Foster Travel Publishing

Guest or Dude Ranches Offer an Authentic Western Vacation

June 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

by Lee Foster

The “dude” or guest ranch vacation continues to flourish in several western states despite the visible threat of urbanization and the invisible threat of skyrocketing liability insurance costs.

Foremost among these ranch destinations is the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson. Tanque Verde is the largest and oldest of the Arizona guest ranches.

Tanque Verde lies on the eastern side of the city, adjacent to the Saguaro National Monument and the Coronado National Forest. While retaining its rural feel, Tanque Verde has evolved to become a major destination ranch resort.

The traditional western ranch experience of horseback riding remains, with more than a hundred horses maintained for guests. Tanque Verde’s fortunate location, next to vast public land holdings (almost a million and a half acres), insures that its riding trails will never be developed.

“Guest ranches have been a typical Tucson lodging tradition,” observed the manager. “But most have disappeared. We had 37 guest ranches in Tucson as recently as 1952, but only three remain today.”

The manager explained, however, that those three are secure because of their proximity to public land holdings.

“Guest ranches sold out to become subdivisions,” he said. “You can’t send people riding through housing developments.”

Ranches throughout the west that escaped the pressures of development have faced another challenge: rising liability insurance coverage. Putting an inexperienced guest on a horse in these litigious times is a risky business. Liability rates have increased sharply, when the insurance is available. Only well-financed operations, such as Tanque Verde, have survived.

The setting of Tanque Verde is choice, with many of the 59 rooms overlooking a desert environment dominated by large saguaro cactus and the mountain foothills. Rooms are spacious, with western-style decor and fireplaces. Arizona Indian-blanket motifs and the adobe construction style of Arizona define the ambiance.

“A ranch vacation will appeal to the traveler who likes western-style informality,” said the manager. “Plus good food, horseback riding, and peace and quiet.”

Tanque Verde has changed with the times to meet the interests of today’s traveler. Family members who don’t ride horses may want to swim, play tennis, take a sauna, or hike with a naturalist. The indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sauna-jacuzzi, and four tennis courts are as important as horseback riding. Sumptuous all-you-can-eat buffet meals, included in the accommodations price, have replaced the romantic image of a cowpoke throwing a handful of coffee beans into boiling water. Although the patio-style rooms and cottages appear rustic, they all have private baths, complete heat-air conditioning, and phones. Lodging, meals, horse riding, and the “resort” facilities are included in the room price.

Despite the changes, Tanque Verde has not lost its soul. The children’s counselor, for example, organizes a daily “rodeo” where youngsters practice their horse skills on kid-size horses and ponies. Historically, Tanque Verde also has much to celebrate as a part of the Old West. In the 1880s, shortly after Rafael Carillo founded the ranch, the Butterfield Stage careened past here on the route into Tucson during the 24-day trip from St. Louis to San Francisco. Tanque Verde means “green pool” in Spanish, referring to the pools of water in the creek beds, fed by underground sources.

The rural setting, with only the quail to announce the morning, contrasts sharply with other, more urban, Tucson lodging options. Due to its sunny climate, Tanque Verde remains open all year, without a transformation emphasizing winter sports, especially cross country skiing, as happens at more northerly guest ranches.

The Tanque Verde manager has watched Tucson guest ranches evolve for several decades. Originally, guest ranches were cattle ranches in need of gentlemanly workers who liked to ride horses out to inspect cattle and fences. This was pleasant work. City slickers came out to do the work in exchange for lodging. So arose, in part, the name dude, as in dude ranch, which is now replaced with the word guest ranch so as not to reflect pejoratively on the person who is the patron. The guest ranch immerses the traveler in an outdoors, down-home, horsy world, suffused with the slower pace of country life.

“Guest ranches offer an authentic American vacation experience,” said the Tanque Verde manager. “I believe we will see a comeback of them. Ironically, new hotels in a place such as Tucson help the remaining guest ranches. New hotels bring in visitors. The visitor looks around and finds the guest ranch. Some visitors choose the guest ranch for their next visit.”


Guest Ranches in the West

Here are a few examples of guest ranches in the West, plus an information source where you can learn about additional guest ranches in the listed states.


For information on Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, Tucson, see

All the West:

Dude Ranchers’ Association lists 100 guest ranches in various states at


Rock Springs Guest Ranch is in Bend, Oregon. See


Lone Mountain Ranch, in Big Sky, Montana, is at


Triangle X Ranch, in Moose, Wyoming, is at


C Lazy U Ranch, in Granby, Colorado, is at

The Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association is at


Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park

August 29, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Grand Canyon Arizona – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives wins top honors in the history of American travel for the classic misjudgment of interest in a travel destination. Ives wrote, in 1857, after viewing the Grand Canyon, “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”

Little did Ives know that Coronado and his men had gazed into these reaches earlier, but saw little profit in scenery and more in gold.

Ives could not imagine that by the 21st century nearly five million annual visitors, both Americans and citizens from many other countries, would rank the Grand Canyon as one of the superb travel destinations on the planet. For spectacular vistas from dizzying heights and for technicolor transformations, especially at sunrise and sunset, the Grand Canyon is world class. A mile deep, 600 feet to 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon offers a sublime spectacle, with a slice of geologic time visible on the vertical walls.

Not content to be completely wrong about the Canyon, Ives went on to generalize about the Colorado River.

“It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed,” said Ives.

The mighty Colorado River, eroding its way through Utah and entering Arizona from the north, cuts into the deep gorges of the Grand Canyon as it passes west. The river, moving at assured and moderate speed, pushes boulders ahead with ease. Over eons, the river created the canyon, displacing the soil a grain at a time. Ives would be surprised to see the number of nature observers and rafters who express a great fondness for the river.

A third of the visitors to the park each year are foreigners. Records kept at the park show that people from 110-120 countries seek out the park each year. The Japanese, British, Germans, French, Italians, Canadians, and Australians are among the more prominent groups. The park service once conducted some revealing studies of human behavior at the South Rim. For example, the average Japanese visitor spent 17 minutes gazing into the Canyon and 57 minutes in the gift shops.

The beauty of natural erosion is the major draw to this rather harsh environment, situated at 7,000 feet above sea level. Most visitors come to see the Canyon from the South Rim.

Winter brings the dedicated photographers who seek out the crispest particulate-free light. It is said that air pollution, from multiple sources, reduces the optimal visibility by perhaps 30 percent.

Getting to Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is in northwest Arizona. The nearest major fly-in cities are Phoenix, 225 miles southeast, and Las Vegas, 278 miles west. Flagstaff is closer, but has limited commercial aircraft flights from Phoenix. The small Grand Canyon National Park Airport is served by charter flights from Salt Lake, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Interstates 17 and 40 lead to the Canyon, with connecting routes 89 and 64, which are both good paved roads.

One way to arrive at the Grand Canyon is the Grand Canyon Railway, connecting the town of Williams to the South Rim, some 62 miles away. The experience of riding the railway is highly recommended. Lodging at both ends can be arranged with a rail ticket in packages from AAA and other travel agents. You begin at the train platform in Williams in the morning. Cowboy shootout performers entertain with re-enactments of the “lawless” Old West. The same entertainers stage a “robbery” on the train ride back from Williams.

The leisurely three-hour ride up to the Canyon passes juniper and pinon pine forests alternating with ponderosa pine enclaves, as the altitude changes. On the train you can order a beer or wine. There is a luxury club car and dome cars for scenic viewing. The park service is delighted with the train because the 150,000 people carried each year on the train cuts down on the automobiles that would be entering the park.

History of Grand Canyon National Park

The natural history of the planet is visible in a two-billion-year record on the walls of the Grand Canyon. The Vishnu schist at the bottom of the Canyon is part of the earliest earth formations. The river has been sandpapering or buzz-sawing its way, depending on your preferred metaphor, through the more recently deposited sediment. Sediment that accumulated in the wink of a geologist’s eye, mere millions of years ago, allowed for the possibility of a Grand Canyon.

The human story can be seen at the main Anasazi Native American site along the Canyon. This site is called Tusayan, east from the Rim Village, and has a visitor interpretive center. Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones.” The Anasazi culture, which developed prominently at other Southwest sites such as Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Kayenta, includes the Basketmaker culture (circa 500 AD), when tight baskets of exceptional quality were produced, and the Pueblo culture (1200 AD), when the agrarian and sedentary life of farming reached its peak. About 2,000 known Native American sites have been identified by archaeologists in the Grand Canyon. When drought forced the Anasazi to move east, they contributed to the racial stock that became the Hopi and Navajo cultures.

Although the Anasazi are known to have flourished in the Grand Canyon, there were also earlier tribes, about 4,000-2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found wood twig fetishes made by these people in the shape of deer and sheep, sometimes with small arrows piercing them. Several are on display at the Tusayan site visitor center. Techniques such as carbon dating have determined the 4,000-year date. Between these early people and the Anasazi, a long uninhabited period ensued in the Canyon.

The next chapter of the human story occurred when Francis Vasques de Coronado entered the region. Coronado dispatched Don Lopez de Cardenas to the Grand Canyon area, where the Hopi tribe directed him to the rim. Coronado and his comrades searched restlessly for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, which were presumed to glitter like a mirage of gold and silver somewhere out on the deserts of the Southwest.

