If You Only Have Three Days in Arizona
If you only have three days in the Grand Canyon State, choose whether to see the canyons of Northern Arizona, drive to national forests along the scenic byways of central Arizona, or get a taste of Sonoran desert geology and Mexican-infused culture in the area sometimes referred to as “Baja Arizona.” You’ll wish you had more than three days after getting a sampling of the sense of place that runs strong in the stunning state of Arizona.
2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743, USA
Mountain Lion. Cougar. Puma. Panther. Any way you call it, it’s majestic but fear-inspiring... At the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, on the western edge of Tucson, you can get face-to-face with one of these massive felines; their well-designed habitat includes a high den with a thick glass window. If your timing is right, a catnap will have just ended, and you’ll be studied closely. “Desert Museum” might seem like a misnomer. Part botanical garden, part zoo, and part, yes, museum, it’s been ranked one of the best in the world. The habitats are well thought-out, and you get a true feel for the flora and fauna of the lush Sonora desert, which straddles the US-Mexico border: from the Sea of Cortez to the mountains, from subtropical coast to saguaros that get the occasional dusting of snow...
5201 S 12th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85706, USA
Come to “El Güero Canelo” if you’re in southern Arizona. It’s a Tucson institution where you can get the best “Sonoran/Mexican hot dogs” north of the border... But what’s a Sonoran hot dog? It’s a wiener wrapped in bacon(!), served atop beans in a bolillo roll, topped with tomatoes, mustard, mayo, onions, and green chiles. That is, if you get it “con todo"—with everything. Some say these were invented in the city of Hermosillo, about a half-day’s drive south of Tucson, in the mid-20th century. They’re hard to find in most of the U.S. A tamarind soda washes it down nicely, and at “El Güero Canelo” you can get all the salsa, pico de gallo, roasted jalapeños, and grilled green onions you can eat to go with it! (Tacos and burros—not “burritos"—also are available, as well as “caramelos,” the Sonoran term for quesadillas with meat.) For more info: elguerocanelo.com
Page, AZ 86040, USA
I saw this place in so many photos before but when I got there and saw it in person it was such an overwhelming experience. Getting there is easy. You take the Interstate 89 South from Page and after 7 minutes you get to the parking lot. The road is suffering some constructions down the road from here and it will appear as closed but go passed the detour sign anyway. Once in the parking lot you must walk about a quarter of a mile to the actual spot where Horseshoe Bend is located. Beware there are no protection rails so one must pay attention when approaching the edge. At 7am there are very few people around and it’s also a good time for photography. After the sun is high in the sky everything is too bright for decent photos.
US 188, Payson, AZ 85541, USA
Hit the trails at the Cave Creek hiking area, about 30 miles north of town in the Tonto National Forest, to see the rare crested saguaro cactus in its fantastic fan shapes. Trail number 4 meanders alongside Cave Creek for most of the 10-mile trek, providing many opportunities to dip your toes. The trailhead is located off Forest Road 24, (480) 595-3300. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue. Illustration by Michael Hoeweler.
Gates Pass, Arizona 85745, USA
Residents and visitors alike drive out to the western edge of Tucson on most evenings. The area averages 350 sunny days a year, so viewing the sunset is almost always a possibility. Summer evenings are predictably hot, but you’re in for a technicolor show if the monsoon clouds are just right. Gates Pass is the preferred spot. Mid-week evenings, you can sometimes have the vista almost to yourself. From the middle of the city, head west on Speedway. It curves up into the Tucson Mountains after fifteen or twenty minutes, and you won’t miss the Pass. Cacti, mountains, and sky: some clichés just don’t get old...
Kitt Peak, Arizona 85634, USA
About an hour and fifteen minutes southwest of Tucson rises Kitt Peak—a 6875-ft mountain crowned with the world’s largest concentration of optical telescopes, radio telescopes, and the world’s largest solar telescope. And just south of Kitt Peak, the highest mountain in the range is Baboquivari (7730ft/2356m), believed to be the navel of the world, in local Tohono O’odham native cosmology. What better place to gaze up and contemplate the vastness of the night sky than here in this desert? Drive up in the day, and you can either take a guided tour or wander around the telescopes on your own. At night, with advance planning, as part of the “Nightly Observing Program,” get up close to distant planets and galaxies... You can even reserve online, but the observatory recommends doing so two to four weeks in advance...and bring a blanket; nights are cold on this desert mountaintop. (And from July 15 to September 1, it’s closed for monsoon season.)