Tucson (Mar 2017)

Greetings Blog Fans.  We’ve just returned from Spring Break in sunny Arizona and as usual, I’m documenting it here.

arizona map

For this trip we’d thought we would give Tucson a try.  We’ve been to Sedona twice and the Grand Canyon and Page once so why not head south?  Tucson is about 2 hours southeast of Phoenix (which is another 2 hours from Sedona).   Logistics and pricing had us flying into Tucson and out of Phoenix.

tucson mapMy grand plans hit a slight speed bump as our flight out on Friday was severely delayed (we actually de-planed in Indy).  We rebooked for Saturday morning/afternoon and ending up losing a half day (bye-bye Pima Air & Space Museum).  Due to some commitments on the back end, that left us with 5 nights and 4 full days of activities.  We spent most of our time hiking (surprise, surprise).

Tucson is very spread out so there isn’t really a central location.  We chose to stay in the Catalina Foothills in a great VRBO.  It was a bit of a splurge but we did enjoy the extra space.

Our itinerary corresponding to the map above:

Day 0:  (arrival day) Mission San Xavier del Bac

Day 1:  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum & Saguaro National Park (West)

Day 2:  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 3:  Sabino Canyon

Day 4:  Ventana Canyon & Catalina State Park

Saturday:  Mission San Xavier del Bac

From the website:

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.
The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.
The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.
It’s required some very intensive restoration work over the years.  Glad we got to see it.  Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective), we were too late for the guided tours so we just had a bit of a walk around ourselves.
the view walking in from the parking lot
an interior shot (we’ve seen a lot of churches so it’s hard to get too excited I’m afraid)
interior courtyard
better side view with a little elevation
Alex was the only one willing to scramble to the top

Sunday (Day 1):  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

For the first full day, we headed to the west side for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Being early risers plus operating on east coast time allowed for an early start.  The museum is essentially a desert-themed zoo.  It was a bit pricey for 4 of us, but worthwhile nonetheless.  A sample of the photos are below.

the walking path weaves between some natural scenery


inside for this creepy guy — fortunately didn’t see this one in the wild
mountain lion chilling in the shade
bear trying to find the hidden food (not the best shot) — bigger than I was expecting
feeding time (dead and thawing rodent)
working it — we lost interest after awhile however
flowers are always a big hit, especially in the contrasting desert
we particularly enjoyed this cactus garden
mountain goat
and a very young one
hard to tell but that’s a baby hummingbird

Sunday (Day 1):  Saguaro National Park (West)

Two sites in one day.  How about that!  For the afternoon we stopped at the Saguaro National Park since we were close by (per the plan!).  As you might have gathered, there are 2 districts for the national park (separated by about an hour’s drive) which both protect portions of the Sonoran desert.  The west side encompasses some of the Tucson Mountains.

Saguaro (suh-whar-o) is the type of traditional-looking cactus that the region is famous for.

We stopped at the visitor’s center to get recommendations and decided on the hike to Wasson’s Peak via the Esperanza trail.  This allowed us to take in the Bajada Scenic Loop (and then some).

1-Saguaro West map
out and back hike up to the peak–Esperanza trail to the Hugh Norris Trail
2-Wassons Peak
just under 8 miles with a 1700′ in 4:12 (3:30 moving)–nice one!
that could be our destination — I just liked the view
as I said, flowers are a hit
we liked this unique (to us) fuzzy, stick cactus
this yellow flowering bush was fairly common
the views back after a little climb
my favorite teens
near the final climb
almost there
waiting for us as usual
my crew at the top
Look, I made it too!
rattlesnake round 2 (see below)

We had a little bit of extra excitement on this hike.  On the way up, with the kids slightly ahead of us, Nicole startled herself and a rattlesnake.  Only the kids saw it, but we all heard it.  It was loud!  Fortunately it sought refuge under the bush while we scrambled over the rocks to get by.  Needless to say, Nicole was a little shaken up (oh, but what a story!).

Oh the way back, she was on the lookout in the same area and saw it again (that’s it slithering away in the photo).  Both were ready this time so no rattle.

Monday (Day 2):  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 2 — off to the east side to the Rincon Mountain version of Saguaro National Park and another hike.  We lazed around a bit to time the opening of the visitor’s center (9 am) and see what hikes were recommended.

The east side has more interconnected trails which allows you to make things up as you go.  The signage was very good as was the map.