Pueblo Native Americans of the Grand Canyon area also attracted missionaries. Father Francisco Tomas Garces, who visited the Hualapai and Havasupai lands at the Grand Canyon, is believed to be the first person to use the term Rio Colorado, meaning the “river colored red” by the silt.

The U.S. assumed control of the Grand Canyon from Mexico with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe. Several geological surveys of the area occurred in the next decades. The most famous of these geological explorers was the one-armed Civil War veteran, John Wesley Powell, who rode a dory through the Grand Canyon in 1869, charting the river’s course. His book on the expedition is a classic of exploration. Powell and his men didn’t know what lay around the next bend.

In 1916 Woodrow Wilson signed the bill making the Grand Canyon a National Park.

Main Attraction of Grand Canyon National Park

The most accessible area of the Grand Canyon is the Grand Canyon Village along the South Rim, where most of the support facilities and 95 percent of all visitors congregate. A circuitous route leads east from the South Rim and then north before curving in in to the North Rim, but that is another world altogether and can be considered as a Nearby Trip.

If you plan to stay at the Grand Canyon, know that there are extensive lodging choices at the South Rim and in the gateway town of Williams. There are also camping and RV sites at the South Rim. However, reservations should be made as far in advance as possible, especially during the busy summer season.

El Tovar is the oldest and most elegant of the lodgings at the Grand Canyon. El Tovar was built in 1905, followed by Bright Angel Lodge in 1935. The El Tovar dining room is famous for sumptuous dining in this rustic setting. Try their specialties, such as French onion soup and roast duck, perhaps preceded by a prickly-pear syrup margarita. Maswik Lodge is the most recent and modern of the South Rim properties. When pausing in Williams before or after a trip, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a dependable choice.

When at the Grand Canyon there are several ways to see it. The most popular method of viewing the Canyon is by driving to overlooks along the east side of the South Rim. In the busy summer season, due to the numerous cars, the Park Service restricts driving along the west side portion of the South Rim overlooks. Park shuttles provide the transportation. Other ways of encountering the Canyon include hiking along the South Rim or into the canyon, biking the South Rim with rental bikes, riding a mule on a day trip through a ponderosa pine forest to the Abyss overlook, and riding a mule (only 10 per day allowed) down to Phantom Ranch at the river. Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is another option.

One spectacular way to view the Grand Canyon is on a helicopter ride from the South Rim. Twenty-five and 45 minutes rides can be arranged with AirStar. From a helicopter the full grandeur of the canyon becomes apparent, with the river snaking along at the bottom and the geological time scale on the canyon walls apparent. Next to the AirStar launch site there is an elaborate Indian craft store, full of silver jewelry, managed by Navajo people.

However you see the Grand Canyon, your awareness of the forces at work will determine the quality of your experience. The power of moving water, the chisel of wind, the pull of gravity, and the contraction-expansion of rock with freezing and thawing temperatures are some players in the concert of nature always performing here. Justifiably, the United Nations ranks the Grand Canyon as a World Heritage Site.

One of the popular ways to encounter the Grand Canyon is to start at the far eastern point and drive, bike, or hike west, stopping at turnouts, either using your car or park shuttle buses, which can transport bikes. See the Canyon from as many perspectives as possible and at different times of the day to enjoy fully its beauty.

Here are some of main pleasures, moving east to west.

At the far eastern point, actually outside the park, a first stop if you have a car could be the Little Colorado River Overlook, a deep chasm showing you a tributary of the Colorado River known as the Little Colorado. At this overlook you will most likely find Navajo and Hopi selling their crafts. Nearby are the Navajo-Hopi Reservations. At this site, outside the park boundary, the tribes can sell their wares directly. Within the park, sales are controlled by the concessionaire. The Hopi and Navajo reservations are well worth exploring. The main Hopi area is within the larger Navajo domain. Both groups produce outstanding crafts in silver, ceramics, and fabrics. The Hopi tend to live in communities, but many Navajo retain their rural life, flourishing in single-family groups.

Just inside the eastern boundary of the park is the Desert View turnoff, with its Watchtower, a 1930s interpretation of Hopi architecture. Here you can see the Colorado River stretching below you. Rafters are often visible in the distance. To the east stretch the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.

The Watchtower is the first of several structures in the park built by the gifted designer Mary Colter, an employee of the Fred Harvey Company, which managed much of the early-era tourism. Colter also built Hermit’s Rest at the far west end of the South Rim road and the noted “geologic” fireplace at Bright Angel Lodge, composing the fireplace of rock from the different strata in the Canyon. She wanted her structures to reflect the distinctive Southwest stone and masonry motifs indigenous to the region, as shown in many historic Native American structures.

Desert View is a good place to see Grand Canyon wildflowers in summer after the thunderstorm rains, which Arizonans call “the monsoons,” stimulate the flowering. Look for orange flower mallows, purple asters, and bushy yellow sunflowers on the grounds around the Watchtower structure.

Lipan Point shows a clear view of the Colorado River. The river drops some 2,000 feet through 280 river miles as it runs through the Grand Canyon. There are 160 major rapids in the park, all rated from 1-10 in terms of complexity. Below you, at Lipan point, the Unkar rapids are rated six on the scale.

Tusayan, mentioned above, is an intriguing stop because of its Native American ruins and interpretive center. Built of Kaibab limestone, the ruins include a kiva, or ceremonial room. The small tribe of perhaps 30 individuals farmed corn, beans, and squash, supplementing this agrarian diet with game, yucca shoots, pinon pine nuts, and berries. Their life required constant attention to food supply. The failure of one crop season could mean starvation. Their method of grinding grain on rocks inevitably caused pieces of sand to appear in the food, which wore down their teeth. By age 20, a typical Anasazi had substantial tooth loss. The average life span was a mere 35-40 years. Utah juniper was used as the structural wood in the wood-limestone buildings. The ruin was an inhabited structure around 1185 AD, when the Anasazi flourished here. The ruin was occupied, archaeologists estimate, for only a short time, approximately 25 years. The cause of its abandonment is not clear, but drought is a probable contributor.

From Tusayan you get a good view of the San Francisco Peaks. In the Navajo language these peaks were given a name that translates roughly as “brilliant and shining like jewels.” In the Hopi language, the peaks were named with words meaning “high place of hills covered with snow.” The descriptions suggest the majestic appearance of these peaks, which dominate the landscape southeast of the Grand Canyon.

There are three trails down into the Canyon from the South Kaibab Trailhead, the Bright Angel Trailhead, and Hermits Rest Trailhead. A hike down into the Canyon should be undertaken only after consultation with the excursions desk at Bright Angel Lodge. You need to be in excellent physical condition to make the hike back up, especially in warm weather. Part of the challenge of a hike into the Canyon is an invisible factor that many visitors fail to allow for–the altitude. At the South Rim you are at 7,000 feet, which demands that you take it slow and easy for at least a couple of days as your body adjusts. If in doubt, underestimate your capacity for strenuous hiking. If you hike, be sure to carry, and drink, sufficient water, at least two quarts per person per day. Wear a hat and prepare for summer temperatures at the bottom of the Canyon in excess of 105 degrees.

If you question your ability to walk down and out, consider a two-day mule ride to the bottom and back, with an overnight at Phantom Ranch. You need to be under 200 pounds weight and capable of the physical exertion of the ride. Anyone who hikes into the Canyon and needs to be brought out must pay the increasingly expensive rescue fees. If you hike in and plan to camp or lodge overnight in the Canyon, obtain a permit and reservation.

Yaki Point is a major turnout with some short hikes to Canyon overlooks. From Yaki Point you get a good sense of the difference between the North Rim and the South Rim. The North Rim, or Kaibab Plateau, slopes gradually down, while the South Rim rises abruptly.

Yavapi Point and Mather Point are within walking distance of Grand Canyon Village. Yavapi Point’s Geology Museum helps interpret the geological story of the Canyon. In the Village area, the nine-mile Rim Trail makes a pleasant, level hiking and biking trail offering views between Hermit’s Rest and Mather Point. There is a 3.5-mile Nature Trail starting at Yavapi Point.

The Grand Canyon Village is where the Park Service has its main interpretive Visitor Center and introductory movie, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder. Here you can also rent bicycles from Bright Angel Bicycles and peruse a bookstore. An ample food store provides basic supplies. The Village was originally built when there were expectations that the five million annual visitors would rise to seven million, with a light-rail train bringing visitors into the park. However, consumer demand for Grand Canyon National Park visits plateaued at five million, so the light-rail vision was abandoned. The Village also offers RV/camping facilities, complete with showers and laundry. From the Village it is an easy walk out to Mather Point, one of the rewarding panoramic views of the Canyon.

When you reach the South Rim section around the El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge, you are in the midst of the main developed area. There you’ll find several gift shops, of which the Hopi House is the most elaborate.

East from El Tovar is the more affordable Bright Angel Lodge, built in 1935. Stop in at the History Room to see Mary Colter’s stone fireplace celebrating the rock strata of the Canyon. Adjacent is a log cabin, the Bucky O’Neill Cabin, the oldest extant structure on the South Rim. Bucky was a miner and helped facilitate building of the Grand Canyon railway. Nearby is the Lookout Studio, another fine view, and the remarkable Kolb Studio, where the quirky brothers, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, photographed park visitors and the landscapes. In 1911 the Kolb Brothers made the notable first film about running the Colorado River in small, wooden dory boats through the Grand Canyon. They showed the film to tourist visitors at their studio. Emery remained in the park until his death in 1976 at the age of 95.

