the Americas. The Presidio is also the site of Living History Days (October through April, excluding December) with demonstrations of pioneer skills, storytelling and military drills as practiced by 18th-century Spanish colonial soldiers.
  • The Arizona State Museum is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the American Southwest. The museum is home to some of the state’s archaeological collections including more than 25,000 pieces of woven American Indian basketry, the world’s largest collection of whole vessel Southwest Indian pottery and one of the country’s top Navajo textile collections.
  • The wide-open desert grasslands surrounding the town of Sierra Vista are rich with colonial and frontier history. Just to the south is the spot where Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado began his conquest for gold and the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. This historical era is preserved at the Coronado National Monument where there are displays of recreated Spanish amour and weapons.
  • From the moment you arrive in Willcox (132 kilometres east of Tucson), you know you’re someplace where care has been taken to preserve the heritage of the Old West. In 2013, Willcox placed third in True West Magazine’s list of Top 10 Western Towns – the town has a long history as a centre of the cattle industry. Every October, Willcox holds Rex Allen Days to celebrate the life of the hometown country and western singer.
  • The National Historic Landmark of Fort Huachuca preserves an Old Post of the frontier era, a time in the late 1800s when the stone and adobe fort was built to protect the settlers from Geronimo and his Apache followers.
  • There are thousands of period photos and archives from Bisbee’s days of mining at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate). The historic district – including neighbourhoods of well-reserved Victorian homes – can be explored on a self-guided walking tour, a walking haunted tour and a tour in a hearse. Bisbee was a magnet for businessmen of all stripes during the copper mining boom; today it’s known for its distinctive galleries and shops selling one-of-a-kind creations by local artisans.
  • Each spring, scores of history enthusiasts arrive at Picacho Peak State Park (between Tucson and Casa Grande) to watch historic battle re-enactments of an Arizona Civil War skirmish and the New Mexico battles of Glorieta and Val Verde, complete with lifestyle demonstrations depicting soldiers in the 1860s Southwest.
  • Douglas with a long history of cattle ranching and the copper industry, was once home to some of the West’s wildest frontier action. At the Slaughter Ranch Museum explore the restored adobe home of a cattle baron, the washhouse, granary and commissary to get an idea of ranch life of at the turn of the 20th century. Downtown, a piece of Old West history is captured at the 1907 Gadsden Hotel. Architectural highlights include a stained glass skylight, Tiffany window and the lobby’s huge faux marble pillars.

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Bring The Kids

A family vacation to Tucson brings a string of surprises. The website has listed the city as a Top 10 Spring Break Destination for Families. Tucson was chosen because it offers families a host of activities for all age groups as well as kid-friendly travel amenities, such as restaurants with special menus, hotels with pools and family vacation deals. More family-friendly activities:

  • Conde Nast Traveler named the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as one of the nation’s top museums with activities for “kids who love dinosaurs.” Families also love the museum’s behind-the-scenes tour to learn about the snakes, lizards, frogs, toads and spiders of the desert.
  • Kids will learn a bit about history, but the trip into the Copper Queen Mine, near Bisbee, is so cool that they’ll lap it up and want more. One-hour guided tours head deep into the mountain aboard an authentic narrow gauge train that once carried loads of copper.

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  • Flandrau Science Center (on the campus of the University of Arizona) is every science geek’s dream – kids love the planetarium and laser light shows. A new exhibit explores southern Arizona’s unique Sky Islands – the mountains that rise above the desert basins.
  • Kids (of all ages) love the movie sets and memorabilia, the stunt shows, gunfights and slice of the Wild West at Old Tucson, Hollywood's most famous western movie location. The recreation of a western frontier town has been the film site for more than 300 feature films and TV westerns.
  • The Pima Air & Space Museum – one of the largest aviation museums in the world – features more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft, including many of the most historically significant and technically advanced craft ever produced.
  • Kids love Gammons Gulch Movie Set & Museum in Benson, with its authentic Old West settings and action. Self-guided or personalized tours. atr216Metropolitan Tucson CVB

