Arizona: tempting Tucson

by Sally.Dowling

Looking for heat and then some? Head off to Tucson in southern Arizona; I guarantee you won’t need to take a sweater

Tucson is Arizona’s second largest city after Phoenix but is a much more attractive option with the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop. Yes it can be very hot, it is desert after all, but if you enjoy the heat then you will find plenty to do in Tucson.

I stayed just a few nights and I wish it had been longer as there is a lot to tempt you away from any one of the world-class golf courses or resort hotels offering every amenity. I stayed at the beautiful Arizona Inn, which just oozes charm and tranquillity. Located in the downtown area, the hotel appears to be in the centre of a historical residential street and first impressions are that you are visiting a private house. But once inside the property opens out into 14 acres of gardens providing a blaze of colour. Water trickles over fountains and the pool area beckons. High spot of the day was the complimentary ice cream buffet served around the pool in the late afternoon. Food at the Inn is pricey as it is fine dining at its best. I chose to explore restaurants outside the hotel and one of my finds was Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse (www.daisymaessteakhouse.com). This is where you come to experience the true cowboy-style steaks cooked on an open fire over mesquite wood. The restaurant is housed in an original trading post dating back to the 1870s and has a chequered history. Today it has kept its authentic atmosphere and is a great place to enjoy some local ‘chow’. Prices are reasonable and the steaks are BIG so this is the place to come when you are really hungry.

If the cowboy bug bites you may want to saddle up and the Tanque Verde Ranch Resort situated at the foot of the majestic Rincon Mountains, just outside Tucson, is the ideal place. With over 400 horses available you are sure to find one to suit your abilities. The immaculate tack room would put many a wardrobe to shame with each horse having its own saddle, blanket and bridle all hanging from a name-peg. Tanque Verde can arrange horse rides for all abilities as well as a variety of other outdoor activities. Keen horse lovers can even get married on the ranch (www.tanqueverderanch.com).

As well as great dining and shopping opportunities Tucson is home to the Pima Air & Space Museum, one of the largest air and space museums in the world. Pima is the last resting place of many famous aircraft from the Second World War, President Kennedy’s Airforce One, commercial planes and an up to date exhibition of space exploration. Opposite the museum is a huge area known as ‘The Boneyard’ where row upon row of ‘retired’ military aircraft are stored – over 4,000 in all – stretching out in long orderly rows under the scorching sun. If the heat gets too much outside then stroll around the Space Gallery and see inside the training version of an Apollo space capsule. The Museum runs plenty of guided tours which vary from day to day so check www.pimaair.org for details.

A visit to the Mission San Xavier del Bac is a surreal experience. Located just off the busy interstate I-19, this brilliant white adobe church is a great example of mission architecture. It is an active Roman Catholic church serving the San Xavier Indian Reservation and you will often find native Americans selling snacks in the car park. Give fry bread a try – it is like a cross between a big doughnut and a pancake and is served with savoury or sweet toppings.

If you get a taste for Mexican food, head to El Charro, Tucson’s oldest family run Mexican restaurant. The speciality is carne seca, traditional air-dried beef shredded and served with onions and chillis.

Tucson has many other attractions including the Saguro National Park, a thriving programme of cultural events, museums and of course, many shopping opportunities. I just wish I could have stayed longer, but as it is, I will just have to come back one day. From Tucson you can travel further south and visit Tombstone and carry on into Mexico. Going north you can take in Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

Getting there

I flew with BA into Phoenix and then drove to Tucson, it takes a couple of hours on the highway and is an easy drive. A number of US carriers will take you directly into Tucson via a selection of US gateways. See www.ba.com or www.expedia.co.uk for prices and routes. Alamo offer great value car hire throughout the USA (www.alamo.co.uk).

Sally.Dowling

I have been involved with the travel industry for all my working life and in the last 5 years have turned to travel writing. In 2006 I won the Visit USA award for best consumer magazine feature entitled 'Secret Florida'. I continue to travel whenever and wherever I can with my husband. We like to seek out lesser known areas of popular destinations and to stay in small family run hotels. It gives me great pleasure to recommend somewhere that we have enjoyed so that others can share the experience.