If you wish to make a river rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, see the Park Service website for a list of concessionaires allowed to take parties through the Canyon. Most of the trips depart from Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Some companies offer partial trips that allow you to get on or off at Phantom Ranch, which is directly below the South Rim developed area. Most of the trips occur between April and October, though some companies run trips all year. The variety of float options includes motorized rafts, oar-powered rafts, oar-powered boats, dory boats, and kayaks. This historical start of these whitewater adventures was the 1869 river run by John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran and future director of the United States Geological Survey, who negotiated the treacherous Grand Canyon in his fragile dory boat.

West along the South Rim trail, several turnoffs, easily accessible with park shuttles, show stunning views. Hopi Point, for example, presents a panorama portraying 60 miles of the canyon stretching east and west. Consider stops also for scenic masterpieces at The Abyss and at Pima Point. The road ends at Hermits Rest, another Mary Colter architectural stone gem, where visitors often pause for drinks, snacks, and the gift shop. The Park Service’s favored absence of an apostrophe in the place name Hermits Rest suggests the evolution of the American language, which is proceeding somewhat faster than changes in the geological phenomena observable at this promontory.

Nearby Trips from Grand Canyon National Park

The major nearby trip, for most visitors, would be an excursion to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is not a casual outing. Although the North Rim is only 10 air miles from the South Rim, you either must hike there down through the Canyon, which is multi-day and heroic, or drive a circuitous five-hour, 215-mile route east, north, west, and then south. The North Rim has its own lodge, Grand Canyon Lodge, and its special view points, such as Bright Angel Point. Camping is also possible at the North Rim.

Expect the North Rim to be cooler and wetter than the South Rim. The North Rim is at 8,000 to 9,000 feet, while the South Rim is at 7,000 feet. Annual rainfall is greater, 26 inches compared to 15 inches. Due to the factors of elevation, rainfall, and temperature, the forest is also different. Blue spruce and white fir abound on the North Rim. Ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, and Utah juniper populate the South Rim.

The Canyon bottom, incidentally, is a desert with less than 10 inches of annual rainfall and temperatures that can reach 120 degrees. Only a few life forms survive there, such as the kangaroo rat, which can metabolize water from the dry seeds it eats.

All visitors coming to the South Rim pass through Williams, a lively little town with a fun Route 66 historic tradition. Spend an evening at Cruiser’s Cafe 66, indulging in the pork barbecue and a glass of Oak Creek Pale Ale, mulling the fact that Williams was the last of the Route 66 towns to be bypassed by Interstate 40.

Between Williams and Flagstaff is the Bearizona wildlife-viewing drive-thru attraction, where you can see, from the safety of your car, major North American fauna, including elk, deer, bear, wolves, mountain lions, bison, and mountain goats.


Grand Canyon: If You Go

For information on the park, see the official Park Service website at

To take the Grand Canyon Railway train ride from Williams to and from the park, contact Grand Canyon Railway at

The overall Arizona state tourism information site is Arizona Office of Tourism,

Helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon are offered by AirStar Helicopters,

Information on Williams, gateway to the Grand Canyon, is presented by the Williams/Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce,

For personalized tours of the Grand Canyon and other parts of northern Arizona, contact Phoenix-based Detours,


Eusebio Kino Country in Tucson, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico

June 29, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

by Lee Foster

In the Sonoran desert of northwest Mexico and around Tucson, Arizona, a historical figure named Eusebio Kino has emerged with legendary dimensions.

Few Americans know his name, but his story is destined to be told.

In 1687 Kino arrived in the New World.

A visit to Kino country takes the traveler to one of Mexico’s lesser known desert areas. The trip carries you back to the 17th century, when the New World was indeed new, and the northwest Mexico desert was the fringe of civilization.

Who was Eusebio Kino? He was an extraordinary mapmaker, geographer, and missionary who was the first to prove that Mexican California was not an island but only the lower or “baja” part of an unexplored land mass.

The cattle baron of his day, Kino introduced the animal into the Sonora desert and bred herds to sizable numbers. To this day a fine restaurant in Mexico City will proudly advertise that its steaks are “Sonora beef.” Fiestas in the region celebrate the feats of vaquero horsemanship that Kino taught his ranchhands. He also supplied his missions with sheep and goats, plus the beast of burden, the burro. He advanced such skills as carpentry and blacksmithing, gardening and baking in this desert area.

Kino was an agriculturalist who brought wheat to a region that now exports the grain. He imported numerous vegetables and citrus, including the Mission Grape now used for Mexican brandies. Seeing that the Indians were already farmers, even using primitive irrigation to grow cotton, corn, and beans, he brought in apricots, figs, pears, peaches, and pomegranates.

As a friend of the Pima and other Indian tribes of northwest Mexico and Arizona, Kino has emerged less scathed than other Europeans at the hands of today’s revisionary historians.

He was a man with an astonishing physique that enabled him, even in his 60s, to ride 30 miles per day on his horse and then sleep soundly with only a saddle for a pillow and a blanket to take the chill off the desert night.

Earlier in life, as a mathematician, he had written a celebrated small book on comets. A gifted writer, he recorded his time of sweeping change in the region (1670-1711) in an autobiographical book, FAVORES CELESTIS.

The occasion for Kino’s presence in Sonora was his membership in the Jesuit missionary order, which sent him in 1687 to the forbidding desert and fertile river valleys of the northwest. Between then and his death in 1711, this capable executive founded 22 mission churches and numerous smaller branches, called visitas.

Born in Italy, educated at German Universities, financed partly by a Portuguese noblewoman, serving the Spanish crown, Kino was an internationalist who saw life as an adventure. His first geographic thirsts were for a place in the China missions, but the vicissitudes of orders from his superiors, which gave Kino ample opportunity to practice the virtue of obedience, placed him in northwest Mexico. There his motives were several, and he was one of those unique men who have an ability to expand their vision as their opportunities increase.

His purposes were more than narrowly apostolic, though he certainly had a compelling wish to bring the Indians what he regarded as good news, his story of Christ, as he traveled among the seven tribes in his thousand-mile parish.

When traveling northwest Mexico or southern Arizona, a visitor can savor one of history’s many ironies: Kino’s vision of Sonora as an economically self-sufficient region with an identity of its own is being realized only today, three centuries later.


Kino’s country is easily accessible. You can drive to it from Tucson, which is also the center for Kino studies.

The main scholar studying Kino is Charles Polzer of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Mission Research Center. Polzer’s book is KINO: HIS MISSIONS, HIS MONUMENTS (from Southwest Mission Research Center, Tucson, AZ). Herbert Bolton’s THE RIM OF CHRISTENDOM (Macmillan) remains the landmark biography of Kino.

Outside of Tucson, the white San Xavier del Bac mission, which Kino founded, is a major travel destination. Though the site was designated by Kino in 1700, the current structure was built by Franciscans 1783-1797. Franciscans have maintained their priestly role here except for the period 1823-1911.

Be sure to enter the ornate, rococo interior to witness the splendor of ornamentation. Within the church you can see the faith of the local c, whose graveyard, adjacent to the church, is a moving exhibit of man’s effort to make some sense of life. Major Indian festivals occur October 3 and December 2. On the Friday after Easter a re-enactment ceremony celebrates the founding of the mission.

From Tucson you can drive south into Mexico to see several more Kino missions.

If you have a chance to explore Kino country, make the trip in cool weather. Spring through June 15 and autumn after September 15 are cool enough. Winter is a delight. Summers are extremely hot.


Magdalena’s church of Santa Maria Magdalena de Buquivaba is celebrated as the burial site of Kino. There his exposed bones can be viewed under a pink sandstone dome, circled by a handsomely landscaped and tiled square.

For the Sonoran Mexican the Kino monument is a source of pride. I have found more Mexicans than U.S. travelers there on my three visits.

Late September-early October is a time of extensive and exciting fiesta activity for the feast of San Francisco Xavier, patron for both Kino and the church. This largest fiesta in northwest Mexico draws thousands of Indians, such as Arizona Papagos, who come here partly to fulfill a manda, or vow. They walk along Highway 15 from the border. The authorities set up First Aid stations to assist the pilgrims. Festivities peak October 2-4 when participants attend religious services and then regale themselves by eating, drinking, dancing, listening to the numerous bands, and parading in the street.

Kino collapsed in Magdalena during an afternoon chapel dedication on March 15, 1711. By midnight the life of this imposing figure had ended.


San Ignacio de Caborica is one of the treasures of the Sonora frontier. This white stuccoed church is thought by scholars to approximate Kino’s original Jesuit-style structure. Remodeling in 1775 and 1834 did not substantially alter the characteristic bell tower, facade, and mesquite log staircase.

Kino himself described San Ignacio as follows, “It has a very fine location, an admirable and pleasant plain and meadow, among the most beautiful to be found in all these provinces.”

To get there drive north from Magdalena six miles and then inquire locally at the town of Tasicuri about a passable dirt road leading 2.7 miles west to the church and village.

If you find this delightful small church closed, ask locally for the sacristana who will let you into the structure and the small adjoining museum.

In Kino’s time San Ignacio was an orientation place where new missionaries learned the Indian languages. Founded by Kino in 1687, as his second church, the village has been happily by-passed in the 20th century because the main highway lies to the east.

