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Tumacácori

5 Day Trips from Tucson

By: Teresa Bitler

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The next time you find yourself in Tucson, consider a day trip to one of these Southern Arizona destinations—all of which can be done within a day and without spending all your time on the road. And if you decide to extend your trip, we've given you some options of where to stay.

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of two guidebooks, as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps. She can be reached at teresabitler.com.

Bisbee


Like Tombstone, just 25 miles north, Bisbee got its start as a mining town. In the early 1900s, it blossomed into the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco and boasted the nation's first baseball field.

When the mine closed in 1975, the "Queen of the Copper Camps" avoided the ghost-town fate, and instead attracted artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and the other interesting characters that populate it today.


On a trip to Bisbee, take the Queen Mine Tour or visit the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. Then spend the rest of the time wandering this town built into the side of the Mule Mountains, making sure to shop for antiques and funky items at Va Voom or Finders Keepers. Before you leave, visit St. Elmo, the state's oldest continuously running bar.

If you want to stay the night: Book a room at The Jonquil Motel, a charming 1930s-era motor court that sports one of Bisbee's most famous murals.

Wine country


Grapes have grown in Southern Arizona since Spanish monks first cultivated them hundreds of years ago. Today, Arizona's wine region has two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Sonoita, established in 1984, and Willcox, established in 2016. Both regions are known for red wines, both bold and light varietals.

Start in Willcox. Here, visit Keeling Schaefer Vineyards' tasting room to sample the earthy Syrah. Pillsbury Wine Company, another Willcox winery, pours Mourvedre, a lovely red, as well as aromatic whites, such as Malvasia and Roussanne.

In Sonoita, about an hour's drive from Willcox, try Dos Cabezas WineWorks' Pink, a dry blend of Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Graciano and Piquepoul grapes. At Kief-Joshua Vineyards, taste the black cherry notes of the Magdelena and the soft fruit notes of the Sangiovese.

If you want to stay the night: Cozy up to the fireplace at La Hacienda de Sonoita, then savor a home-cooked breakfast the next morning.

Kitt Peak National Observatory


Located in the Quinlan Mountains roughly 55 miles southwest of Tucson, Kitt Peak National Observatory has more than 20 optical and two radio telescopes through which to see celestial sights. Visit during the day to tour the angular shaped McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, the 2.1-Meter Telescope or the Mayall 4-Meter Telescope, the largest optical telescope on Kitt Peak.

At night, the observatory offers a family-friendly Nightly Observing Program that includes a binocular tour of the sky and viewings from the Visitor Center's research telescopes. The Dark Sky Discovery Program includes observation through a domed telescope. All night programs also include dinner and require advance reservations.

If you want to stay the night: Plan to make the trip back to Tucson, as there are no hotels on or near Kitt Peak. However, if you book the Overnight Telescope Observing Program, you'll enjoy a private telescope viewing experience, three meals and lodging in the observatory's dormitory.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park


A 20-minute drive southeast of Tucson, in the town of Vail, lies Colossal Cave, an expansive cave system formed by water depositing limestone. Its connection to civilization starts as early as 900 AD when it served as a shelter for American Indians, and then later as a hideaway for Old West train robbers. Now, this impressive system of caves boasts a spot on the National Register for Historic Places.

To get up close and personal, take the 50-minute Classic Cave Tour. Thrill-seeking visitors can venture further into the cave on the Ladder Tour or Wild Cave Tour. Before leaving, stop by La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum to see exhibits about the cave and regional history.

If you want to stay the night: For a nominal fee, Colossal Cave Mountain Park offers tent and RV camp spots among the mesquite trees in Posta Quemada Canyon.

Ruby, Tumacácori, Tubac


For one of the most Instagrammable drives in Arizona, take I-10 to the junction of I-19 and Arivaca Road. Head west to Arivaca, where you should fill your tank and grab snacks and water. Then take Ruby Road southeast into untouched natural beauty.

The dirt path—one of the most remote and prettiest drives in southern Arizona—cuts through the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to the ghost town of Ruby. Have cash on hand for admission to tour the town's preserved ruins, which include a schoolhouse, miners' homes, playground and mercantile. The route is rugged; a high-clearance vehicle is helpful, though not necessary.

Ruby Road connects to AZ-289; follow it back to I-19. On the return to Tucson, stop at Tumacácori National Historical Park to see the mission, and in Tubac, visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and various art galleries and shops.

If you want to stay the night: Tubac's Secret Garden Inn offers a quiet retreat that's steps away from Tubac's shops, restaurants and galleries.

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