A Few Days in Tucson

Into the heart of the Sonoran Desert:

So your conference in Tucson is over and you're staying over until Sunday to get the cheap Saturday-stay airfare. What's there to do with a day or two to spare? More than you'd think.

As anyone will tell you, there are two absolute must-see attractions in Tucson-Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Luckily these two attractions are pretty much side by side, which makes it easy to visit them both in a single day. Together these two attractions on the west side of Tucson are a superb introduction to the Sonoran Desert (By the way, the national park actually has an east unit as well.) The Sonoran Desert, home to the massive saguaro, the west's most recognizable species of cactus, is one of the wettest and greenest deserts in the world, but nonetheless, it's still a desert. In the national park you'll see forests of massive saguaros, and at the museum (actually more zoo than museum), you can learn all about the myriad plants and animals that inhabit this desert.

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If you're a fan of western movies, you may also want to spend a few hours at Old Tucson, a western movie set turned wild west amusement park. Lots of fun for the whole family.

    If you've got a second day to spare and want to see more desert landscapes, head out to the northeast corner of the city to Sabino Canyon. This park at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains is something of an oasis and has two streams running through it. The park's waters are especially popular in the blistering days of summer.

    The Tucson area is also the site of the southwest's most beautiful Spanish mission church-San Xavier del Bac, which is known as the White Dove of the Desert and is located south of the city on the San Xavier Indian Reservation. You can learn more about the city's Spanish heritage by wandering around downtown Tucson's historic districts, where you'll find several restored historic buildings that are open to the public, as well as the historic El Tiradito shrine. Here in downtown, you'll also find the Tucson Museum of Art.

    The Route:
    To reach Saguaro National Park's West Unit, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Old Tucson, take Speedway Boulevard west from downtown Tucson. To reach Sabino Canyon, take Grant Road to Tanque Verde Road to Sabino Canyon Road. To reach San Xavier del Bac, drive south on I-19 to exit 92.