The annual fiesta of June 31 is a lively time to visit San Ignacio, which emphasizes the arts of horsemanship in its celebration.


The Caborca mission, La Purisima Concepcion de Nuestra Senora de Caborca, lies in the extremely productive valley of the Concepcion River. This oasis provides a sharp contrast with the desert, which is also delightful in its way because of organpipe cactus stands that rival those in the cactus national monument across the border in Arizona. East of town there are large plantings of safflower, grown for its oil, and mission grapes.

The church site dates from Kino’s time, but the present church was built later, 1803-1809. The edifice’s mixed Moorish and Baroque elements are sufficiently unique that the Mexicans have registered it as a national monument.

Kino regarded Caborca as the important supply base for expeditions farther west into the Colorado River area. At Caborca the Pima Indians revolted in 1695 and killed Kino’s cohort, Xavier Saeta, a Jesuit and Sicilian nobleman, in the first major altercation between Indians and missionaries in Sonora. Spanish soldiers met the uprising with draconian severity that saddened Kino.

The edifice weathered one 19th century indignity.

In 1857 the church withstood a curious historical aberration when a group of Arizona filibusterers under Henry A. Crabb, feeling that the Caborca area should no longer be Mexican, attacked the town. Local defenders holed up in the church, which prompted the Americans to riddle the facade with their rifle bullets. Crabb was promptly caught and shot.

East of Caborca, at the town of Altar, drive four miles north on the paved road to see the small branch church, or visita, at Oquitoa, which is typical of the stone Jesuit structures of Kino’s time, with their long narrow naves, sited on hills. Oquitoa village is the most rural vision of Mexican life on this trip.


A main question today in Kino county is how he would have viewed the rapid modern development of the region.

“Kino was not opposed to growth and development,” said Charles Polzer. “But Kino would never have allowed gross exploitation. Kino brought in the new food plants and livestock that transformed the economy. But he saw man’s role here as one of stewardship, as man interacting with his environment, recreating and ordering the world, with enough discipline to achieve good. He was a humanist, a better-world person, a man of exceptional human vision. All his changes proceeded within the environmental limitations of the desert, especially the water supply. He was a practical realist. There are so many subtle aspects of living in tune with the desert.”

When asked to elaborate on how Kino lived in tune with the desert, Polzer describes Kino’s architecture.

“Kino’s mission architecture, for example, faced south to avoid the heat of summer,” says Polzer. “Fountains in the mission architecture served to humidify the air for comfort and to lower the temperature. Typically, we sit in an air-conditioned building and look out at a fountain that exists only for show. We eat imported food rather than a locally grown corn, bean, and chili combination that evolved as suitable for people in a hot, desert region. We are allowing water-consuming industry and pecan orchards to proliferate here, forcing our citizens to consume mineral-laden Colorado River water rather than our own pure groundwater, which we must go deeper each year to pump. Are these wise and healthy decisions for the long run? I doubt that Kino would have thought so.”



For further information on Mexico, contact the Mexican Tourism Board at 800/44-Mexico. They can send a packet of information on the country. The Mexican tourism web site at is also useful, providing a gateway to many regional tourism web sites. Be sure to bring proof of citizenship to Mexico. A passport is best, but a certified birth certificate will do.


Arizona’s Phoenix and Scottsdale Destination Resorts

June 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

by Lee Foster

Why is Phoenix-Scottsdale so dominant in the development of four and five star destination resorts?

The comparative judgment of dispassionate observers, such as AAA and Mobil, ranks more destination resorts from here in the higher categories than from any other region.

Competing for the traveler’s attention in this league are the grand resorts of Orlando, Hawaii, Palm Springs, the Caribbean, and the Mexico coastline.

I pondered this Arizona prominence while immersing myself in one of the newest examples of these resorts, known as the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort. Built on Gila River Indian land, the resort has all the amenities one would expect, with pool, golf course, spa, a fine dining restaurant, attractive desert landscaping, and a view of the Estrella Mountains, so gorgeous at sunset.

A special emphasis on the resort’s Pima and Maricopa Native American traditions is evident in décor and style. All the art work in the complex, from oil on canvas to murals, from basketry to ornate flutes, is done by the local Indians. Native American chef Sandy Garcia, from the Santa Clara pueblo, does cutting edge creations at the Kai restaurant. His watermelon soup suggests in a gustatory manner the visual joy of the watermelon peaks, the Sandias, in adjacent New Mexico. His lobster on fry bread, the traditional bread of the pueblos, shows both a bow to the traditional bread and an eagerness to enhance it with a new food component, the lobster, from the outside world. Throughout the resort, one senses this healthy respect for the Native American sensibility, which would make this a vacation place with an aesthetic edge, and a willingness to import all the components from the outside world, including a sophisticated spa, that a traveler is likely to ask for. It is helpful, for integrity of concept, that the Cultural Theme Manager of the resort is named Sara Bird-In-Ground. Every international traveler on the worldwide scene longs for a place that exists nowhere else. Wildhorse Pass Resort in Phoenix is one of those places. A visitor can even go, as I did, on an evening horse-drawn ride out to a remote location, enjoy a festive barbecue, and actually see wild horses on the open range.

Some answers to the question of Arizona supremacy in five-star resorts gradually appeared as I soaked up the scene:

*Phoenix-Scottsdale has a dependable, warm-winter climate, as do the other contenders. I use the word winter advisedly, because the downside of the local warmth is that the three summer months are torrid, though the air is dry. Air conditioning enables life to continue here.

But in the long winter season, October-May, the Valley of the Sun, as the area is aptly called, is a warm, dry-air antidote to any wind-chill factor that bedevils other regions. The sun shines here for 320 days a year.

*The area boasts the beauty of the desert, though it lacks the appeal of the sea. A desert jeep tour, almost a must here, can acquaint a traveler with Sonora desert cacti (saguaro, cholla, and ocotillo), some desert wildlife (perhaps pack rats and deer), and the mountainscapes (including a view of the Superstition Mountains and the inevitable story of the Lost Dutchman Mine, a tale of buried gold). All the resorts of the Phoenix/Scottsdale area benefit from the brilliant desert sunsets, which metamorphose in a beguiling range of pinks, reds, and oranges before expiring.

What some competing regions, such as Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico’s coast, offer is the alluring presence of the sea.

*Several practical considerations have been decisive in favor of Phoenix-Scottsdale resort development.

The region got started early (in 1929 with the lavish Biltmore Hotel, designed by students of Frank Lloyd Wright). This hotel is an historic treasure to peruse. The delicate detail work in the buildings remains a standard against which the newer lodgings must define themselves.

The cities enjoy a strong transportation location, served by most major airlines, and hub for America West airline.

A density of great resorts now creates competition, with each entity striving to outdo the others. This translates into more distinguished-looking properties, better service, and stronger value for consumers.

The resorts have ample space to develop horizontally in this land-rich desert. Few places on the tourism earth are so blessed with ample horizontal opportunities at relatively affordable prices.

The Valley of the Sun offers plentiful sport facilities, including golf courses and tennis courts, plus specialty sports, from ballooning to river rafting.

Because these resort destinations are in the U.S., yet closer than Hawaii, they attract travelers who would rather not choose a foreign (meaning Mexican) resort, where the purity of the water, chanciness of medical delivery, and vagaries of the legal system might cause concern. People who don’t like to fly can also drive to Arizona.


Phoenix/Scottsdale is one of the most spread-out urban regions in the country. You can drive for miles, sometimes passing raw land, right in the heart of the urban area. Clusters of development occur at unpredictable places. Because the area is so spread out, you need a rental car to explore extensively on your own.

For the traveler with only finite time, two experiences should rank at the top of the list–a scenic desert excursion and a look at the celebrated Heard Museum.

The scenic desert excursions, organized by about 15 companies with trained guides driving their own jeeps, can offer you a quick immersion in the pleasures of the Sonora Desert. (You could also do an in-city desert introduction on your own at the Desert Botanical Garden.)

I rode into the desert with one such provider, only one among many. He pointed out the pale green bark of the palo verde tree, the huge saguaro cactus that is the signature plant of the area, and two rare Harris hawks that we happened upon. We also target shot with his pistols. Part conservationist and part cowboy-sportsman, with the motto “Sometimes out West it gets Western,” my guide said he had twice made citizen arrests of defacers who blast the protected saguaro cactus with their shotguns.

The Heard Museum should be seen by every traveler who has a serious interest in Southwest Indians. The museum shows the developing pageant of Southwest Native American cultures in all their diversity. Beyond excellent explanatory skills, the museum boasts the Southwest’s strongest collection of pottery, jewelry, and kachina dolls (the spirit dolls of the Hopi). All the ancient and modern artifacts, such as Navajo wool blankets, are seen in the context of the tribal development. Some of the museum’s collections may not be on display, due to renovation. This will allow a traveler sufficient excuse to return to the Phoenix-Scottsdale region.

Both for its great resorts, and for its non-resort attractions, Phoenix-Scottsdale enjoys an assured place on present and future tourism maps.



The overall Arizona state tourism information address is: Arizona Office of Tourism, 1110 West Washington, Suite 155, Phoenix, AZ 85007, 866/275-5835,

Some other useful addresses for the visitor are:

Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, One Arizona Center, 400 E. Van Buren, Suite 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004, 602/254-6500,

Getting to Phoenix-Scottsdale by air is relatively easy, with most of the major carriers serving the city and America West airline using it as a hub.

