arizona

Tucson, Arizona


Tucson is the second-largest city in the state of Arizona. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, is has slightly cooler temperatures than its desert cousin, Phoenix. It is situated in the biologically diverse Sonoran Desert.

Tucson has always been a crossroads. Until recently, water was relatively plentiful in Tucson, in spite of its location in the middle of a desert. This made it an important travel route, an agricultural center, and a communications nexus.

Tucson's history is ancient, with evidence of human occupation stretching back 10,000 years. Between A.D. 200 and 1450, the Hohokam culture dominated the area -- the Pima and Tohono O'Odham peoples that still occupy the area are descendants of the Hohokam. In 1699, Father Eusebio Kino, S.J., established the Mission San Xavier del Bac, southwest of present-day Tucson. Over the next 100 years, other missions were established in the area, but European presence was minimal.

It wasn't until 1775 that the Presidio of Tucson was created by Don Hugo O'Conor. At that time, it was the northernmost Spanish outpost in the New World. In 1821, Tucson became part of the new country of Mexico, and in 1853 it became part of the United States as a result of the Gadsden Purchase. In 1863, Arizona became a US territory, and by 1880, its population was around 8,000. In 1912, Arizona became the 48th state to enter the union.

Today, Tucson is still a crossroads, with European, Native American, Mexican, and Asian cultures bumping into one another, in sometimes conflicting and sometimes compatible -- but always interesting -- ways.

things to do in Tuscon:

Sabino Canyon
Spectacular desert canyon cut into the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, now on Tucson's northern urban fringe.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
More like Biosphere II than a walled institution, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part zoo, part natural history museum and part botanical garden all in one Tucson attraction. From tarantulas to black bears, coyotes to scorpions, the museum-zoo is an entrancing and full-contact tribute to the Sonoran desert's wildlife (the wire fences are nearly invisible and the hummingbirds in the buzzing, walk-in aviary seem to think you are the attraction). Give yourself time to soak in the Southwest splendor and if time is all you have, the Museum is also on the fringes of Saguaro National Park, home to the world's largest forests of Saguaro cacti.

Saguaro National Park
The most dense forest of the iconic cactus of the American West. The park has two unconnected units to the east and west of Tucson.


Tohono Chul Park
"Tohono chul" means "desert corner" in the Tohono O'Odham's (desert people's) language, and this haven in the midst of Tucson's burgeoning north side offers a tea room, gift shop, book store, and art gallery in the middle of trails and gardens. There are extensive botanical exhibits explaining the native plants, and a wonderful plant-sale area in which to buy them for your own garden. Many kinds of desert birds are frequent visitors.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
The "White Dove of the Desert" is a Tucson mission. Pure white and pristine against a hot desert backdrop, and still heady inside its elaborately colored and muraled interior from centuries of supplication, the Mission San Xavier del Bac was finished in 1797 when Arizona was still New Spain. It has recently been cleaned and restored by professional art conservators who worked with and trained members of the community.

Old Tucson Studios
Ever notice that Hollywood's Old West, the backdrop for the gun-slinging and cryptic comments of Hollywood's Western icons -- Wayne, Eastwood, Douglas and Newman -- has much in common with the Wild West of today's Tombstone and Geronimo? They've all been filmed at the Old Tucson Studios, originally built in 1939 for the making of the William Holden vehicle "Arizona." Still an active film, TV and commercial set, it's also a nostalgia-themed park, with main drag shootouts, corseted can-can dancers, educational shows, pre-Prohibition saloons, restaurants and gift shops.

El Tiradito (The Castaway)
On South Granada Avenue at West Cushing Street, Tucson, AZ. El Tiradito is the only shrine to a sinner in North America. In the 1880s, a young man had an affair with his mother-in-law. When caught in the act, his father-in-law shot him and he stumbled from bed and ran out of the house. He dropped dead on this spot, and because he had not confessed his sins, he could not be buried in the church yard. His family and friends interred him where he fell, but remembered him with candles and flowers. People still burn candles and leave offerings today. The shrine is located in what remains of Tucson's barrio (much of which was destroyed when the Tucson Convention Center was built). Best visited at dusk or after dark.

Kitt Peak National Observatory
Kitt Peak National Observatory is one hour southeast of Tucson. A "don't miss" for the astronomy buff, there are several astronomical telescopes plus a large solar telescope. There are tours available.

Pima Air & Space Museum
Features over 250 historic aircraft.

Titan Missile Museum
Site south of Tucson preserves a Cold-War-era underground silo housing an unarmed Titan-II ICBM. Part of a larger field of such silos, this was one of the places from which nuclear war on the Soviet Union would have been waged.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
This beautiful oasis in the heart of Tucson was originally the home of Bernice and Rutger Porter. Dating to the 1920s, the earliest buildings on the property were constructed of adobe bricks made right on site. True to the vision of Mrs. Porter, Tucson Botanical Gardens is a place of beauty, inspiration and education about the natural world.

Kartchner Caverns State Park
artchner Caverns State Park, opened in 1999, is one of Arizona's newest wonders. Kartchner Caverns is a stunning limestone cave system considered one of the top ten in the world. Discovered in 1974 by explorers Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen, and not revealed until 1988, the opportunity existed to preserve the caverns in near pristine condition.

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