Cultural Connections

Tucson delivers on the culture front as well. It’s not just the number of events that impress, it’s the variety: think Native American artisans, Mexican music, Spanish cuisine and a touch of Old West fortitude. Galleries, plays, concerts exist in near-perfect harmony.  More cultural connections:

  • Arizona State Museum presents the annual
 Southwest Indian Art Fair, 
Southern Arizona’s premier art show and market of Native American crafts. More than 200 artists display their culture, performance, food and handmade artwork including pottery, Hopi katsina dolls, paintings, jewelry, baskets, rugs and blankets.
  • The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is now the largest gem and mineral show in the United States. More than 125 exhibitors sell all kinds of gems, minerals, fossils, lapidary items and jewelry.
  • The horses outnumber the contestants at the annual Tucson Rodeo – also called La Fiesta de los Vaqueros/The Celebration of the Cowboys – one of the top-25 professional rodeos in North America. Since 1925, this major event has attracted visitors who come to experience an authentic frontier lifestyle.
  • The Tucson Botanical Gardens (honoured as an America’s Best Secret Garden by Reader’s Digest) is an urban oasis of 17 specialty gardens built to showcase the responsible and appropriate use of plants and water in a desert environment.
  • An architectural landmark in Tucson’s northern foothills, the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun National Historic District is a collection of the work of acclaimed Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia who was known for capturing the spirit of the Southwest in his artwork.out1592Metropolitan Tucson CVB

Natural Resources

Southern Arizona’s mountain and desert landscape has everything you need to restore your perspective and place you back in the moment. There’s a whole lot more of the right things here and less of the not so right things: affordable ways to connect with nature, crowds are almost non-existent, friendly locals who want to “show and tell” the best of Southern Arizona with visitors. More about nature:

  • The new Rivers to the Sea exhibit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum highlights water in the Sonoran Desert.The displays, galleries and tanks are all about the importance of the freshwater rivers of the Sonoran Desert and the Sea of Cortez, all of which are critical to this landscape’s status as the “lushest desert on earth.”
  • The vast, lush Sonoran Desert is the only place to find giant saguaro cacti, famous symbol of the American West. More than 5,000 saguaro pepper the landscape in Catalina State Park on the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a 660-hectare nature preserve with trails, canyons and streams for hiking, biking, birding and horseback riding.
  • At the “living cave” at Kartchner Caverns State Park, bizarre cave formations include icicle-like stalactites and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground. The cave stays at an average temperature of 22° Celsius and 99 per cent humidity year-round.
  • Sabino Canyon (in the Coronado National Forest) serves up spectacular desert vistas and abundant wildlife. Locals know it as a favourite daytime hiking spot but it can also be visited on a nighttime tour – when nocturnal animals roam the cool desert floor.

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  • Ransey Canyon Preserve is renowned as a desert oasis right on the birds’ migratory flyway. Almost 500 species of birds fly through the area, including more than a dozen of Arizona’s species of hummingbirds.
  • The wilderness trails at Chiricahua National Monument (near Willcox) wind past pinnacles, spires and column rock formations formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The remote Chiricahua Mountains are also known for spectacular, dark night skies.
  • Tucked into the southwest corner of the state, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a showcase of desert life and has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve. The park is home to 26 species of cactus that thrive in the parched conditions.
  • With around 350 nights a year of clear skies, Tucson is known as an “astronomy capital of the world.” Kitt Peak boasts the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. Nightly tours at the Mt. Lemmon Skycenter guide visitors through stars, planets and constellations with binoculars, sky charts and telescopes. The San Pedro Valley Observatory. The observatory is open to the public and offers packages available for families, wannabe and experienced astronomers.
    • Southern Arizona is known as one of North America’s birding hotspots. Festivals and special events celebrate the abundance of bird species. Try the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival, the Tucson Audubon Society’s Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival, Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival and Wake Up with the Birds guided walks for beginning birders.
    • Douglas is surrounded by some of southern Arisona’s pristine wilderness. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, including some of the best birding in the U.S. Yellow-billed cuckoo, Bell’s vireo, Lucy’s warbler, yellow-breasted chat, black-throated sparrow, summer tanager have been spotted.

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