My home state of Minnesota just broke a record for snowfall in February. And then she broke my heart when I realized the month was only half over. Which is why my friend Bridget and I, desperate snowbirds, winged a last-minute trip to Tucson.
We arrived crabby and shovel-bent. When we got used to walking without traction devices on our boots, we looked up and kept noticing “Keep Tucson Nice” bumper stickers. At first, this seemed like a more boring version of “Keep Austin Weird.” Then Tucsonians turned out to be pretty, pretty nice. We had just two days to discover how nice this Austin of Arizona really is.
Bridget and I formed our plan of attack over a skateboard flight of beer. Crooked Tooth (228 E. 6th) is one of a potent concentration of craft breweries around downtown Tucson, which is pretty small to begin with.
We started out Day #1 with a hike at Saguaro National Park, home to the biggest cacti in America. Since we were going to the western section, we stopped first at the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum that all my friends had talked up. When met with stroller gridlock and a 25-dollar admission charge to what looked like a zoo, we decided to take a picture of the crested saguaro and roll.
Good choice. At the national park, we hiked in Saguaro forests and got stunning 350-degree views on the Hugh Norris Trail. The trail is billed as “long, difficult and quite spectacular” and so it was. We earned some post-hike margaritas. We hit the patio with live music at La Concina in Old Town, and Bridget scored a like-new suede blazer for cheap at a resale store in the complex. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen her return from a trip without a new leather jacket.) Dinner was a solar-powered pizza from Brooklyn Pizza Company which deserved its good reviews.
We started Day #2 with a hike in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, which begins in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Winter snow melt caused the river to run high, and the tram that takes visitors deep into Sabino Canyon was not in service. So, we set out on foot from the Visitor’s Center to sample some of the 30 miles of trails. The scenery was still stunning.
Balancing the majestic, breath-taking scenery in Tucson are little pockets of quirk. I give you The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. The shift in perspective starts at the door. Aaaand it gets weirder from there. The museum’s mission is to show history through hundreds of tiny dioramas and dollhouses. I was particularly intrigued by the era featuring wee dogs in period costumes with even wee-er framed pictures of their doggie relatives on their walls. Startlingly absorbing for adults and kids. 4455 E Camp Lowell Dr., Tucson.
On to another pocket of quirk tucked into a residential neighborhood. “Valley of the Moon” is a one-of-a-kind playground built by a man who thought like a kid. A friend of Walt Disney’s, George Phar Legler started building his park in the 1920s to promote kindness (turns out the bumper sticker has a precedent.) He was a first-gen imagineer.
Our “wizard” tour guide, Princess Luna, is what you’d call next-gen, as in “of the next world.” Luna pointed out details like the crumbling remains of “gnomes” he created by pouring cement into Halloween masks and gloves; they are pleasingly creepy. When she told a heart-wrenching story about George, for what must have been her 500th time, she got verklempt. I may have gotten misty, but Bridget, SHE was definitely crying. Valley of the Moon is on the National Register of Historic Places and open the third Sunday of each month. Check their website for schedule and upcoming performances because you really shouldn’t miss this. 2544 E. Allen Rd., Tucson.
We finished a day of blue-sky hiking and roadside attracting at the Hotel Congress. This landmark brick building is the oldest original hotel downtown. In 2018, the hotel soiled its marquee with the addition of “100,” in honor of its 100th anniversary, below the classic “Hotel Congress” sign. (Sigh.) There’s a tap room, a room to hear music, and rooms to stay in if you don’t mind a little urban noise. 311 Congress St., Tucson.
And just like that the weekend was over. Tucson is easy to get around in, easy to relax in, just…easy. With punch lists in mind for our next visit, we returned home to our snowblowers, much sunnier and slightly friendlier.