1-Saguaro East Map
we did the scenic loop here as well — the trailhead was up top (Loma Verde)
2-Saguaro East Map2
this map was a little more detailed (we went clockwise)
3-Saguaro East
we stayed fairly level for the first 3 miles and then got a little climb in for a better view–7.6 miles (450′) in 3:50 (3:06 moving)
good size saguaro at the beginning of the hike


short and sweet flowering cactus


how’s that for scale?
quintessential view (minus the slight clouds)
mountains off in the distance (north I think)
This is my poor attempt to capture the gila monster that Alex almost ran into (they each scampered in opposite directions).  I did see him but didn’t get him in the photo.
kinda looked like this (trust me)
another nice view
I like this one–nice shot guys!
the usual view for Kuk and me

I really enjoyed the varying landscape, greenery and views on the east side.  Most of the rest of the crew preferred the west side hike to the peak though.

Tuesday (Day 3):  Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson and was our hiking destination for day 3.  There’s a tram to take folks into the canyon and there are numerous trail options.

We eschewed the tram (and the $40 cost) and hiked up Blackett’s Ridge while taking in the Phone Line link connector to make a “lollipop” loop coming back.  More rocks and “big steps” involved in the climb which slowed down the vertically challenged among us (i.e. Kuk).

1-Sabino Canyon map
you’ll have to settle for my GPS map for this one
2-Sabino Canyon Blacketts Ridge
this was a healthy climb (1750′) for an overall hike of again, just under 8 miles (5:03/3:48)
plenty of energy early in the morning!
great views even before the climb
looking back across town
kicked out the mountain lion for the nice, cool perch
lots of saguaros poking up
first of many nice shots with my #1


and another
starting to change the vantage point as we climb
looking down the canyon (where the tram goes)
family shot with an ominous sky–taken by a family from Plainfield who also made the climb!
another nice family shot


solo Nicole
one more with Kuk (who is surprisingly still happy!)
the view back down trail
these guys were waiting for a stumble
semi-artsy shot
more saguaro on the hillside (in the dark — sorry)
meep-meep (road runner)

Nice rewarding hike though certainly a little tougher.  It was slow going during some parts of the climb but we were all glad we made it.

Wednesday (Day 4):  Ventana Canyon

Last day.  We had ambitions of potentially doing two 5-milers but given this was the 4th day in a row that wasn’t likely.  The first stop was in Ventana Canyon off the backside of the swanky Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.  The in/out trail goes quite a ways out and up but we just took it to the Maiden Pools.

The trail was very rocky and was hard on the feet even with hiking boots.  It had a much more overgrown feel and lots of bees a buzzin on the way back.  Probably our least favorite of the 4 big hikes.

1-Ventana Canyon
just over 5 miles in 4:02 (3:24 moving) with 1300′
look at those saguaros and blue skies!
saguaros peppering the hillside
cactus skeleton — pretty cool
looking back down the canyon after a partial climb
farther up
chilling on the rocks by the pools (no pictures of the pools as there were lots of folks about)

Wednesday (Day 4):  Catalina State Park

The stretch goal was to make it to Catalina State Park and perhaps do another medium hike to the Romero Pools.  We weren’t feeling it.  So, we had a quick drive into the park and walked one of the short loops (the Nature Trail).  We’ll have to come back another time.

had some big-ins here
Pima County Sheriff’s office (no time to chat them up Tim!)
great big saguaro (same as on their postcard)

Bits and Bobs

We also had the great pleasure of meeting up with some old friends who winter here.  Thanks for dinner Dave & Jan–it was great to see you!  It would be easier to meet in Indy though — we’ll have to do that too.  🙂

Dave gave me a nice tip about the International Space Station.  We were able to see a 4-minute pass on Tuesday in the clear night skies.  Very cool!

The weather was great (70s during the day down to 50 at night).  Summers would take some getting used to though.

We enjoyed El Minuto Cafe for some classic Sonoran food.  Glad I got to try the local specialty carne seca.  We flew out of Phoenix so I was able to take the family to one of my favorite places (Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe) for lunch.

And finally, it’s hard to write this blog without thinking of my biggest fan.  I always imagine myself talking to my mother when I write these as she always enjoyed them so.  I started the UK blog (and continued with this one) as a way to communicate back to her and the rest of the family and will always imagine her reaction and comments even though she’s no longer with us.  Love you Mom.


We enjoyed our trip and could have used a few more days.  We certainly left plenty for another trip or two.  Our inclination is to want to compare this to Sedona but it’s really apples/oranges.  Sedona definitely has more of the wow factor for us.  In terms of future retirement options, more research is required!  🙂

Hike rankings:

Kids:  Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Ventana Canyon

Kuk:  Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Ventana Canyon

Steve:  SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, Ventana Canyon

Enjoy — see you next time (back to the UK in July).  We’ll have a high school graduate by then!


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