Mother Nature, Western-style
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum,
copyright Metropolitan Tucson
Convention & Visitors Bureau
- The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Don't let the name fool you. This is really a zoo, and an excellent one at that. You'll see rattlesnakes, bobcats, prairie dogs, coyotes, hummingbirds, roadrunners, wolves, hawks, and a multitude of other critters, all in their natural desert habitats. Kids will enjoy the special live animal demonstrations and mineral room with glow-in-the-dark gems. The aviary is a good spot for a time-out.
- Saguaro National Park
Tucson is sandwiched between the east and west sections of this park. In the western portion, just down the road from the Desert Museum, you'll find cacti that grow 25 feet high (no, they're not movie props!). You can learn more about the Saguaro cacti at the visitor center, including a little-known fact: It takes up to 50 years to grow one arm.
Take a spin on the six-mile graded, scenic loop drive. Or try the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, about one mile from the visitor center (before you start loop drive). This flat, paved, half-mile circular path is best for families, with its signs describing desert life. On any of the park's trails, don't forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
In the eastern section, about 20 miles east of downtown, take the 8-mile scenic loop drive or walk the quarter-mile Desert Ecology Trail with marked plants.
Sabino Canyon The Sonoran Desert meets the Coronado National Forest northeast of town at this desert "oasis." There's a watering hole you can swim in (Sabino Canyon Creek). And a narrated tram will take you on a scenic, 45-minute trip to the top of the canyon and back down.
The best part for families? You can get off and on at any of nine designated stops to go hiking and exploring. Stop #8 is best for swimming; stop #6 for birdwatching. When the kids' feet get tired, ride the tram back down to your starting point.
- Colossal Cave at Colossal Cave Mountain Park
As its name implies, the cave, located about 28 miles southeast of Tucson, is humongous. In fact, explorers have yet to find its end. In the 1880s, outlaws hid out here, escaping the law through secret exit-ways. Rumor has it they left treasure hidden inside.
Modern-day visitors to the privately-run, Pima County-owned park can take an underground tour (a half-mile walk that takes about 45 minutes and requires climbing 363 steps). Then head out to the Colossal Cave Mountain Park Riding Stables, one mile from the cave, for a leisurely trail ride.