Tucson, AZ Part Two

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Tucson was an adventure filled month long visit. It resulted in an eclectic group of activities combined with diverse hiking opportunities which has taken two blogs to share. This is part two.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is part of the Santa Catalina Ranger District. It is one of the most popular recreation areas in Arizona and draws more than a million visitors annually. A day use fee is required, however a National Park Pass is accepted. Pets are not allowed.

We started our day at the visitors center, where we encountered many volunteers engaged in conversations with visitors discussing a variety of educational topics. In addition to the vast amount of information provided we found the short hike through the Bahada Loop botanical garden another excellent source of knowledge. The various shrubs and cacti were well marked and many additional tidbits of information were available.

What makes this recreation area stand out to me is its trolley system. Tickets are required to ride the trollies which stop at various locations along Sabino creek. As a ticket holder you are allowed to hop on and hop off to explore the various locations at your own pace. They also offer a one-way pass for hikers who choose to hike up the canyon and ride the trolley back to the visitors center.

Bear Canyon to Seven Falls

Bear Canyon to Seven Falls was our first of many hikes in the Sabino Canyon area. This trail can be accessed from the parking area at Sabino Canyon Recreation area and additionally from a parking area outside of the park off the N Bear Canyon Road. The trail is a similar length and elevation gain from either location.

We enjoyed this trail so much we hiked it twice, once from each parking area. There had been recent rains and the volume of water flowing down Bear canyon and over the falls was magical. This is an extremely popular hiking destination close to the city of Tucson, prepare yourself for a busy trail and have fun with it. We enjoyed conversation with many people and shared our trekking poles at many of the seven precarious creek crossings.

Phone Line Trail

The phone line trail I would describe as a beautiful traverse along the side of Sabino canyon which gradually climbs from the visitors center to the end point of the furthest trolley stop. There are many additional trails that can be hiked from Sabino canyon allowing access into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area. These would be longer backpacking type of routes.

After our experience on the Seven falls trail we were surprised with the very few people we met on this trail. Many of the other hikers had ridden the trolly to the top of the canyon and were hiking the trail back down to the visitors center. Jess and I always prefer to hike up and we did the opposite.

When we reached the top of the canyon and end of the trail and were done exploring the area, we simply walked to the trolly stop. Once the trolly arrived we asked the operator if there was room for us, there was, and he sold us our tickets to ride down. If there was not room we would have simply waited for the next trolly.

The ride along through the canyon was a completely different view from our hike. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in the covered open air trolly, with our highly skilled driver. We had only inches to spare as we crossed many bridges spanning the creek along the route.


Mission San Jose de Tumacacori is one of more than 20 missions in an area known to the Spanish as Primera Alta (upper Prima land). As I read through information about the area I learned archaeologists had discovered artifacts and an irrigation system dating back to 2100BC. There was a visitors center, herb and botanical garden as well as many buildings and artifacts located throughout the property.

The property also connected to local hiking trails throughout the Santa Cruz river valley. We attempted to hike to the river but because of the high water we would have had to wade through the trees to get close enough to see the river channel. Along the way we enjoyed their orchards and explanation of crop areas. these missions were self sustaining as well as the centers of the communities. The Spanish missionaries were diligent in the recording of local information about births, deaths, and marriages.

I enjoyed seeing a full scale replica of a period home constructed with the same materials and in the process which would have been used in its original construction. My first observation was how dark and cool it was, even though we were in the hottest part of the day with full sun. It is amazing to me to understand how in tune with nature these societies were and how seamlessly they used their surroundings for survival.

The beautiful La Iglesia church at the mission.


Voyager is looking great at our campsite in Tucson. We have found a wonderful rhythm to our exploring. We happened upon this RV park as a one night stop along our route to visit our daughter last year. As we were thinking about our route this year we decided a month in Tucson would be a great adventure. I called Cactus Country and asked about availability. We picked the month of March.

Cactus Country is part RV park as well as part mobil home park. There is a pool, hot tub, and recreation area. It’s definitely nice having a hot tub available after a long hike. In addition, the park has bath houses, laundry rooms, exercise equipment, and a huge dog park. The park is clean, organized and well run by a dedicated manager.

Ultimately what we loved most about this park was location, location, location. We were just a few miles from Saguaro National Park East, a couple miles from stores, restaurants and services. Most all of the places we visited and hiked were within an hour of our home base. Traveling full-time allows us to move our home to the activities we want to explore. I love this aspect of our adventure, less driving and more time exploring.

