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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.