Visiting Tucson, AZ Part-One

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Tucson has been an incredible location to visit over flowing with hiking, cultural heritage, and unique destinations. On a cross-country trip last spring we were traveling Interstate-10 on our way Chiricahua National Monument. We planned a quick stop in Tucson to re-supply and visit Saguaro National Park East. I was humbled by the beauty and life we found in the desert, and was excited to be surrounded by Saguaros.

Seeing the magnificence and importance of these beautiful cacti for the first time definitely left an impression on me. We spent only a few hours in the park, exploring several short trails and driving the perimeter road. I was immediately hooked and wanted to come back again! That was about a year ago. We have learned so much since then, and explored places in many states. But the allure and beauty of this place called for our return. This time we scheduled an entire month to enjoy the many activities we hoped to find here in Tucson.


Tucson is Arizona’s second largest city. The Metropolitan area records just over a million people, it is bicycle friendly, and considered a dark sky region. It is surrounded by several mountain ranges, the Santa Catalinas, Tortolitas, Santa Ritas, Rincons, and Tucsons, as well as Saguaro East and West National Parks. Additionally, there are many historic missions, State Parks, and National Forests.

Tucson is also the home of the University of Arizona providing many cultural and athletic venues to enjoy. Because of the immense volume of hikes and activities we discovered, we quickly realized one month would not even scratch the surface. However, we were not discouraged and created a list of a few of the activities and hikes which were the most intriguing to us.

Below you will find information about some of those places. This piece is intended to inspire you. Get out there and find your own favorite places. As many of you already know, I post pictures and information describing our daily adventures on our Facebook. For more details please follow our hikingmemere Facebook page.

Saguaro National Park East

Ernie’s Falls

We were barely in Tucson for twenty-four hours and we found our way to this beautiful location in Saguaro National Park East. Ernie’s falls is easily accessed from the Douglas Spring Trailhead located at the end of Speedway Blvd. There are many trail variations Alltrails states a 6.6 mile round trip with 1213′ of elevation gain.

The trail approaches the falls from a higher elevation. When it crossed the creek we took a 180 degree turn and climbed our way up the rocks through the creek bed. We traversed from side to side trying to keep our feet dry, as we climbed, the beautiful waterfall came into view. We were the only people in the area, which is rare in an extremely popular National Park.

The sound of the waterfall and warmth of the sun was the perfect place to sit and have lunch. We couldn’t resist taking our shoes off and enjoying the water. The water flowing through the creek was cold and refreshing. After spending a couple of hours enjoying this place we hiked on to our next waterfall for the day. Bridal Wreath Falls.

Bridal Wreath Falls

We combined Bridal Wreath Falls and Ernie’s Falls as one hike. The serenity of Ernie’s falls was replaced by the hustle and bustle of Bridal Wreath Falls. The falls are about .8 miles apart and both are accessed from the Douglas Spring Trailhead. Bridal Wreath falls is only a couple tenths of a mile from the end of the trail, whereas to reach Ernie’s falls it is a half mile hike mostly downhill, which will then require hiking back up. The extra effort hiking to Ernie’s was definitely rewarded. Bridal Wreath Falls is marvelous, but very busy. It was challenging trying to get a picture of the falls, without lots of other people in it.

Little Wildhorse Tank

Little Wildhorse Tank was a beautiful place and a wonderful hike which can be accessed from multiple trails. As the Little Wildhorse Trail crosses the creek look to the left, the park has a stationary cell phone holder where they encourage people to take a picture and then upload it to the provided website. This cumulative data helps researches document changes in the environment and water levels.

After the trail crosses the creek the natural rock slabs quickly come into view. There are several levels of cascading water. The ledges were fun to play on and explore. So many opportunities for pictures. We noticed a trail to the right side of the creek which of course I wanted to check-out. It lead us to the amazing pool of water in the picture. We have hiked to many tanks in our short time here in the west, this being one of the most beautiful.

Three Tank Trail

Saguaro National Park East is only a few miles from the RV park where we stayed. There are many combinations of trails leading through diverse desert plants as well as thriving riparian zones. We were surprised by the amount and variety of vegetation. As was the case on this day, we experienced many rainy days.

Garwood Trail

Another wonderful hike on another rainy day! The best thing about the rain has been its sporadic nature. We have been able to see it coming and alter our hikes. Hail and burst clouds did catch us a couple of times though! However, it was no problem. Shortly after the rain was done the sun quickly dried us out.

Ridge View Trail

Ridge view trail was an easy afternoon hike. It’s 2.6 miles round trip with 374′ of elevation gain leading to a high point overlooking Rincon Valley. The trail begins from the Loma Alta trailhead, which is outside of Saguaro NP East. There are many trails that begin here and it would be a great starting point to access the high peaks of Mt. Rincon or Mica mountain.

Southern Arizona’s Attractions Savings Booklet

We happened upon this brochure at a stand in our RV park office. We seek out local adventures and often finding these treasure trove of pamphlets helps us choose our path. This particular brochure not only provided a concise description of many activities, it also provided a discount pass to many activities in the Tucson area. We purchased an unlimited pass for $25.00 and have more than doubled that in savings. The information is on line and it is easy to use.

ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center & Mine Tours

I love factory tours. This mine tour at the ASARCO mine is a gem. A top notch fully immersive behind the scenes look into everyday life at a modern day pit mine. The scale of the operation and size of the equipment is amazing. I grew up playing in dump trucks and tractors, my father worked in construction and owned his own excavating business. Tractors were part of daily life. Seeing these enormous pieces of equipment, I just wanted to get in there and “play” myself.

The mine has a north and south unit and both are actively mining. We toured the south unit which is the more efficient side of the mine with larger equipment and producing more copper with less labor and costs.

Our tour began in an informative visitors center. Right on time their own custom coach arrived to pick us up. It was comfortable, clean and provided great viewing. As we proceeded through the mine our guide provided specific information about the mine and general information pertaining to open pit mining. We stopped several times in specific locations for hands on opportunities to photograph and view activities.

At the end of the tour, we were dropped off at the visitors center. We then proceeded to wander through their incredible equipment yard. Modern day and past equipment were both on display. It was an informative and wonderful tour.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere One is Mother Earth! We are all here living in a self-contained singular biosphere. We have only the resources which this planet provides. Minerals, plants, and animals that make up our world provide the essential ingredients to maintain life on Earth. Biosphere Two was built in Oracle AZ between 1987-1991.

The original mission of the project was to build and study an artificial self-sustaining biosphere. Eight people sealed themselves in this Biosphere for two years. The experiment was a failure. Because one crew member needed to go to the hospital after an accidental laceration to their hand. Additionally, carbon dioxide levels reached unsafe levels. Oxygen needed to be pumped into the Biosphere for the safety of the participants. Maintaining enough food for eight people was also a challenge!

The tour allowed access inside the biosphere and throughout the grounds. An audio tour was provided, allowing us to tour the facility at our own pace. It was an incredible experience walking through the seven different biomes, rainforest, a desert, and even an ocean with a coral reef. Biosphere two managed all life functions including having the ability to produce rain.

The biosphere is currently run by the University of Arizona. Many groups are still conducting experiments in the Biosphere. The facility is open to tours and visits seven days a week, there is a $27.00 per person fee.

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

I am so lucky my wife is willing to explore a variety of activities with me. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures was an incredible find. I have always loved miniatures, trains, doll houses and shadow boxes. They can transport you to a time past, present, or future if you allow yourself to be drawn in.

This museum is wonderful for spurring the imagination of young and old. From a full size tree with gnome homes scattered throughout to a colossal amount of Christmas miniatures. Entire dolls heads carved out of a single grain of rice. From the ancient city of Petra to a a crafters shop complete with a fully functional miniature loom, and everything in between. We spent hours exploring in amazement. Perspective is an incredible idea.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Cave Mountain Park was a gem in our Tucson back yard. It is located adjacent and south of Saguaro National Park East. We decided to sign up for the ladder tour. It was an excellent choice! We shared our adventure with another couple and together with our guide had an incredible experience.

Colossal cave was once pillaged and defaced until it was purchased by an ordinary citizen. Subsequently, the new owner spent his life protecting and sharing his love of the cave with others. Because of the enormous amount of work required to make repairs and restore the habitat he decided to turn ownership of the cave over to the government. Then the Civilian Conservation Corps was able to come in and stabilize the cave and build the walkways and visitor areas we enjoy today.

We climbed and squeezed through many areas of the cave. At one point we traversed a section in total darkness using only our hands to navigate. It was awesome! The ladder tour took us about four hours and was more physical than the ordinary tour, I would highly recommend it.

San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier del Bac was a highly recommended stop on our journey. It is a historic Catholic Mission located on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. Today, Franciscans run the mission and serve the local community. It is an active church offering daily masses.

It is nicknamed the White Dove of the desert, and is a National Historic Landmark. The floor plan design is a Latin cross with the highest dome being 52′ tall. The statues and frescoes were amazing!

The visitors center is open 9am-4pm daily and hosts over 200,000 visitors annually. A non-profit group offers tours of the mission every day except Sunday. There is also a gift shop. This was an incredible place to visit!

Picacho Peak

Wow! Is the first word I have when talking about our climb up Picacho Peak. Yes it is a climb, not a hike. A wonderful, exhilarating, I’m alive type of climb! Picacho Peak is located to the West of Tucson just off I-10 in Picacho Peak State Park. We chose the Hunter Trail which is 2.8 mile round trip with 2112′ of elevation gain, according to my Alltrails app.

Aside from the incredible views, blooming flowers and cacti the hi light of this trail has to be the hair raising on the back of your neck exposure. Jess and I both love hiking and indoor rock climbing. This trail combined both activities just without the harness or the rope.

The route is heavily cabled which provides an appreciated feeling of safety. However, the cables are simply an aid, we had to climb hand over hand, many times above sheer cliffs. One slip or wrong step was not an option. Then there were the sections without cables.

The typical exhilaration we feel when we reach the top of a mountain we reserved for completing the climb down. Getting to the top only means we have completed half the work. Today I was nervously anticipating the descent. In my opinion climbing down is always more difficult and riddled with risk!

This was a hike like nothing we have ever done. We rose to the occasion, overcame the challenge and completed the climb!

This concludes Tucson part-one, part -two will soon follow. Live Simple Live Happy

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