Guest Author - Candyce H. Stapen
Tucson, AZ, Adventures
By Candyce H. Stapen
In Tucson experience the desert, learn about Native American culture, and enjoy special museums that are gifts to the eye. In the red rock mountains that ring this city, the towering saguaros point the way into a landscape where jackrabbits and prairie dogs cool off in the shade of mesquite trees, javelinas leave tracks in the sand, and the wind carries the scent of pine.
Here the boulders reveal ancient petroglyphs, age-old secrets of the Hohokam Indians, "the vanished ones" who disappeared by the mid-15th century leaving behind only cliff dwellings, rock designs, and pottery shards.
Start your southwest tour at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 14 miles west of town. Part zoo and part botanical garden, the mostly outdoor facility displays more than 300 live animals and 1200 species of plants.
Walk through the grasslands to see prairie dogs, burrowing owls and rattlesnakes. Pick out the ocelots, bobcats, coyotes and jaguarundi sheltered in the rock grottos. Find out how the desert blooms by watching butterflies land on milkweed, and digger bees bore into a barrel cactus in the pollination garden. At docent demonstrations, get a close encounter with a scorpion, a barn owl, or other desert dweller.
With your eyes and ears sharpened to the desert's variety, enjoy more of the real thing by driving through the Saguaro National Monument, whose western section abuts the desert museum. Seemingly endlessly hundreds of towering saguaro dot the landscape. Imposing, these cacti serve as the quintessential symbol of the old west. On a drive here you can imagination Apache braves riding down from the red hills to be met by cavalry and cowboys.
To get into the heart of the desert, go on a custom jeep tour. These trips literally take you off the beaten path, over trails and up boulders into the Santa Catalina Mountains. The abundance and variety of the desert becomes apparent as you pass feathery palo verde trees, prickly pear, and cholla cacti as well as stands of saguaro of mythic proportions.
Walk through cottonwood groves near underground water and alongside Ponderosa pine trees near the mountain's peak. Often guides take you to see ancient petroglyphs or to examine finds such as "fish hooks" on barrel cactus, "straw" on a yucca and a fruit called "coyote melon."
However, not all of Tucson's legends are in the desert. In town on the University of Arizona campus the Center for Creative Photography offers visual treats of a different nature. By prior appointment enjoy a private viewing of the original prints of such noted masters as Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Linda Connor, Alfred Stieglitz and many others.
Tucson also offers a range of accommodations. Along with plenty of moderately priced hotels and motels, the city offers luxury resorts such as the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain and the Westin La Paloma, dude ranches including Tanque Verde Ranch and White Stallion Ranch as well as a range of bed and breakfast inns.