This is often our experience, a one or two night stop while traveling turns into a return trip. In our month in Tucson we hiked, biked and explored something new everyday. When we left Tucson we had created an even longer list of additional things and places we want to visit. This is another one of my favorite parts of our journey. As we immerse ourselves in an area and meet local people our experience is enriched and we find more adventures. Great Problem!

Charron Vinyards

On a whim we took an afternoon drive to explore different trailheads. As in the case of many of our favorite adventures they are unplanned and spontaneous. We found our desired trailhead quicker than we anticipated and decided to drive a loop around a couple local State parks for future reference. As I was driving Jess was looking up area attractions and we quickly realized we were very close to wine country.

After driving through beautiful rolling hills and pasture lands we began seeing a variety of wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms. We chose to visit the Charron Vineyards & Winery because it was closest to our RV location. It was a wonderful choice. The winery was established in 1994 by a retired electrical engineer who had discovered his passion for wine making while working in Spain.

In 2009 at 83 years old he sold the winery to the Craigs, who left their corporate jobs and created many of the things we experienced today. They added more vines, additional types of wines, tasting room, and became part of the community. Upon Milton’s death his wife decided to pass the business to the next generation. In 2021 neighborhood residents took over ownership of the winery.

The dedication of the employees and owners is easy to feel. I would describe it as a wonderful experience with delicious wine and a great atmosphere. We arrived late in the afternoon and just missed the food truck and band. However, the timing was perfect because we found a parking spot and a seat. Teddy was also welcome and received his own bowl of water and lots of loving from the staff. Great Experience!

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

The Pusch Ridge Wilderness envelopes an enormous area encompassing the Santa Catalina Mountains. The wilderness is part of the Coronado National Forest with elevation ranging from 2800′ to 8800′. This vast elevation difference provides many different eco-systems in relatively short drive. From saguaros to douglas firs and everything in between.

We were surprised by the amount of variety of trails we discovered. The National Forest allows dogs, which meant Teddy was allowed to hike with us. This was the Babad Do’ag Trail. Round trip it was about five miles with 1200′ of elevation gain.

The trail is accessed from a parking lot on the Mt. Lemmon highway. The trail meanders along many ridges with incredible views! Ultimately the trail ends at the crossing of a waterfall with no particular spectacular destination. The reward of this hike is the beauty of the journey.

Saguaro National Park West

Saguaro National Park West is an entirely separate park located on the opposite side of the city from Saguaro East. We have only spent parts of two days in this park and have not given it the attention it deserves. Because of the park’s location across the city from our base location and the fact that Tucson drivers rank fourth out of the US cities worst drivers. (Another tidbit we learned about on the local news!) It was not a drive I enjoyed.

The visitors center is excellent and full of information. There are several short trails to explore around the visitors center and a park loop road to drive. Several trailheads both inside and outside the park lead to a variety of hiking trails. Each park has its own distinctive character and are each worthy of exploration.

King Canyon Trail

The Kings Canyon Trail was an easy afternoon hike we enjoyed with a friend when they flew in to visit us for a few days. We combined the Kings Canyon trail with the Gould mine trail for a wonderful hike. We discovered the Mam-A Gah house and recreation area. As well as a blooming desert!

As we descended the Gould mine trail we found a huge mine shaft covered by an enormous steel grate. I wish I had a better light and could have seen further into the mine. The tailings pile was a kaleidoscope of colors typical of what we see in the commercial mines around us.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum was a wonderful adventure which was part botanical garden, zoo, museum, and art studio all in one! We hiked desert trails toured a hummingbird aviary and even a man-made underground cave system. This park has something for everyone.

We met a Mountain lion, a group of big horn sheep, a coyote and many varieties of birds, lizards, and snakes. I especially enjoyed the gem and mineral area just before we entered into the awesome man-made caves which were remarkably realistic. We logged over four miles of wandering through this park and enjoyed the variety of activities the park had to offer.

Raptor Free Flight Program

I took this picture during the Raptor Free Flight educational program. There were several resident raptors who are living at the park which participated in the program. It was amazing watching the birds in their natural habitat displaying their hunting preferences and instinctual behaviors.

Santa Rita Mountains

Madera Canyon was an unexpected beautiful hiking area we stumbled upon. While we were visiting ASARCO mine our tour guide mentioned many local areas worth seeing. Madera canyon was one of those places, we looked up trails in the area and were amazed at how many we found, and decided to visit the next day.

We chose the Old Baldy Trail and looped it together with the Super trail. This loop brought us to Josephine saddle elevation 7080′, where we discovered a sign which talks about the tragic loss of three Boy Scouts. They were caught in Arizona’s largest recorded snow storm in 1958.