One new resort in the region is the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, 5594 West Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ 85070, 602/225-0100,

Personalized tours in the region out to the Apache Trail or off the beaten path can be organized by Detours, 480/633-9013,


Arizona’s Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Flagstaff Regions

June 23, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

by Lee Foster

The Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff regions, so rich in natural beauty, are best described in a Navajo song, which reads, “In beauty I walk: beauty before me, beauty behind me.” The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, so lovely for the traveler, were sacred to the Hopi and Navajo as the homes of their yei or kachina spirits. Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet, is the tallest point in the state. The mountains support a ponderosa pine forest that is one of the largest such pine forests in the world.

The mountains, surrounded by deserts, might be seen as “islands in the sky.” With the rise in elevation, the amount of rainfall trapped by the mountains increases as the temperature cools, making pine forests the appropriate plant form.

The 20th-century creation of dams, such as the Roosevelt Dam of the Salt River Project, in 1911, made life possible in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area for large numbers of people. Arizona’s state motto is “God enriches,” Ditat Deus, but the motto was only fully realized when water projects made sustainable life possible. The more recent invention of air-conditioning, many would argue, has made life bearable here during the severe heat of summer. Phoenix is known as the Valley of the Sun, a winter resort haven, but a summer ordeal. The triple digit temperatures exude a heat tempered only by the dryness of the air. Misters in homes, restaurants, and even on public transportation, suffuse the air with a fine spray of water, which drops the temperature.

Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff flourish because of high tech manufacturing and construction, not to mention tourism. Phoenix is home for 1.3 million people, Scottsdale for 203,000, of the 5.1 million people who live in Arizona. Flagstaff is miniscule by comparison, with 57,700 residents.

Arizona politicians sometimes embarrass the locals because outsiders respond with laughter at what they hear. Without the discipline of entrenched major parties, the state seems to encourage the rogue businessman who believes one can run the government like a business. A notable number of high officials have been recalled, indicted, or sued by the Federal Government for fraud. Voting down Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a holiday alienated many travelers; the state now recognizes this January date as a paid holiday.


Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff are in the central part of the state, with Flagstaff in the north central and Phoenix/Scottsdale in the south central position.

Phoenix boasts a prominent international airport, set in the fertile Salt River basin with the toothy Superstition Mountains to the east. Flagstaff has an airport with limited commercial flights.

Phoenix/Scottsdale is on the Interstate 10 route running from California through the state to New Mexico. The road from California begins with a pleasing highway rest stop at Ehrenberg, where you see sweeping views of low mountains with sharp peaks. Signs at the rest stop alert travelers to the prospect of dust storms. The best advice when facing a dust storm is to get good local information, available from local radio broadcasts, then wait it out rather than attempt to drive through it.

Moving east, Quartzite is a prominent rockhounding town, with several good rock shops. The area was once the Tyson Wells Stage Stop, a place known for good water, but little grass. Aside from the rock shops, the area has a depressing appearance with tinny, aging trailers.

As you approach Phoenix, mountains rise to the north and south of Highway 10. Sheep grazing and alfalfa fields become prominent at Tonopah. Vegetables and wheat are also raised in the plateau around Phoenix because Salt River dams insure year-round agricultural water.

Flagstaff is also on a major through highway, Interstate 40. Flagstaff is the gateway to the Grand Canyon.


After the Apaches were subdued in the late 19th century, the main problem for development of Phoenix/Scottsdale was an inadequate water supply. Flagstaff, with its position near the San Francisco Peaks, found a readier supply, but because of its altitude and thinner soil, there was relatively less farming opportunity. The farmland around Phoenix, especially in the lower Salt Valley, promised impressive crop yields, even in the sun-drenched winter months, if water could be assured. It is said that Arizona now grows 103 commercial crops with this abundant water, added to its warm, dry, sunny climate. Dams on the Salt River, starting in 1911, provided that water supply and enabled the city to rise, as a phoenix, in the desert. The city is said to rise, symbolically, from the ashes of the Hohokam native village that once flourished here. A relief map of the water projects, visible at the Phoenix Airport, acquaints you with this historic story of regional development.


The “season” in Phoenix, for travel, is October through May. Summer months are bearable only in an air-conditioned environment. Flagstaff, with its mountain position, remains pleasantly cool, even in summer, and offers snow recreation in winter.

The best resource in Phoenix for the cultural explorer is the Heard Museum, which boasts the most prominent kachina doll collection in existence. The collection is known as the Goldwater Kachina Doll Collection, so named for the collector, former Senator Barry Goldwater. Kachinas are the sacred gods of the Hopi and Navajo, who are said to exist in the mountains. The kachina dolls are images, or representations, of the spirits. The kachinas are only a small part, however, of the elaborate permanent exhibits at the Heard, where you can see weaving, pottery, silver, and basketry work of Southwest peoples from all eras, including today. The museum emphasizes the natives’ relationship with the land, whether the Sonora Desert, the pine-clothed uplands, or the Colorado Plateau. The Heard sponsors an annual spring Native American Fair that attracts many artisans. At the fair you can see a Papago basketmaker or a Hopi potter at work. Each day at the museum, you can see at least one native artisan at work. On the landscape around the museum you’ll see several sculptures by Alan Houser, whose rounded and blanket-wrapped figures seem absorbed in the mystery of life.

Parts of the Heard collection are sometimes not shown as the museum undergoes restoration. In that case, a traveler needs to be patient and catch the full collection at a later visit.

Phoenix/Scottsdale does not enjoy the thick, historic, cultural texture that a traveler will find in Tucson. However, climate and business activity have made Phoenix/Scottsdale prominent, and its central location assisted in wrestling state capital status from Tucson. The Wigwam, west of Phoenix, is typical of the luxurious resorts catering to travelers in the Phoenix area. The Camelback Inn and the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa are other resort contenders. Scottsdale has several world-class destination resorts, such as the Phoenician, The Boulders, and the Scottsdale Princess.

In downtown Phoenix, visit the Civic Plaza, which epitomizes the area’s growth. Skyscrapers such as the Valley Bank attest to the business prosperity of the area. Phoenix is a flat, spread-out city, as is Tucson, but Phoenix extends over a greater area, if its satellite cities are included. There are some fun and lyrical elements in the downtown area. Like many cities, such as Denver and San Francisco, the location of the baseball stadium right in the downtown helps to add an element of life to the urban scene. The lyrical nude sculptures of John Henry Waddell in front of the Herberger Theatre suggest that there is some artistic freedom in this sometimes conservative state.

The Pueblo Grande is a major 13th-century Native American ruin within Phoenix, at 4619 E. Washington Street. The ruin amounts to the largest of some 50 mound sites in the region. Probably, the mound was a residential and administrative site for the tribal elite, the chiefs, the water engineers, the medicine men, and the astronomers who predicted rain. Excavations indicate that the early residents, starting in 450, were master farmers with increasingly sophisticated irrigation skills. Pueblo Grande was the center of the irrigation system, which included 1000 miles of canals watering 100,000 acres of crops, mainly corn, beans, squash, and cotton. The population may have peaked around 1200. Why the Pueblo Grande people appear to have abandoned the site around 1450 remains uncertain. Perhaps drought, flood, warfare with the Pimas, and the gradual salinization of the soil, reducing crop productivity, were factors. The Pueblo Grande people possessed a highly-developed culture, complete with trade routes extending deep into Mexico, art to ornament their pottery, woven cotton garments, and the social organization required to maintain a water-distribution system. Both the outdoor trail to the platform mound and the indoor museum displays at the site merit considerable time to peruse. It is said that the Pueblo Grande people had learned to cultivate more species of plants than any other pre-European-contact culture in North America.

The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix’s Papago Park offers a good introduction to desert flora. The gardens cover 150 acres at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway. Blooming peaks between March and May. The botanic gardens are a joy to stroll through, with their striking Robert Wick sculptures and delicate golden torch cacti. A visitor learns how the mesquite tree, a legume, was the tree of life for the native Americans, providing a dependable bean protein source.

Flagstaff’s residents live high in the mountains surrounded by ponderosa pine. A long, straight pine tree used as a flagpole for the July 4, 1876 centennial celebration gave the community its name.

The nightspot at which to see two-stepping cowboys twirl gals in tight-fitting jeans is The Museum Club. The building is unusual as a roadhouse because several living trees provided the original, literal support for it. The trees now remain as pillars. Live music at The Museum Club can put you in a western mood. The proprietor is also active in the revival of the Route 66 designation for the main thoroughfare in town, evoking a nostalgic pre-Interstate America. Along Route 66 one could get one’s kicks.

Flagstaff is a major trading place for Native American arts and crafts. In summer, the locals can send you to lovely mountain picnic settings, some accessible by car, and others, such as Lockett Meadow, requiring a substantial hike. Northern Arizona University is located in the city.

Flagstaff also boasts an outstanding museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona. Founded in 1928, the mandate of the museum was to focus on the Colorado Plateau, showing its geology, biology, and human history. Flagstaff residents especially wanted the artifacts found in the region to remain here, so a major effort of the museum is research rather than exhibits. Only a small portion of the holdings are on display. You’ll see pottery, bone tools, yucca shoes, woven fabrics, rabbit sticks used to hunt rabbits, copious amounts of jewelry, and kachina dolls. The exhibits include spear points from Paleolithic peoples here between 15,000-8,000 B.C. There are touching small split twig figurines of deer, from 8000 B.C. The museum store adjacent to the display area is a good place to buy quality Native American crafts at a favorable price. Each summer the museum hosts Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni art shows that attract outstanding artisans.

