Warmth, wonderful warmth!

We spent a wonderful two weeks in Tucson, AZ thawing from our last two cold stops. I can see why Tucson is a great snowbird location! While the mornings are a bit nippy, by early afternoon it’s warm enough for a t-shirt or light sweatshirt. Everytime I saw a facebook post on the weather back east, I was torn between sympathy for everyone there and glee that I wasn’t there!

The majority of our stay was at Catalina State Park located at the base of the Catalina Mountains, about 30 minutes north of Tucson. After 8 months of living in various campgrounds and resorts, we’ve discovered that we really like the state and local park campgrounds, even without sewer hookups. The views, quiet, and space totally makes up for having to conserve water waste. There’s always so much space and lots of places to hike and explore at the state parks.


The view out our windshield at Catalina State Park

There are a fair number of activities to do in Tucson and we didn’t even come close to covering most our first time here. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we found we could save money on many attractions by buying the Tucson Attractions Passport for $18. The passport includes “buy one ticket get one free” offers for most attractions. If you plan to check out some of the popular attractions in Tucson, it’s definitely worth getting the Passport.

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum was great to visit.  There was a great program on raptors (birds of prey). They had some trained birds literally flying right above our heads while providing a lot of good information about them. They also had a really good program about the gila monster (venomous lizard in Arizona) and the rattlesnake. Basically it sucks to be bitten by these guys. If you do see them in the wild, simply give them a wide berth and they should leave you alone too. We’ll just need to keep a closer eye on Opie since he has quite a prey drive and I don’t think he would give a rattlesnake a wide berth! The museum is almost all outdoors with a lot of great sections on desert animals and plant life. We really enjoyed the museum although it really showcased the fact that the desert has some very unfriendly plant life!

Harris's Hawks

Harris’s Hawk at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

We had read mixed reviews about Biosphere 2 but decided to give it a go anyways. It’s a huge airtight structure that housed scientists for two years back in the early ’90s as an experiment in self-sustaining environments. The engineering for this structure is just mind-boggling. Since it was meant to be completely sealed, they built two “lungs” which expanded and contracted to maintain normal air pressure as the air inside the Biosphere would heat during the day and cool at night. Otherwise, the hot air during the day would expand the air so much it would pop the glass windows right out! They also built several habitats inside: desert, rain forest, savannah, ocean, and agricultural land. The University of Arizona now uses the Biosphere to run various earth science experiments: soil erosion, ocean changes, etc. The facility is pretty darn cool and seeing a mini rainforest is pretty amazing. I can see how some people might find the Biosphere boring but the whole concept was pretty fascinating to us.

Inside Biosphere 2

Inside Biosphere 2

One huge benefit to traveling is visiting family and friends. Mike has a cousin in Tucson who is an avid birdwatcher so we met up with him and did a nice drive and hiked the Sycamore Reservoir Trail on Mt. Lemmon. Brian gave us a completely different perspective on hiking, instead of looking down (to avoid tripping on rocks or stepping on tarantula), he taught us to look around at trees and listen for bird calls. He brought his scope so he could show us some of the native Tucson birds in the area.

Taking a break during our hike of the Sycamore Reservoir Trail on Mt. Lemmon

Taking a break during our hike of the Sycamore Reservoir Trail on Mt. Lemmon

We really had a great time hiking plus the drive on Mt. Lemmon has some gorgeous views and plummeting temperatures! We went hiking near the bottom so we were at around 5000 feet elevation. It was sunny and about 60 degrees, a perfect day for hiking. After the hike, we drove higher up the mountain. The temperature started dropping drastically as we went higher, then snow started showing up. Since it was Saturday, a lot of locals were out and sledding in the snow! At the top of Mt. Lemmon is a ski resort which is the most southern ski resort in the US. Lots more people were there throwing snowballs and walking around. The temperature dropped into the 30s and we were at about 9000 feet elevation by that time. There’s something very weird about hiking in light clothes on one part of the mountain, and seeing snow on another part of the mountain.

Rock formation along the drive up Mt. Lemmon

Rock formation along the drive up Mt. Lemmon

We really love Tucson and all it has to offer. Actually we enjoyed it so much that after a brief stay in Quartzsite AZ, we’ll be back in Tucson for another 1.5 weeks! Can’t wait to see what else Tucson has in store for us.


  1. John Abert   •  

    We’ve actually been to the Boisphere twice and found it fascinating each time. I guess there’s no accounting for people’s boredom or lack of interest in learning. Another spot you might want to check out, is Kitt Peak Observatory, west of Tucson, and also they have a great air museum in Tucson. As far as the critters, Truck Camper Magazine just had a fantastic article about rattlesnake aversion training for dogs, which is also in Tucson. The class only takes a few hours and costs $80, and can save your dog’s life as well as yours. We are going to go through it when we get out there next winter.

    • Kat   •     Author

      John, we really liked the Biosphere too. It’s pretty mind-boggling what they created plus all the engineering feats required to make the building air-tight. We definitely want to hit the Kitt Peak Observatory when we’re back in Tucson, especially since McDonald Observatory was a bust due to snow and clouds. I hadn’t heard of rattlesnake aversion training, I will definitely have to look into that. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Debbie   •  

    I’m glad you went to Biosphere too. I also found it fascinating! I haven’t seen the observatory yet, but we will this April. We also loved Karchner Caverns State Park. Great camping and you’d love the 2 fairly level treks you can do in the Caverns. There not your usual cavern. They are living, and are tropical feeling inside. Really cool! The campground also has a couple hiking trails. There are many ghost towns, Old Tucson, Tombstone, Bisby and the Queens Cave is pretty cool too. Lots to do!

    • Kat   •     Author

      Debbie, cool! We’ll have to see if we can do Karchner Caverns this time around. If not, we’ll add it to our map of things to do so we don’t forget it next time we’re in the area, it sounds like a spectacular place to visit. We were hoping we might hit Tombstone too but with so many things to do in Tucson, I don’t think we’ll have to time to get to it all this time around. Course that just means we’ll have to come back and visit again.

  3. John R   •  

    Generally speaking temperature can be expected to drop about 3-5 degrees F for very thousand feet of elevation gained. As you travel the mountains of The West, watch for changes in the kinds of plant species growing at various levels! (we’ll make biogeographers of you two yet!) :-)

    • Kat   •     Author

      We’re already noticing the changes in species. It is most obvious with the trees and greenery. Everything is mostly scrubs, cactus, and very low growing trees, then all of a sudden we start seeing these huge evergreens and even some grass. It’s pretty cool. I don’t know about biogeographers, my response is usually…”whoa, cool” :)

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