Tucson is perfect for those looking for a getaway

If you feel like getting away for a few days but don’t want to travel too far, consider Tucson, Arizona.

The legendary city is about 6½ hours south of Boulder City. While Tucson’s elevation of 2,389 feet isn’t all that different from Boulder City, the flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert are vastly different from those in our own Mojave.

Tucson’s weather is great this time of year. Average daily highs in February are in the low 1970s, and overnight lows are in the high 40s.

While there are plenty of outdoor attractions, three of them stand out.

Saguaro National Park is named after the towering saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), the characteristic plant of the Sonoran Desert. These slow-growing cacti can reach more than 40 feet, but a small cactus – about 2 feet tall – could be 30 years old. The first “arms” of a saguaro may not appear until they are 50 to 100 years old.

There is no better place to see saguaros than here as the park is home to around 1.5 million people, spread across the two boroughs.

The Tucson Mountain District is on the west side of Tucson and the Rincon District is on the east. There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails between the two, from easy adventures to multi-day adventures. Different types of cacti bloom in February and March, but saguaro cacti begin to bloom in late April once the heat sets in.

The white, waxy flowers appear on the top of the stem or arms, open at night and close in the afternoon. In June they produce a red fruit that the indigenous people harvested for food.

The visitor centers are currently open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and are limited to 10 guests each. Public programs are closed, but the desert trails, bathrooms, picnic areas, and roads are open. To reduce cash handling and contact, the park recommends visitors pay entry fees online before visiting.

Due to the pandemic, it is always advisable to find out about closings or changes to the park at the last minute before leaving. Contact nps.gov/sagu or 520-733-5153.

Another excellent destination, and especially a great choice if you have kids with you, is the 98-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. About 14 miles west of Tucson, the museum is just two miles from the Saguaro National Park West Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District.

The museum is primarily an open-air museum with 85 percent of the exhibits along hiking trails. Visitors can enjoy more than 55,000 plants of 1,200 native species on 2 miles of gravel and paved paths.

This is also a great place to learn about mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Highlights include the Mountain Woodland habitat with mule deer, a black bear, a mountain lion, Mexican gray wolves, and a porcupine. Spears, coyotes, and lizards live on the Desert Loop Trail. Be sure to visit the hummingbird aviary, which has many different species.

The museum is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through February and 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from March through October. Allow at least two to three hours. Presale tickets are required; They can be obtained from desertmuseum.org or from the guest service at 520-883-1380.

For more information, contact the museum at 520-883-2702. Masks are required at all times for anyone over 5 years old.

Another popular spot that’s especially kid-friendly is the 24-acre Reid Park Zoo, which is home to more than 500 animals. This city-owned zoo is one of the best in our area and should be supported as it is deeply involved with conservation programs around the world to save animals and their habitats. The zoo is pretty clean.

Located in the heart of Tucson, the hotel is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm through May and 8 am to 2 pm from June to September. Presale tickets are required. Call 520-791-3204 or visit reidparkzoo.org for more information.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books on hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide and co-author of the book Access for All Seeing the Southwest with Reduced Mobility. The wall can be reached at [email protected].

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