The house of the most prominent family in town, the Riordans, who founded the prosperous lumber business, has been turned into a state park. Visit the Riordan Mansion to see a fine example of American Craftsman architecture, a style that emphasized practicality and ingenuity. The Riordans dined at an oval table, for example, so all could converse without turning their heads. The swing in the living room suggests a family informality that was a direct reaction to the Victorian era.

Celebrations such as the Fourth of July and the Coconino County Fair in Flagstaff are important community events. A Flagstaff Summer Fest encourages cultural activities.

Lowell Observatory, near Flagstaff, played an important role in astronomy in this century. Astronomers here focused their attention on planetary studies, especially of Mars. Pluto was discovered at this observatory in 1930. The observatory is a good example of American philanthropy working to advance science. It was founded above the town on Mars Hill in the 1880s by Percival Lowell, of the Boston Lowells. The Lowell and Cabot families of Boston had a high regard of their prominence, as is evident in the Boston ditty describing how the “Cabots spoke only to Lowells, and the Lowells spoke only to God.” Light “pollution” from Flagstaff, which reduces the clarity of the atmosphere, has destroyed the usefulness of the observatory, but you can still see the 32-inch Clarke telescope. Research continues to be conducted at nearby Anderson Mesa.

The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a major pleasure, showing effectively the flora of the high desert and mountain region known as the Colorado Plateau. Wildflowers, especially penstemons, can be seen and identified here throughout the summer. The Arboretum is close to town on 200 acres at a 7,150-foot elevation, one of the highest-elevation arboretums you are likely to experience. You can walk through groves of aspen and pine trees and view the San Francisco Peaks in the background. There are separate gardens emphasizing Shade, Herbs, and Butterflies for the local gardener seeking advice. There are about 2,500 species of plants in the Arboretum, half of them natives, including about 30 rare and endangered species. All the native plants have evolved to flourish in the short 70-day growing season. The Arboretum is in the midst of the largest ponderosa pine forest of Earth, the Coconino forest.

Skiing is popular near Flagstaff at the Arizona Snowbowl in the San Francisco Peaks.


When you have extra days to look around in this region, there is much to see. Consult a map and make some judicious picks from these suggestions to use your time wisely.

Wherever one travels in Arizona there is a sense of wide open spaces destined to remain in their present condition. The public ownership of most of the land insures that citizens will always enjoy this terrain. About 56 percent of the state is owned by the federal and state governments. Native Americans own another 26 percent. Private individuals hold the remaining 18 percent.

South from Phoenix, along Interstate 10, an intriguing destination is the Gila River Cultural Center, with its elaborate crafts shop and its park of re-created Native American habitations. The store sells blankets, jewelry, baskets, pottery, and other arts or artifacts. Historically, the Gila were known as a hospitable people, an agricultural tribe composed of capable farmers raising beans, corn, and cotton. Explorer Kit Carson was received here with typical Gila hospitality. The tribal chief said to Carson, “Bread is to eat, not to sell. Take what you want.”

The most fascinating part of the Gila Cultural Center is the cluster of habitations re-created on the grounds by various Arizona tribes. The Hohokam, which literally means “those who have gone before,” lived in heavy mud huts. Papago built a square structure of ocotillo ribs. Gila and Maricopa people lived in thick thatch dwellings. Apache, a word that simply meant “the enemy,” lived in tepee-like structures supported by aspen poles and covered with yucca fibers or bear grass. Both here and in northern Alaska there is discussion about how linguistic details of the Apache language parallel those of the Athabascans in Alaska, indicating a shared origin of the peoples who probably crossed the Bering Strait to North America some 12,000 years ago.

South and east of the Gila Reservation is the Casa Grande, a remarkable four-story structure built in the 14th century. When missionary Eusebio Kino passed through here and described the structure in 1694, the ruins were already deserted. He named it the “great and large house” or Casa Grande. The ample population, obvious food surpluses, and architectural attainments of the natives were considerable to create and sustain such a structure. Its purpose as a ceremonial or living space is not clearly understood. Today the National Park Service has covered the Casa Grande ruins with a metal umbrella to prevent further erosion.

The Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix offer an appealing drive on a route called the Apache Trail. The road climbs through attractive cactus forests and passes several lakes created behind dams. At the end of the road is the large Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The Superstitions can appear black in the high sun of noon, but their appearance softens in the early morning and at sunset. Sagebrush and lone saguaros dot the road at the lower elevations. Blooming century plants may greet the traveler at the higher elevations. On the trip you pass the old mining ghost town of Goldfield and the Lost Dutchman State Park. A favorite dining location in the area is known as the Mining Camp.

West of Phoenix is the mountain resort area of Wickenburg, with its guest ranches and other lodgings. Formerly a working cattle ranch area, the town now supports artists and restaurants that cater to the traveler.

Ballooning, jeep rides, and horseback rides are possible close to Phoenix/Scottsdale. Balloon flights take place at dawn. Horseback rides take you into saguaro cactus country, with the mountains on the horizon.

Arcosanti, the visionary architectural creation of Paolo Soleri, can be visited at Cordes Junction, north of Phoenix. The futuristic site is two miles east of the main road. Soleri attempts to blend his vision of architecture and ecology into a philosophy that he describes as “arcology,” which attracts followers from around the world.

North from Phoenix, the elevation rises gradually after you pass Cordes Junction. The most appealing stop is Montezuma Castle National Monument, a celebrated cliff structure with a confusing name. The structure consists of a cluster of houses, built with stone and adobe mortar into cliff caves. The cliff overhang provided shelter. Beaver Creek and the abundant vegetation of the area, plus good farmland, made this a favorable place of habitation.

Montezuma Castle approaches in its complexity what you can see at the great cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in Colorado. Unfortunately, the most prominent dwellings at Montezuma’s Castle have been destroyed with time. The destroyed Castle A, for example, consisted of an estimated 45 rooms, housing about 100 people in the period 1200-1450 A.D. Castle is a misnomer, of course, because these are cliff dwellings. Montezuma, the Aztec chieftain from Mexico, had nothing to do with the place, compounding the confusion of names.

A walk along the creek bank near the cliff dwellings reveals why this was such a choice location. Beaver Creek offers a well-watered domain of towering cottonwoods. There are ample walnuts, an added food source, and abundant mesquite trees, a legume whose pods were harvested for the choice beans inside.

Adjacent to Montezuma Castle is the frontier Fort Verde outpost, a place crucial for establishing law and order during the Apache troubles in the 19th century.

Moving north toward Flagstaff, you ascend gradually into the Coconino National Forest, a lovely drive through a high pine forest between 4,000-6,000 feet above sea level. The entire Coconino forest is 1.8 million acres of recreational, lumber, and mining land. The forest is named after the area’s Coho native people. As you approach Flagstaff, snow-capped Humphreys Peak among the San Francisco Peaks looms in the distance. All of the San Francisco Peaks figured prominently in the Native American religions of northern Arizona. The chair lift at the Arizona Snowbowl takes skiers into this snowy domain in winter and remains open in summer to take hikers up to see, among other things, rare stands of bristlecone pines.

Flagstaff is the snowy place to be in Arizona in the winter. The locals go south to Phoenix or Tucson for warm winter sun, causing a migration pattern that reverses in summer, when the overheated valley people seek out the cool mountain climate. The summer daily high temperature in Flagstaff tends to be the summer daily low temperature in Phoenix.

Just south of Flagstaff is the famous Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock area of Arizona. The red and white sandstone rocks and cliffs, the creek, and the abundant broadleaf trees, both cottonwoods and oaks, make this one of the most scenic places in the state. The town of Sedona is an artsy place with many painters and craftspeople selling their wares. Certain new-age religion enthusiasts gather here because of what they perceive to be strong magnetic impulses or vortexes. Small lodges with cozy named like Casa Sedona are hidden away. A major shopping stop flourishes in a cluster of craft places called Tlaquepaque, as in Guadalajara’s famous shopping area. Sedona bills itself as the “Town of Four Mild Seasons,” which can’t be said for Phoenix or Tucson, excessively hot in summer. One of the pleasing views in the Sedona region is along a drive up the Schnedley Hill Road. Use caution in driving the full distance up if you have an RV rather than a passenger car. The road becomes quite narrow and winding, so turn back if in doubt. The most famous view point is at the Schnedley Hill Vista, where you gaze at continuous lines of cliffs known as the Mogollon Rim. From Sedona you can take backroad jeep tours, such as the Broken Arrow tour, organized by Pink Jeep Tours and others, to see the choicest red rock locations. If you want a good place to hike, Bell Rock could be a recommended trail. Sedona is also a fine dining location, especially at restaurant Oaxaca, where the spinach cheese dip, guacamole, and southwest quesadillas are good choices.

East of Flagstaff is the only-in-Arizona tour de force, the 4,150-foot diameter Meteor Crater, where a huge celestial object impacted the earth. The object has been analyzed to determine it consists primarily of the element nickel. Also east of Flagstaff, the Walnut Canyon National Monument encompasses a hospitable canyon with an abundant number of cliff dwellings, testifying to the large populations here around the year 1200 A.D. You can hike to the bottom of the canyon.

