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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

How To Spend 3 Days in Tucson

Back in January, I took a trip to Arizona with my mom and husband. This was his first time there, which was an interesting perspective considering I spent my entire school-age life there. Since this was our first trip where we didn't drive during Covid, we planned to do quite a bit outside, which was great, because the weather was perfect for this kind of visit.

Back in January, I took a trip to Arizona with my mom and husband. We were there for just 4 days, but we made the most of those days.

We were there for just 4 days, but we made the most of those days. If you are looking for a short getaway and want to enjoy the outdoors and the desert landscape, here are my suggestions for visiting Tucson in just a few days.  

Click to see full res panorama

Take a Day Trip

We rented a car, because I knew we would be doing quite a bit of driving. One of our days we took a day trip to Tombstone and the surrounding area. Tombstone is a wonderful little historic town, with wooden sidewalks, dirt roads, and saloons. There's a mine tour, to help you learn about their history with silver mining. You can stand where the shootout at the O.K. Corral happened. Head to Old Tombstone Western Theme Park to immerse yourself in Wild West entertainment.

We started our visit with a stroll through Boothill Graveyard, which is the resting place of many people who lived and died in Tombstone, including the three men who were killed in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Many who reside here were actually killed over petty disputes or from diseases that we now have vaccines or other cures/preventions for. 

There's even a Jewish cemetery and memorial that sits on the site, a little off from the main cemetery, where you can sit and reflect or pay your respects. While there are no individual gravestones, it's a lovely memorial.

Next we got lunch, walked the main street, bought some exotic jerky, and then took in a show at the Saloon Theatre. For about an hour, you learn the history of the city through historical gunfight shows. Three actors in Wild West costume reenact some of the gunfights that shaped the town. 

We planned to go to Bisbee afterward, but we were running low on time, so we headed to Fairbank, which was touted as a ghost town. While there was indeed no one there, it was also a camp site for RVs. Due to Covid, we couldn't go into any of the buildings on the site, but were able to view what remained of the town, including the post office and school house. 

You may want to visit Bisbee, another mining town, Kartchner Caverns State Park, where you can learn about limestone, or Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where you can take in the colorful rock formations.

Biosphere 2

When we lived in Arizona, Biosphere hadn't opened to the public yet. I remember how excited everyone was about this experiment going on where scientists were going to live in a self-contained environment, which I assume was meant to see how well we could do this maybe on another planet or if we tried to move to other inhospitable environments. I knew if I went back I was going to take a tour. 

While you'll want to bring good walking shoes, there isn't a lot of "hiking" like the website and the signs say. Yes, there are some stairs, but not a ton. It is also mostly accessible for those with mobility issues. We took a self-guided tour, via an app on our phone. There is staff on-site to answer any questions, but you basically learn everything you need about how the environment works through the app and from signs along the way. 

Inside you can view the ocean environment, the rainforest, the sleeping quarters and more. The only place we were unable to go was the observatory. For as much as is on the site, the tour is pretty short, giving us plenty of time to do other things after our morning visit.

Tucson Botanical Gardens

I love to visit botanical gardens when I travel, because they showcase many of the local plants and flowers. Even though there are a lot of cactus at this garden, there's also art, flowers, herbs, and butterflies. There's also a small museum and gallery within the gardens, a café, a lovely gift shop, and a miniature train. 

We spent much more time here than we expected to, because we learned so much about the couple that started the gardens and the plants within, plus we enjoyed admiring the many large art pieces dotted around. 

Presidio San Augustin del Tucson

There's no better way to learn about a place than with hands-on and interactive exhibits and the Presidio is the perfect place to get both of those experiences. If you plan your visit well, you will be there during living history time. You'll get to talk to a blacksmith, listen to an orchestral circle, ask about kitchen tools, learn about baking in a clay oven, and watch a real cannon ceremony and witness the firing of it.

The Presidio is small, but it's got a lot packed inside and out in the courtyard. It's the perfect place to visit if you have kids traveling with you, though we three adults greatly enjoyed it as well. I spoke to a plant historian who taught me about how they learned about people and their travels by following the route of a certain plant and its mentions in stories and accounts. I found his enthusiasm contagious.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Another way to learn about the area you're visiting is through animals. The Desert Museum was one of my favorite places from when I'd lived in Tucson. It has acres of animals and plants that are indigenous to the area, including wildflowers for pollen-collectors, reptiles, and birds. 

There is a lot of outdoor walking without cover and on uneven ground, so wear your sunscreen (or maybe a hat) and good shoes. I did see someone in a wheelchair cover the loop, so it's accessible to all, but even if you don't take that loop, there's still much to see on a paved path.

If you're looking for a more traditional way of viewing animals that isn't a 30-minute drive from the city center, check out Reid Park Zoo. It's one of the best zoos I've ever been to, and small enough to visit in just a few hours. 

There are many other things to see and do in Tucson, especially if you enjoy hiking and getting outside. We mostly only found ourselves inside during some dining experiences, but even then we were often seated away from others or near those who also entered wearing masks. 

You'll find traffic in the city is pretty horrible, but since it's not that large, it's not the worst traffic you'll ever see, but it also makes it seem worse than it is, because there aren't too many other ways to get where you want to go than the main streets. Just give yourself extra time to get anywhere, or go early in the morning, when traffic is light. Many things close before 6pm, because it can get quite hot in the afternoon, so an early start is smart if you want to do multiple things per day.

Have you been to Tucson? If so, what were your favorite things?

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