I recently managed to escape cold, dreary London on the most fantastic of adventures, my first ever visit to Tucson, Arizona! Armed with my rental car and trusty satellite navigation (a necessity for many UK travelers) I set out from Phoenix on the Interstate 10 toward Tucson.
Driving south you get an amazing sense of space, freedom and beauty as southern Arizona opens up in front of you. Sparsely populated, the Saguaro cacti (unique to this region) easily outnumber people covering the flat plains and stunning mountain ranges that surround Tucson and Southern Arizona.
After a couple of hours driving I couldn’t wait to arrive at my boutique hotel, Lodge on the Desert. Providing a sanctuary in mid-town Tucson, it really embraces its desert heritage and even has its very own cactus garden! After a beautiful meal at the hotel’s restaurant (the duck is fantastic), I enjoyed a much needed good night’s sleep. It is a good thing I did, because the following day was full of activity!
The Great Outdoors
Like many first-timers to Arizona, I assumed wildlife was minimal in the desert. My visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum made me realize how wrong I was. The park gives you an insight into the 300 plus species of live animals and more than 1,300 species of plants that are indigenous to the Sonoran desert. My highlight was definitely the daily raptor flight show; it was fantastic watching these graceful birds of prey fly over the desert.
Continuing with my Tucson journey I was excited to visit San Xavier Indian Reservation and its crystal white church, known simply as The Mission. Dating back to 1692, The Mission is an active Franciscan mission that is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. It’s a stunning building from the outside and it’s easy to see why it has recently been named the “Sistine Chapel of North America” after renovations uncovered centuries-old frescoes depicting the church's history.
An unexpected Aero-Museum
I have to admit, I’m not a huge aerospace fan but, I loved the Pima Air & Space Museum. There is something very awesome about standing next to a John F.Kennedy’s Air Force One or a B52 Bomber. There are over 300 planes here and you could easily spend a day visiting the indoor and outdoor sections of the museum. They even have a cockpit you can climb into and work the flight controls, and a RTU (Control Tower) where you can turn on runway lights and listen to radio transmissions.
The Sonoran hotdog
There was one local speciality I’d been told I had to try; the Sonoran hotdog. A hotdog wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon and topped with a range of sauces and salad. It’s definitely different, but tastes nice! If you’re visiting Tucson, it’s one of those things you have to try. Along with this I found Tucson’s dining scene to be very diverse. If you’re looking for locally sourced food there are a number of brilliant options and the nightlife around 4th Avenue is great.
After my busy day I discovered my very own piece of heaven, Gates Pass at sunset. It’s a serene, beautiful sight watching the sun come down over the desert.
The great thing about this region is you can spend a day here and feel like you know it, or stay for a month and still discover new and exciting things. I was impressed with all there is to see and do and highly anticipate my next adventure back to Arizona.
Lauren McNally is the PR Manager in the Arizona Office of Tourism's United Kingdom office. She has been working for the tourism office for over three and a half years and relishes every opportunity she has to visit the state.