North of Flagstaff, on one of the roads to the Grand Canyon, are two interesting stops, Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument.

Sunset Crater is a large volcanic depression remaining from several eruptions between 1064 and 1250 A.D. Lava flows and cinder piles in the area are extensive. The Wupatki Monument (Wupatki is a Hopi word for “tall house”) celebrates the Sinagua native culture from a relatively prosperous period, roughly 1200 to 1400 A.D. After the Sunset Crater volcano erupted, the ash that covered the ground brought agricultural prosperity, due to its ability to retain rainwater. The natives who survived the blast quickly developed their farming skills to take advantage of this phenomenon. Living in sedentary settlements, they tended their crops and advanced their architectural skills. At Wupatki, several of their more impressive housing settlements are preserved on an open and wind-swept plateau. The builders were capable masons, chinking together their flat rocks with an adobe mortar. Wupatki is famous in archaeological excavation circles because artifacts from here confirmed that elaborate trade routes extended from northern Canada to southern Mexico. One Mexican item of trade was a latex rubber ball that was used for some kind of ball game in the two major ball courts at Wupatki. Ball courts are found frequently in the ruins of both Mayan and Aztec cultures. Wupatki is the northernmost outpost of the ball park influence.

The Cameron Trading Post at the junction of the turn into the Grand Canyon, where Highways 89 and 64 meet, offers many native artifacts for sale. The glories of the Painted Desert and Monument Valley, east and north from Cameron, approximate the splendor of the silver, pottery, and wool artifacts found at the trading post. Besides the main shop, ask to see The Collector’s Gallery, in an adjacent building. The Gallery features some of the finest examples of crafts you’ll find in Arizona. Blankets, baskets, kachinas, silver work of several kinds, and pottery are some of the artifacts displayed.

If a traveler is inquisitive and likes to explore vast open spaces, the Phoenix-Scottsdale and Flagstaff regions could entice with a week of rambling.



The overall Arizona state tourism information address is: Arizona Office of Tourism, 1110 West Washington, Suite 155, Phoenix, AZ 85007, 866/275-5835,

Some other useful addresses for the visitor are:

Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, One Arizona Center, 400 E. Van Buren, Suite 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004, 602/254-6500,

Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, 211 West Aspen Avenue, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, 800/842-7293,

Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 478, Sedona, AZ 86339, 520/282-7722, 800/288-7336,

Personalized tours in the region to any of the main attractions or off the beaten path can be organized by Detours, 480/633-9013,


Arizona’s Tucson as a Southwest City

June 23, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

by Lee Foster

Dependable sunshine, spare desert images, and ethnic diversity make Tucson both a resort destination and a special place. The sunshine of winter here is legendary. Tucson is said to receive more sunlight than any other American city. The heat of summer is somewhat forgiving, but seasons other than summer are definitely preferable. Summers are the thunderstorm season, sometimes displaying brilliant pyrotechnics as lightning dazzles the area.

Located in a high desert valley and surrounded by four mountain ranges, all within a couple of hours drive, Tucson offers geographic diversity, ranging from the saguaro cactus forests in the Saguaro National Monument to the pine forests of the Coronado National Forest.

Part of the pleasure of Tucson , and Arizona generally, is that the Indian, Spanish-Mexican, and Anglo cultures blend, but don’t lose their identity in a cultural homogeneity. One seventh of the Indian population of the U.S. lives in Arizona , which means that one person in 20 in the state is Native American. The Navajo nation in the northeast corner of the state is the largest of 20 reservations in Arizona .

Aside from the Indian culture, which is present throughout Arizona , Tucson boasts an especially strong element of Spanish-Mexican heritage. About 16 per cent of Arizona ns are of Spanish-Mexican descent. Their presence affects language, architecture, food, and all cultural efforts, such as mu sic and festivals. The Mexican border at Nogales is not far away to the south.


The Tucson International Airport , 10 miles south of the city, hosts flights from major carriers, who arrive from all directions. Van and limousine services carry passengers the short distance into the city.

When driving to the area, the main artery is the I-10 through route, running northwest to southeast, passing along the Santa Cruz River . A traveler arriving from San Diego takes I-8 until the road joins I-10 north of Tucson . I-19 shoots south from Tucson to Nogales and the Mexican border.

When driving in Arizona , all the highway rest stops offer sobering information about dust storms. The main expert advice is to get good information, dispensed over local radio. If you get caught in a dust storm, wait it out rather than attempt to drive through it.

Tucson is fairly easy to get around in because the streets are laid out in a grid pattern north-south and east-west. The main street has the nostalgic pedal-to-the-metal name of Speedway Boulevard . Streets tend to change their names as they proceed, which makes map reading difficult. Tucson is so spread out and sprawling that it may rank as the American city with the most square feet of roadway and parking lot per capita. The 600,000 metro residents flourish in an area encompassing 500 square miles. A rental car is a necessity for the traveler who wants to get around efficiently.


Tucson and Arizona enjoy a human history with three main chapters: the long Indian era, the brief Spanish-Mexican dominance, then the U.S.-Anglo supremacy.

The Indian culture surrounding Tucson , both ancient and contemporary, is a major cultural pleasure. Archaeologists have traced early Indian habitations here back to 15,000 years ago. The Indians, in fact, gave the name to the city, with their “stukshon” translating roughly to Tucson and meaning “spring at the foot of the black hill,” referring to springs on the banks of the Santa Cruz River.

North of Tucson, the Hohokam and Anasazi Indians constructed irrigated farming villages on the Salt and Gila Rivers . If you drive north from Tucson to Phoenix , be sure to stop in at the Gila Indian Reservation Cultural Center to see recreated structures from all the Arizona Indian groups. Prior to reaching the Gila Reservation along I-10 you can turn east to see the Casa Grande, or Great House, a premier architectural legacy. Today a steel umbrella covers this mysterious large ruin, whose purpose is not entirely understood. The building may have functioned as a watchtower, religious temple, or astronomy observatory. The four-story structure indicates that a large population existed, based on the agricultural fecundity of the region. Stop in at the Great House and walk the area to learn of the Indian culture.

The legendary European who formed the modern cultural milieu around Tucson was a Spanish Jesuit, Eusebio Kino, who established the San Xavier Mission at the village of Bac , south of Tucson . Be sure to visit this mission, which is sometimes called the “White Dove of the Desert” because of its beauty and its white appearance. The Spanish mission architecture here is a notable example of church architecture in the Americas . Kino was not the first missionary in Arizona . That honor went to Fray Marcos de Niza, in 1539. But Kino was the first to start a sustained missionary effort, in 1692.

In the year 1700 Kino founded the Bac mission, only one of many missions that this capable executive inaugurated in Sonora , Mexico and in Arizona . Kino, an astronomer and a linguist, brought to the area the agricultural and cattle-raising base that transformed life here. Many of Kino’s missions in northern Mexico are intriguing to visit. His grave site in Magdalena , Mexico is a place of national pilgrimage. Within Tucson , the main Kino scholar, Charles Polzer, managed the Southwest Mission Research Center , where literature about the southwest culture is produced. Read Polzer’s KINO: HIS MISSIONS, HIS MONUMENTS to get the full story.

The white Mission San Xavier del Bac is a destination not to be missed. Though the site was designated by Kino in 1700, the current structure was built by Franciscans 1783-1797. Franciscans have maintained their priestly role here except for the period 1823-1911. This is the main Kino mission still active in serving a predominantly Indian com mu nity. Be sure to enter the ornate, rococo interior to witness the splendor of ornamentation. Within the church one can see the profound faith of the local Papago Indians, whose graveyard, adjacent to the church, is a moving exhibit of man’s effort to make some sense of life. Major Indian festivals occur here on October 3 and on December 2. On the Friday after Easter, a re-enactment ceremony celebrates the founding of the mission.

As the Spanish developed mining for silver in Sonora and sent some settlers into the Arizona area, the Indian population, understandably, became disturbed, with the Apache the most effective resistors. A garrison formed at the village of Tubac . A second walled presidio was built in Tucson . The city’s nickname, The Old Pueblo, refers to the walls of the presidio. Until the Civil War, life was precarious in Arizona , outside the major fortifications at Tucson and Tubac. The Apache successfully adapted the horse, a remnant of the earlier Spanish explorations, to their nomadic lifestyle. With the horse, the Apache raiding parties commanded a wide range of territory.

Tucson became a Mexican territory when Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsen Purchase in 1854, Arizona joined the U.S. By 1857 an overland stage route passed through Tucson on the route from St. Louis to San Francisco . Tucson dominated Arizona life and was chosen as the capital of the Arizona Territory in 1867, but lost the title to Phoenix ten years later. As the 19th century proceeded, silver and copper mining became important.

In 1880 the Southern Pacific Railroad pushed through their tracks, bringing a lifeline of easy transportation to and from the region. Tucson remained the most populous city in Arizona until Phoenix surpassed it in the 1920s.

The dominant player in Tucson and Arizona history has been water rather than man. Drought weakened and destroyed the great Anasazi Indian cultures. Water will always remain the precarious resource in this desert. Tucson lives on fossil water, pumped from huge underground aquifers. The demand for water continues to drop the water table. In 1911 the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River gave Arizona its first dependable water supply. The damming of the Colorado , notably the Hoover Dam, provided the state with water recreation, electricity, and a dependable supply of precious water for drinking and agriculture. Tucson remains at the southern edge of this dramatic water story, but the prosperity of the area, such as lettuce growing near the Saguaro National Park , would not be possible without irrigation. The chain of reservoirs and dams in Arizona look like life-bestowing jewelry, when seen from the air, fully as beautiful as the squash blossom silver necklaces that glint in sunlight at Navajo or Hopi trading posts. Only a longer historical perspective will allow us to judge whether Tucson ‘s decision makers are living within their water resources.

