Best Bets for Tucson and Southern Arizona

By: Nancy Yackel

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July 4, 2011

From playing golf where Kevin Costner filmed Tin Cup to touring underground caverns and spying star-studded night skies, see what Southern Arizona has in store for you.

About the author

Nancy Yackel

Nancy Yackel

Nancy Yackel loves living and traveling in the American West. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, Nancy shares travel destinations on her website,

Play: Hike Tucson’s Trails or Tee off in Tubac 

Explore Madera Canyon’s trails, ranging from an easy stroll along the Nature Trail to the ascent of Mt. Wrightson, which has a more than 4,000-foot elevation gain. Birders know the scenic canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains is one of the top birding locations in the United States.

Golf the links at Tubac Golf Resort, the traditional-style course in the Santa Cruz River Valley featured in the Kevin Costner film Tin Cup. Tennis, swimming, dining, lodging and a spa round out this resort experience near the artsy village of Tubac.

Hike the mile-and-a-half trail to the remnants of Fort Bowie, southeast of Willcox. Interpretive displays along the way recall the years, 1862-1886, when the post served as headquarters for military campaigns against the Chiricahua Apaches.

Ski Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the U.S., is located high in the Santa Catalina Mountains and just an hour’s drive from Tucson. Reach the area via Sky Island Scenic Byway, a 27-mile ascent from saguaro-studded desert to ponderosa pine slopes. The chairlift operates all year, lifting riders for panoramic views of Tucson, mountains and desert.

Do: Saddle Up or Head Underground

Tour the wondrous underground world at Kartchner Caverns State Park. Guided Rotunda/Throne Room and Big Room tours allow visitors to discover the delicate ecosystem of long-hidden limestone caves in the Whetstone Mountains. Formations include one of the world’s longest known Soda Straw stalactites.

Saddle up at one of the member ranches of the Arizona Dude Ranch Association. Ride desert trails, gallop through pine forests or traverse the rolling grasslands near Patagonia. Out of the saddle, guests are treated to true Western hospitality. Ranches range from luxurious to rustic, so there’s a perfect ranch for every dude.

Discover a Tucson urban oasis at Tohono Chul Park. Winding trails, gardens, an art gallery, tearoom and gift shops fill 49 acres. Guided walks, workshops and concerts enhance visitors’ knowledge of physical and cultural history.

See: Stargazing and Spanish-Colonial History 

View the star-studded night skies from Kitt Peak National Observatory, which houses the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. Nightly observing programs present an introduction to astronomy, as well as a hands-on tour of the universe using binoculars, star charts and telescopes.

Visit the historic “White Dove of the Desert,” San Xavier del Bac Mission. Built in the late 1700s, the church on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation is acclaimed as the finest example of mission architecture in the U.S. Conservation efforts restored the dazzling interior, rich with paintings, statues, carvings and ornamentation.

Witness hummingbirds being weighed, banded, fed and released at the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve and San Pedro House. Seventeen species have been sighted near these Sierra Vista sites during migration season, from mid-March to October. Both locations are prime habitats for more than 200 species of resident and migratory birds.

Admire the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert at Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Giant cacti, desert wildlife and botanical marvels fill these outstanding preserves on the edge of Tucson.

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