Tucson, Arizona

Tucson is a small city in the southern Arizona desert

Tucson (pronounced Too-sawn) is small city located in southern Arizona about 100 miles south of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the Mexican border. It is situated on a flat desert valley nearly surrounded by barren, rugged mountains. Like Phoenix, it has become a retirement community for elderly citizens that appreciate the year-round warm weather and inexpensive living. It is less congested than Phoenix and well situated for tourists wishing to explore the many surrounding attractions.

The climate in Tucson is always dry with temperatures ranging from warm to extremely hot. The city normally receives less than 25 cm of rainfall per year. Daytime temperatures can exceed 45 deg. C during the Summer with a much more pleasant 20 - 25 deg. C during the winter months. High tourist season extends from November through March. Fall and Spring are good times to visit this area if you want to avoid the tourist crowds.

Mike meets Wyatt Earp © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Mike meets Wyatt Earp in Tombstone

Giant Saguaro cactuses abound in this desert

The surrounding desert is filled with giant Saguaro cactuses that stand up to 10 meters high. (pronounced Sa-war-owe) You can drive through forests of these cactuses or hike the many trails in Saguaro National Park located just outside of the city. The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, located about 15 miles west of the city near Old Tucson at the southern entry to Saguaro National Park, is a great place to experience the flora and fauna of the surrounding desert. It is open 8:30AM until 6PM daily and admission costs about $9.

Old Tucson is a simulated western town originally constructed as a film set for cowboy movies. Today it is a theme park with entertainment, restaurants, gift shops and many actors dressed in western costumes. It is open daily from 10AM until 5PM. Admission is about $15. It can be great fun to experience this tourist oriented cowboy theme park, but I think Tombstone is much more authentic.

Tombstone is an authentic old-west town

Tombstone, Arizona is an hour-and-half drive from Tucson across the desert and into the sparsely populated rangelands that still support numerous cattle ranches. It is an authentic, old-west, gold-mining town best known as the site of the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". Main street has been restored as it was in 1881 when Wyatt and Virgil Earp along with Doc Holliday killed Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers in the famous shootout at the OK Corral. Most of the old buildings now contain restaurants, gift shops and tourist attractions, and the OK Corral has been enclosed and converted to a museum. Along the streets, actors in western costumes promote gunfight shows, old-west museums, saloons and stagecoach tours of the town. You can visit "Boot Hill", the graveyard at the edge of the town where 250 residents of Tombstone were buried, most of them murdered, killed by Apache Indians, shot in gunfights, lynched or legally hanged. Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers are buried there. Tombstone is very tourist oriented, but it is an authentic old west town well worth seeing. There is no admission charge to visit the town or Boot Hill.

The old Spanish Missions are well preserved

The mission San Xavier del Bac is located nine miles south of Tucson on the O'odham Indian Reservation. This eighteenth century mission is an excellent example of early Spanish colonial architecture and is still used by the local inhabitants for daily religious services. About 40 miles south of Tucson, the abandoned but well-preserved mission San Jose de Tumacacori is a National Historical Monument. It is located near the old Spanish settlement of Tubac, which is now filled with shops selling the works of local artists and craftsmen.

Twenty miles further south is the border town of Nogales, a great place to cross into Mexico for a few hours of shopping. Like most border towns, it is filled with shops and street vendors selling native pottery, jewelry, leather goods and gifts at very reasonable prices. Be careful where you eat and drink in any Mexican border town, as the water supply and sanitation may be lower quality than you normally expect.

San Xavier del Bac © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The mission San Xavier del Bac is located nine miles south of Tucson on the O'odham Indian Reservation.

You can visit the vast "Boneyards" of retired military aircraft

For a very different experience, visit the Pima Air Museum just south of the city. In addition to viewing their wonderful collection of military and civilian aircraft, you can take guided tours of the "Boneyards" at neighboring Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Over 5000 military aircraft including hundreds of huge B-52 bombers awaiting destruction are parked in endless rows at the Aerospace Maintenance and Reconstruction Center (AMARC). It is hard to even imagine so many aircraft parked in one place.

There are huge open pit copper mines near Sahuarita just south of Tucson and in Bisbee south of Tombstone. Both mines offer public tours. A 29-mile road winds its way up the Catalina mountains to the 3000-meter high peak of mount Lemmon where temperatures average 10 deg. C lower than the city below.

Some interesting activities in Tucson

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo is held in late February. The Yaqui Easter Ceremony combining Native American traditions with Christian beliefs occurs during Easter week in early Spring. The Tucson International Gem and Mineral Show is held in late February. It is the largest such event in the world, so hotel accommodations will be hard to find during those two weeks.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Steve Renzi / Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo Description: Tucson Skyline