Tucson Arizona: A Weekend in the Desert

The Desert

I’m not sure how many other people in the world see the Desert the way I do. Statistically I know there have to be some but I’ve met very few of them. To me, the Desert is the world’s most perfect environment. It can be a stark kind of beauty, but no less compelling for its simplicity. Its not boring, its diverse. Its clean, presenting only the bare bones of nature, the true core of the world. And it represents the ultimate in strength and survival. Anything that lives or grows in this space is a masterpiece of efficiency and hardiness.

Now, having established my love of the Desert, you will find it no surprise that I decided to spend my fourth trip in Tucson Arizona. Of all the Arizona desert cities, Tucson is my favorite. Its a friendly town, full of activity, culture, and adventure. It may not pop up to the top of your travel list as an exciting destination, but if you overlook it, you will be missing out.

Let me show you what I mean.

Botanical Gardens

The Tucson Botanical Gardens looks small from the outside but is actually very large. It will take over an hour to see everything contained in the garden. I spent an hour in the gift shop alone. What is especially interesting about this Botanical Garden is that they are devoted to the responsible use of plants and water for a desert environment.

Resting up at the Cafe Botanica was a another highlight of the gardens. Not only do they make a Prickly Pear Ice Tea that will quench the powerful thirst the Desert is likely to inflict on you, but you’ll have your tea in the most soothing environment possible. The Cafe is surrounded by a mint garden. This is not a couple pots of mint like you may have seen before. This is a huge garden that surrounds the whole building. The air is heavy with the sent of mint which somehow works to cool you off and stimulate your appetite at the same time.

The Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures.

Now try to say that five times fast. This Museum is one of the more off-beat attractions I have seen on my travels. As the name implies its a Museum dedicated entirely to miniatures, everything from doll houses to historical recreations. They are arranged in a variety of displays that range from whimsical, to realistic, to down right creepy.

It was worth coming to see. I learned alot from the museum and left with a strange desire to buy Legos. Its certainly unique and the nightmares of being feed to cute/creepy tiny goblins in bite sized pieces only lasted for a few days…

Gates Pass

If you have ever seen a postcard of the a sunset in the Desert, then you have likely seen a picture of Gates Pass. It is the number one photo spot for professionals and amateurs alike. I arrived about an hour before sunset to explore and found the place deserted. At exactly 15 minutes before the light started to fate, a horde of people carrying giant tripods and bags of camera equipment descended on the mountainside. Lucky for me I had camped a beautiful spot and got to enjoy the sunset without the burden of 30 pounds of camera.

The Biosphere 2

While I loved all my time in Tucson, I can highlight the Biosphere 2 as my favorite event during this trip. The Biosphere is a very cool high tech advanced science bubble. It was built as a giant experiment, a sealed closed system environment used to explore the possibilities of space colonization and examine the interactions of humans & technology with their natural environment. Let me go back for a second. They thought they might be able to use this technology and the information they learned here to create a colony in space. Let that sink in. What we have here is a Space Colony in the middle of the desert. Go see it.

The Biosphere was home to two long term experiments before becoming a science center for the University of Arizona. Its now open to the public to explore, while still being used by the University for various experiments.

Fun Fact, the biosphere is made up of 5 separate biomes. There is a rainforest, a wetlands, a savannah, a fog desert, and my favorite, an ocean with a coral reef. Yep, that’s right, these crazy scientists built their own ocean! I think that is just very cool.

I got to come here once, as a kid, while the team of scientists were still living inside. At that time all we could do was wave to them through the windows. I remember thinking that one day I would be inside. Its always nice to deliver on a promise your younger self made.

This is probably the coolest educational exhibit I have ever been to. The tour is long and requires walking up and down many stairs and through some difficult terrain. Its hot and humid in places and freezing in others. I would do it again in a heartbeat. For someone who loves Sci-Fi, walking into the Biosphere 2 felt like walking into a novel.

Old Tucson

The original Old Tucson was known as the Hollywood of the Old West. Many of our most famous Westerns were filmed on these sets. John Wayne was a frequent visitor. Today Old Tucson exists as part museum, part theme park.

I love westerns, cowboys, the Old West, shootouts, and sarsaparilla. So I was all set to fall in love with Old Tucson. In reality, my love was only lukewarm. Its very dated. Parts of it just seemed worn out and old. Though its hard to tell the difference between what is run down due to lack of care and what is just dusty and beat up as part of the theme. The main problem is just that there is not much to do. The buildings and sets are interesting to look at and provide plenty of fun photo ops. But, it takes about 45 minutes to make the circle of the whole area. And then what? Well not much.

Old Tucson is meant to be a quick fling, not a long term relationship. I enjoyed my time while it lasted.

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

 The San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission in 1692. The building that stands now was built in 1797 and holds the title of “Oldest Intact European Structure” in Arizona.
 The interior of the church is filled with its original statuary, gorgeous and intricate carvings, and murals. As soon as you pull up in front of the building you can feel the authenticity.
 The mission is still a working church with services twice a week. The services are open to the pubic but no photos are allowed. I was outside in the courtyard during the service but I did get to hear the lovely choir.

 Fresh Fry Bread and other snacks are sold in the parking lot and at the small shopping center across the street. I haven’t had Fry Bread in years and it was a wonderful tasty splurge. Fluffy fried bread with beans, meat, tomatoes, cheese and other toppings of your choice. I ate this guilty pleasure in my car, looking out at the Mission while the afternoon Monsoon darkened the sky and dumped buckets of rain. In the sunlight, the mission is a glowing white jewel. In a rainstorm it takes on a dark slightly ominous feel. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a picture of this dark side, due to the previously mentioned buckets of rain.

Lodging by AirBnB

I have to also mention the gorgeous Casita I stayed at while in Tucson. This was my very first time using the popular AirBnB service and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. My hosts were welcoming and pleasant but offered me plenty of privacy. This little guest house perfectly fit my Southwestern Desert theme and it only cost $70 per night. I definitely recommend checking out AirBnB for unique lodging options.


icon_compass01August Trip – #4 – The Quest Embraces Science & Deserts

icon_biosphere01 Embraced the Wonders of Science – Visited the BioSphere


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