Highlights of Southern Arizona

My kids and I were reminiscing about a great trip we took this past fall.  We decided to head to one of our favorite parts of the United States- Arizona. As we talked I thought Arizona makes for a great spring break trip too!  Arizona and the desert can be hot. Best times to visit March, April, May or September and October.  Natural wonders abound in this southwestern state. We picked the southern part of the state and spent four days in the Tucson area. We were so happy with our decision.

Saguro Cactus Tucson Arizona

Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, Marana, AZ                                                                                ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/arizona/dove-mountain

We opted to stay a little bit outside of the city at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. This hotel exudes the ease and vibe of the southwest. The earthy tones of the lobby, restaurants, bar and rooms creates a feeling of pure relaxation. We stayed in one of the casita suites which overlooked the canyon that the hotel is nestled into. Looking out the back we could have been all alone in the middle of the Sonoran desert. We also had views of the 25 miles of hiking trails on the hotel property which we loved hiking on! 

 Casita Suite

Casita Suite

Our room was so spacious with a large living room and an equally large bedroom with big bathroom attached. Our short walk from the main building (or 2 minute golf car ride) was lined with lots of cactus. The hotel featured one adult pool and one pool with a water slide. My kids were in heaven. We planned our trip for an activity in morning with pool in late afternoon.  Stargazing and fire pits are highlights of any evening on Dove Mountain.

 View from our Casita Suite porch

View from our Casita Suite porch

So, what to do in southern Arizona- our list included a lot of outdoor adventure but the fine arts scene in Tuscon is incredible. We left that for another trip!

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Rd., Tucson AZ 85743                              March to September, 7:30am- 5:00pm, October to February, 8:30am- 5:00pm       desertmuseum.org

The  45-minute drive to this museum started on highway but ended up on a cool winding road through cactus-filled canyons. This outdoor museum features trails highlighting the plants and animals of the Sonoran dessert. The Sonoran Desert extends from northern Arizona down into Mexico. Go early because it can get hot on the trails. The museum located on 98 acres is mostly outdoors. It features a zoo, botanical gardens, an art gallery, natural history and an aquarium. There are two miles of walking trails that exhibit 1,200 types of plants and 230 animal species. The hummingbird aviary was a highlight for us. Right near the aviary is the Ironwood Gallery which features several different art exhibits a year.  There is no shortage of animal encounters at this museum. Visitors can participate in a stingray touch, a raptor experience or have hummingbirds fly around. Along the paths, various desert animals can be viewed, Our favorite was the Javelina, a mammal similar to a wild boar. Back at the hotel we say them wandering too! The Sonora Desert Museum is consistently ranked in the top 10 of museums in the country. Its worth the trip!

 Old Tucson Studios, 201 S Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85735                                                      February to April, 10:00am- 5:00pm, Hours vary rest of the year                                           oldtucson.com

Step back into the wild west of Hollywood movies at Old Tucson Studios. This working movie studio filmed many Westerns including Tombstone, The Bell's of Saint Mary's, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and the Lone Ranger and Lost City of Gold. The studio presents short skits about life in the old west, gunfight shows and saloon shows with lots of singing throughout the day. My kids loved it. Check out their daily schedule online; the skits and shows increase through the day. The studio is about a 10-minute drive from the Sonoran Desert Museum.

The Biosphere 2, 32540 S. Biosphere Road, Oracle, AZ 85623                                                           Hours vary. Tour required to visit the Biosphere.                                                                         biosphere2.org

40 minutes northeast of the Ritz sits the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. I’m normally not as into science as I am into art but this is super cool! Biosphere 2 is an Earth Science research facility. It was created in 1991 when it was used as an experiment to see if humans and habitats could live in a colony in outer space. The Biosphere 2 consists of five biomes (or habitats) that are housed in a huge glass structure. The biome areas include: a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, a mangrove, a savannah, and a desert.

 Rainforest Biome (above)                                  Ocean Biome (right)

Rainforest Biome (above)                                  Ocean Biome (right)

From 1991-1994 groups of scientists lived in the Biosphere 2 without leaving. Only contact with the outside world was through phone and computer. The scientist who lived there were to observe the different biomes and how they survived but the people actually became part of a social experiment on how they co-existed. Eventually, the project was shut down and the Biosphere 2 was sold to several different groups over time. Today it is run by the University of Arizona who uses it as a research, teaching and outreach facility centered on studying the earth, its living systems and its place in the universe. A tour is required to visit the Biosphere and they run throughout the day. The tour is incredible and worth the drive to see!

Kartchner Caverns State Park, 2980 S Hwy 90, Benson, AZ 85602                                                   December-May, 8:00am- 6:00pm, June- December, 9:00am- 5:00pm                                                        https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/                                        

I wasn’t sure how I felt about caving and being in a small space underground. But               Kartchner Caverns was my favorite place we went. The caverns were discovered in 1974 by local cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. They found a narrow crack in a sinkhole and followed the warm, moist air through cave passages for 2.5 miles. Amazingly they kept the caverns secret for 14 years! They were concerned about finding the best way to preserve and protect the caves. The sinkhole and caves were located on land owned by the Kartchner family. Working together, the cavers and the Kartchners were able to develop a cave tour and gain state park status.

Entering the tour through massive air lock doors, we felt like we were in a Star Wars movie. As we passed through the air lock, fine mist of water sprayed onto us to remove any dust or small debris on us. Any foreign substance that comes into the caves can cause deterioration over time. Our guide led us on a paved path light by small lights all along the way. We opted for the Rotunda/Throne tour which was about a half mile long and took about an hour and half. Our guide spoke about the role of water and how it helped create the caverns. We saw the trail the original cavers used when they discovered the caves. Along the way, we saw tons of formations some 45,000 years old ending with “Kubla Khan” the largest column formation in Arizona. Other tours exist but each one is given at specific times of the year.

The caverns are about 1 hour and 20-minute drive from the hotel. If you are heading to the Tucson area this is a definite stop. Kartchner Caverns was the highlight of our trip!

Tombstone

Any fan of western movies needs to make a stop in the town of Tombstone which is a short 30-minute drive from Kartchner Caverns. Take in a gunfight at the OK Corral, take a stage coach ride, or walk the main street lined with shops. The town is a bit touristy but it’s fun to walk in a place that feels like the real old west.  Tombstone is about 1 hour and 40-minute drive from the hotel.

O.K. Corral

The Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain and these incredible locations make Tucson a favorite destination of mine. The relaxed vibe of Southwestern Arizona is a great place to unwind. While we focused mostly on natural sites and not so much art, we all loved the beauty of the desert.  Visit in the spring or the fall for fabulous dry, warm desert weather. I'm sure you will fall in love with Arizona too!

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