Aquarius is ascendant in Tucson this summer. No matter what your sign – or budget – the stars predict a great watery getaway, from a discounted stay at a splashy resort to a free front row seat at one of nature’s most spectacular sound-and-light shows.
Unless otherwise noted, activities begin in late May and run through August. Find great deals through Visit Tucson to help plan a cool getaway to Tucson this summer.
When the temperatures rise in Tucson, room rates dip, and many top resorts pump up their poolside action.
The Westin La Paloma’s multiple pools and 177-foot long waterslide serve as the backdrop for a series of beach parties with weekly changing themes – Hawaiian Heat, say, or Fifties Flashback. Expect matching activities like hula-hoop contests and classic rock bands.
Call it the showdown at the Lazy River. This Father’s Day weekend, the vast pool complex at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass becomes the stage for mock gunfights, courtesy of nearby Old Tucson Studios. Other themed weekends are less bellicose, if no less lively.
It’s tough to drag kids away from the Desert Springs Oasis at the Hilton El Conquistador, with its mega waterslide and shallow fish-shaped pool. Summer adds water aerobics to the exercise roster and poolside DJs to the entertainment mix.
The koi in the lake at Loews Ventana Canyon are real kid-magnets, as are the summer dive-in movies. The Hilton and the Westin also screen family friendly films by the pool on the weekends. Not to worry if you prefer a frozen margarita to a screening of Frozen – all the resorts offer bar service at quiet adults-only pools.
Taking the Spa Waters
At Tucson’s two world-renowned destination spas, moisturizing is raised to an art form – and a lifestyle enhancement.
Miraval’s Himalayan Sound Bath puts you in harmony with the universe as you float in a pool resonating with the tones of ancient healing bowls. You might have a near-birth experience with Aqua Zen, as the therapist moves your limbs gently in water heated almost to body temperature.
The 12,000-square-foot Aquatic Complex at Canyon Ranch demonstrates that exercise is more fun – and easier on the joints – when you’re wet. Training equipment geared toward everyone from professional athletes to guests recovering from surgery include an underwater treadmill. At classes like Burdenko, it’s not cheating to use the water’s buoyancy to help lift weights.
Family Fun – and Education
Famous for re-creating the Earth’s ecosystems in a giant dome, the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 is looking to turn its 676,000-gallon ocean into a mini version of the Sea of Cortez, which covers half the surface of the Sonoran Desert when it reaches California. To that end, researchers recently brought in 5,000 red-tipped hermit crabs to dine on invader algae. Watch them and other ocean dwellers from the gallery, which hosts an exhibition on the history of the Sea of Cortez created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The sea is also explored at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where the touch tank in the Warren Aquarium lets visitors get hands on with marine invertebrates like serpent stars and turbo snails. The aquarium and other exhibits stay open until 10 p.m. on summer Saturdays, and one of the themed evenings is devoted to World Oceans. A friendly otter is among the other water dwellers you can visit at the Desert Museum, which – name notwithstanding – is a delightful botanical garden and zoo.
At the more global-oriented Reid Park Zoo, ducks and flamingos do it, along with elephants, bears and tigers – that is, they get wet. When the kids are ready to cool off after watching the critters take dips in their enclosures, head for the small African-themed Kenya Get Wet area, where pushing a button makes water spritz out of the mouth of a lizard and an artificial tree waters visitors.
Many municipal pools around town can help you get into the swim with low-cost lessons, but none have the facilities of the state-of-the-art Oro Valley Aquatic Center. Watch national swim competitions at the professional Olympic-size pool or, when it’s free, practice for your own gold medal achievements. Less competitive? Take a class in the recreation pool – everything from SCUBA certification to water reiki – or just splash around on the huge waterslide.
One of Arizona’s most spectacular spots to take a dip, Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area adds cascading water to the striking desert-meet-mountains-and-forest landscape. Cut two miles off the moderately difficult eight-mile hike to the falls by catching a tram to the Bear Canyon trailhead.
The soaring Santa Catalina Mountains serve as a backdrop to Agua Caliente Park, lush with palm and mesquite trees. A onetime (1873) guest ranch and hot springs resort – its restored main building now hosts an art gallery – the desert oasis offers frequent naturalist-led programs. Several of them feature flying creatures, from wetland birds and butterflies to dragonflies and bats.
At Christopher Columbus Park, your pup can work off steam at an off-leash dog park and then rest quietly at your feet as you fish for trout at the stocked Silverbell Lake (okay, you can dream about the quiet resting part). Model boat fans flock to the adjoining Archer Lake to float their mini-watercraft.
Nature’s most electrifying performance in Tucson is the lightning show that accompanies the monsoon rains; they usually arrive in early July. According to the University of Arizona’s Institute of Atmospheric Physics, which helped design the National Lightning Detection Network’s advanced geo-location instruments, Tucson’s unusually high cloud base and unobstructed vistas create some of the Southwest’s most dramatic storm displays.
For many, the preferred perch for watching the show is a barstool. Consider sitting out the rain at one of downtown’s new hot spots, Saint House, which specializes in rum cocktails. They make a mean Dark and Stormy.
(Brought to you by Visit Tucson, (800) 638-8350, www.visitTucson.org.)