Tucson for Hiking and History

Our trip to Tucson for hiking and history included fabulous food, perplexingly alien Saguaro forests, and other awesome natural vistas.

We flew to Phoenix – Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (IWA) from Kansas on Allegiant Air.  It was my first flight in years, and I am pretty sure I could have driven to Phoenix in the same amount of time.  That’s an exaggeration, but we did hit “weather” and had to go around… none-the-less the flight was just a few minutes late arriving in Phoenix.  I opted for the emergency row and it was worth the extra $20.  It seems that most people have nothing good to say about airlines, so I’ll try to counter that perception with the following:  the flight attendants were super, the alcoholic beverages were reasonably priced, and the pilots did a great job flying the jet!  Allegiant did a fine job and the flights are very reasonably priced.  No complaints here!

We landed in Phoenix at about 10:00 P.M., picked up our Enterprise rent-a-car without incident, and made it to the Courtyard Phoenix Mesa Gateway Marriott in minutes.  We were lucky that we got a free night, courtesy of our Marriott branded Chase Visa card. The Courtyard is a great place to stay if you’re taking a late flight into Phoenix.  The room was lovely– all new modern design and huge showers.  On the flip side, I am not partial to any hotel that does not provide round the clock coffee service in the lobby….  What are they thinking?

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, and Off to Tucson We Go

The next day we started for Tucson, under blazing blue skies.  The bougainvillea blooming along the highway was a welcome reminder of Florida.

First on our agenda in Tucson was a drive through the grounds of the University of Arizona—reconnaissance for a friend who was thinking of attending.  It has beautiful, lush, landscaping:  fig trees, Italian cypress, orange trees, bougainvillea… all of the glorious hallmarks of Florida.  And that is where the similarity ends.   Driving off the campus is like driving onto the surface of the moon.  Dry, rocky, dusty.  Dry.  And I’ve heard so much about how Western dry air is wonderful and it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  I am here to tell you this is not true.  It’s hot hot hot.  And dry.

Where are the Trees?

Vista of desert Southwest with Saguaro cactus Tucson for Hiking and History and mountains in the distance.

Tucson Arizona Saguaro Cactus

There are no trees.  This is a deal breaker for me.  And the vaunted supply of myriad and varied birds that were a major focus of my interest in Tucson?  I don’t know where they were.  I saw three birds the entire time I was in Tucson.

To see forests of trees we had to wind our way into the mountains, past the forest of Saguaro cactus in the Saguaro National Forest.  The mountains are beautiful– at an altitude of about 5000 feet air is  cooler and vistas of blue skies and evergreen and deciduous trees surround you.  The rock formations made for excellent rock-climbing opportunities and we saw several groups making their way up and down the formations.  Staying with our trip plan to visit Tucson for hiking and history, we chose to use the easier hiking trails rather than the arduous rock climbing.  Nonetheless, we were rewarded with stunning vistas that continued for hundreds of miles.

Long vista with blue skies showing rock climbers and the windng road into the mountains, Tucson for Hiking and History

Rock climbers in the mountains above Tucson, Arizona

If you’re interested in history, architecture, or Spanish missions in North America, a visit to Tucson should include a road trip to the Spanish Mission Church San Xavier del Bac, the “White Dove of the Desert.”

The bright white stucco of teh San Xavier Mission in Tucson, Arizona glitters against the dark blue sky. Tucson for Hiking and History.

The San Xavier Mission In Tucson Arizona is a National Historic Landmark

The Mission is a National Historic Landmark.  It still offers regular church services and is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  The San Xavier mission was founded in 1692 and the construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.  The interior of the church is replete with paintings and statuary, and is undergoing restoration.

The Mission Xavier interior is ornately carved with depictions of saints. Tucson for Hiking and History.

Beautifully carved interior of Mission Xavier in Tucson, Arizona.

Things to do and see in Tucson:

The University of Arizona campus is lovely and is a great place to spend a few hours wandering about.

The Saguaro National forest has to be seen to be believed. It is acres and acres and acres dominated by huge cactus… one of the most unusual natural landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Mountain Biking

Bird Watching

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Where to Eat:

Baggin’s Gourmet Sandwiches   What a great little place to eat!  Just a short walk from the hotel, fresh sandwiches and snacks, friendly staff, indoor and outdoor seating.

Guadalajara Fiesta Grill  I love Mexican food, and I especially love really good Mexican food!  This hits my top ten for best Mexican food, and bonus, salsa is made fresh to your taste at tableside!

Where to Stay:

Courtyard Marriott in Phoenix: Beautifully remodeled deluxe hotel using a free night from my Marriott Rewards points.  No coffee service in the lobby ☹

Courtyard Tucson Williams Centre (Marriott): It’s not as nice as the Phoenix hotel, but clean and with a beautiful outside courtyard to sit and enjoy the many rushing streams.  No coffee service in the lobby ☹

How to Get There and Get Around:

Allegiant Air —We have found Allegiant to be reasonably priced and reliable. The flight attendants are uniformly nice (and frequently entertaining), and they offer alcoholic beverages at reasonable prices — no cash, so bring a credit card!

Enterprise Rent-A-Car—We have used Enterprise on several occasions. We were able to quickly obtain our car right at the airport, no hassles or surprises.

Music to Visit by:

Rock’n Me, Steve Miller Band

Biggest Disappointments:

I love birds and expected to see many different species as we made our way around Tucson and into the mountains. Tucson has many varieties of birds, they were just not there when I was!

In retrospect, I should have internalized that Tucson is the desert southwest – it was unreasonable to expect lush landscapes and lots of trees.

Tucson is not for me.  It’s a growing and vibrant city, and many people love it.  I, however, am definitely in the “glad I visited, really don’t want to live there,” camp.

Indy naturally has a totally different opinion and plenty to say on the subject! Retire in Tucson?

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