When they began their hike to the summit of Mt. Wrightson is was a beautiful sunny day, as they hiked it began to rain. By the time they were reaching the higher elevations it was snowing. Three of the six boys turned around, the other three were never heard from again. The community gathered over 750 searches and it took 19 days before their bodies were found. A sad story of the type of tragedy which can happen so quickly in these alpine environments.

Mt. Wrightson

Mt. Wrightson is in the distance and tops out at an elevation of 9453′. Our hike was to Josephine saddle which is still a few miles below the summit. Currently the trail to the summit is covered in deep snow and we are not currently set-up to hike in that type of an environment. We did however hike high enough on the ridge to take in some incredible views.

We are excited to return to this area and hopefully hike to the summit. The stats of this hike remind me of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire a hike we love and have completed many times on all different trails in all weather conditions including winter. Mt. Wrightson is 10.6 miles via the Old Baldy Trail with an elevation gain of 3969′ and Mt. Washington is about the same depending on the trail combinations you choose, an 8-10 mile hike with just over 4000′ of elevation gain. A funny coincidence, notice the shirt I happened to have on during our hike! Another great reason to back to Tucson.

Street Fair

55th Annual, Fourth Avenue Spring Street Fair was an unexpected adventure. We try to find local news stations and Tucson has a couple. As we were watching for weather updates one of the reports was live from the upcoming festival. It looked fun and we changed our plans to attend. To us this is the good stuff, the local unanticipated events.

After a morning bike ride we ventured off to explore the festival. There were streets full of vendors selling every product you could imagine. Food vendors and artists were also well represented. We have been seeking out events like this throughout our travels from Maine to California and we often see similar vendors and artists across the country.

This festival allowed us the opportunity to see many different unique works of art. I truly appreciated the imagination of these individuals and the talent and work displayed in their creations. It’s a good thing we have limited amount of space in the RV because I might have brought home too many treasures!

Tohono Chul

Tohono Chul is part botanical park, part art gallery, part cultural heritage site and one hundred percent wonderful. There is a bistro many shops and serenity in the middle of the city. As we explored the park on a busy weekend day we were still able to find places to sit and absorb the smells of the blooming flowers.

Artwork throughout the park as well as an on-site gallery adds to the natural beauty of the park itself. Jess and I spent several hours wandering through the park and enjoying the serenity we felt. This was not our first visit to this park.

On a short overnight trip through this area last fall we spent a night in October at Catalina State Park. We were searching for a small adventure for the night when Jess discovered Tohono Chul decorates for Halloween. The park was only a few miles from us and we decided we should check it out. It was as amazing in the dark decorated with an incredible amount of lights as we discovered it to be during the day.

Steward Observatory Mt. Lemmon

The Steward Observatory sits atop the Mt. Lemmon summit. After driving about twenty-seven miles along the scenic Mt. Lemmon Highway and gaining 6000′ of elevation, we arrived at a parking lot across from Ski Valley. Yes, an actual skiing area just a short distance from the city of Tucson. We knew we would need to hike from this point to the Observatory.

What we did not know is it would be an additional two miles with another almost 1000′ of elevation gain. Mt. Lemmon is 9159′ which is significantly higher than any place we have climbed since we began full-time RV’ing and left Colorado a year and a half ago. I definitely felt the elevation, I’d describe it as feeling like I cannot fill my lungs with oxygen.

It turned out to be an incredible walk up to the observatory. The road was paved and plowed all the way. I believe there are summer hours when this section of road is open to vehicles. The walk was invigorating and satisfying. We wore shorts, hats, gloves and winter vests! It is spring hiking!

The Steward Observatory is part of the University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy and is recognized as one of the premier programs in the world. Star-gazing opportunities are available and information is available on the University’s website. https://skycenter.arizona.edu/content/visit-skycenter

Before leaving the summit area of Mt. Lemmon we explored the mountain town of Summerhaven. Look what we found! Santa Clause’s summer residence. Maybe?

Saguaro Cactus March 2024

We tried to re-create a picture we took a year ago in front of this very same saguaro! Other than standing on opposite sides I think we did pretty good! The prickly pear cactus has grown taller and looks very healthy. Maybe a picture here will become an annual tradition.

Saguaro Cactus April 2023

Tucson delivered top notch trails, museums, art galleries, restaurants and activities. We loved the people we met and the experiences we had. We are excited to visit again. Live Simple Live Happy

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