The Mexican-Indian roots of Tucson ‘s long history permeate the life of the com mu nity and affect the traveler in at least one positive way: the proliferation of Mexican restaurants. El Adobe at 40 West Broadway is indeed an adobe house from 1868. In 1961 the place was declared a State Historic Site. The style of cooking here is Sonora , Mexican, noted for its shredded beef dishes. The sound of the Spanish language and the pueblo architecture, with pastel stucco walls and red tile roofs, are other motifs that inform the sensibility. Indian jewelry and pottery are mementos to collect on an Arizona trip.


In downtown Tucson , the main focus is El Presidio Park, a good place to linger for an outdoor lunch around the fountain, under the trees, gazing up at the ceramic dome of the County Courthouse . This area has the feel of a Spanish Mexican plaza, on a small scale, congenial to foot traffic.

Across the road is the Tucson Museum of Art, with its emphasis on modern art. You enter the mu seum and walk slowly downhill through the exhibits, ending at a mu seum store selling arts and crafts. The Tucson Museum of Art is at 140 Main Street .

Adjacent to the mu seum is Old Town Artisans ( 186 N. Meyer Ave ), a one-block adobe restoration with 150 local artists and artisans. This is a prime shopping site in Tucson for arts and crafts. At Old Town Artisans you’ll find Arizona and world crafts, ranging from paintings to leather, wood to ceramics. The courtyard cafe in Old Town is a friendly, relaxed, and shaded place for lunch or refreshments.

The blocks around the Old Town center were the historic presidio and early residential com mu nity of Tucson . Get a walking tour brochure from the Visitors Bureau. The area presents some charm for a walker, but the residences are private and suggest an interior world walled away from the public, in the Mexican manner. One historic house serves as a Mexican restaurant, El Charro, 311 North Court Ave. La Casa Cordova, another of the houses, is a Mexican heritage mu seum. The Edward Nye House contains many photographs of 19th century Tucson . During the winter season scheduled guided walking tours depart from the house of John Fremont in this historic downtown district.

Tucson ‘s University of Arizona adds vitality to the life of the com mu nity, both for the resident and the traveler. The 35,000 students at the school have a profound impact on the 600,000 people in the greater Tucson region. For the traveler, the Arizona Historical Society adjacent to the University and the Arizona State Museum offer valuable interpretation of what life has meant in Arizona .

The Arizona Historical Society (949 E. 2nd) includes a mu seum and a mining tunnel. A full panorama of Arizona history unfolds here with competent displays. Some lesser known stories, such as the world of the Colorado River steamers or the attempt to introduce camels into the desert for carrying mail, are told in pictures and descriptions. A re-created mining tunnel allows a tactile experience of the gold, silver, and copper-mining history of the state. Roles of the early Spanish explorers, the missionaries, and the fierce Apaches are illuminated.

The Arizona State Museum ( Park Avenue and University Boulevard ) describes the archaeology and ethnology of Arizona . Displays here of early human tools are particularly impressive, especially those from Ventana Cave , which was inhabited by a stone tool culture for a period of 10,000 years. Housed at the mu seum are the offices of the distinguished scholar of the southwest, Charles Polzer.

” Tucson is in a mortal struggle over its identity,” Polzer said to me. “I hope it will never lose its sense of placefulness. The southwest culture is so rich here. The problem is the people from outside who come into the com mu nity with massive building plans and no respect for the desert terrain, vegetation, and water limitations. Growth within the constraints of the deserts is possible, but it mu st be done sensitively. Eusebio Kino is a great model of a realist who brought positive growth and change, but didn’t destroy the carrying capacity of the area. He saw man’s role as that of steward.”

A mountain with a scenic view on the west side of Tucson also has a link with the University. Sentinel Park Peak , also known as A-Mountain because of the whitewashed university letter on it, offers an elevated view of the city looking east. From this vista, the surrounding mountains blush at sundown and the sky gradually fills with stars at night. Sentinel Peak is off Broadway, west of I-10 on Cuesta.

The annual festivals here capitalize on the weather and the local ethnic diversity. Winter golf tournaments and a February gem and mineral show, the world’s largest, draw thousands. A March rodeo and the March-April Tucson Festival celebrate the vaquero and the considerable artistic/ mu sical accomplishments of the area. After the heat of summer passes, the region celebrates with autumn horse shows. Horseback riding is easily arranged any time of the year for the traveler. A free paper, The Tucson Weekly, distributed at all hotels, lists the city’s entertainment attractions and restaurants, current for the period of your visit.

One of the distinguished artists of the Southwest, Ted De Grazia, built his Gallery in the Sun in the north Tucson area. Here you can see his paintings, ceramics, and bronze sculptures, plus a frescoed chapel that he constructed with the help of Yaqui Indians. Several of De Grazia’s story sequence paintings, which appeared as books, such as his Kino book, can be seen. Other works of the artist are displayed on a rotating basis. Following his death in 1982, the holdings became the De Grazia Foundation, administered by Jennifer Potter.

“De Grazia built his gallery and found the inspiration for his art from material in the Tucson region,” said Jennifer Potter. “His gallery building and grounds might be considered his greatest work. On the grounds you can see 33 species of plants from the desert. The saguaro cactus cross sections became the ceramic block forms for his floors. Straw in the adobe provided a texture for his walls. De Grazia hauled in the water himself to make the adobe walls from local clay. His art was inspired by the people of the Southwest, especially his friends, the Yaqui Indians. The Yaqui Indian deer dances became a symbol of celebration. People often ask why there are Christmas decorations on the palo verde tree. De Grazia used to answer by saying that every day was Christmas.”

The De Grazia Galley is at 6300 N. Swan Blvd , 1/8 mile south of Skyline Drive .

On the west side of the city, so close that they are main attractions rather than nearby trips, are three major Tucson pleasures: the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum , The Saguaro National Park, and Old Tucson. (The Saguaro National Park also includes a unit on the east side of the city.) This cluster of attractions lies within or adjacent to Tucson Mountain Park , replete with hiking trails and camping spots in the desert.

The Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum ranks as the single most important resource in Tucson . Museum, zoo, and botanical garden are inadequate words to describe this living desert experience, 14 miles west, adjacent to the Tucson Mountain Park . At the Museum you experience live displays of some 200 species of animals and 300 species of plants from the Sonora , Arizona , and Baja desert regions. The displays amount to stunning examples of the natural environment and its denizens, from insects to bighorn sheep. Docents at the site may carry around a kestrel or a gopher snake to allow more close-up viewing. Added to these living displays are geology exhibits. One major exhibit is a Mountain Habitats Project, providing natural surroundings for mountain lions, black bears, and white-tailed deer. A half-day can easily be spent immersing yourself here in the wonders of the desert. At this mu seum you can begin to experience the many emotions and qualities of the desert, where heat has teeth, where sharp spines preserves life, and where husbanding a meager water supply is the preoccupation of all life forms. A large saguaro cactus will absorb 200 gallons of water after a summer thunderstorm. The introduction to the desert at this mu seum is a fitting prelude to the next Tucson offering, the Saguaro National Park .

The Saguaro National Park , which preserves a section of the Arizona -Sonora desert, consists of two sections. A westside unit, Tucson Mountain Unit, is 15 miles west of the city, near the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum . The other section, the Rincon Mountain Unit, is 17 miles east of the city. The east side unit boasts a more ambitious interpretive center, but the west side also offers a small ranger station-interpretive center selling desert literature. On the east side you make an 8-mile one-way drive through a forest of saguaro cactus and other desert plants, namely palo verde, mesquite, and creosote. Beyond the 8-mile drive are many miles of hiking and backpacking country favored for winter outings. The west side unit contains a denser forest of large saguaro cactus. If you have time to see only one section, the west side offers the more dramatic portrait of the saguaros. (The most appealing drive is on the edge of the park along steep Gates Road as it winds through a cactus-studded mountain back to Tucson , with a marked View Point turnout.) Nature trails in both units encourage you to get out of your car and walk amidst the cactus. Among other cactus here are the ocotillo, with their red spindly blossoms, and the beavertail, a flatter oval cactus.

The dominant plant here, the saguaro cactus, exists only in the Arizona -Sonora region. Saguaros bloom in May-June with a white flower that is the Arizona state flower. The saguaro pushes its spiny arms to heights of 40 feet, living as long as 200 years. Indians ate the fruit, which forms after the flowering period, and steeped the fruit for a beverage.

Old Tucson is another attraction in the mountains west of the city. Designed to dazzle young people and intrigue the western movie buff, Old Tucson is both a working set for movie and TV production of westerns and an a mu sement park with a western theme. Built in 1929 as a location for the movie ARIZONA, this 340-acre site has provided the location for over 100 westerns. Realistic shoot-outs with a romantic law and order theme, barking medicine men selling elixirs, and stagecoach rides through the desert are some of the treats, plus shops selling western paraphernalia. You can watch, from afar, the making of western movies if they are in progress.

On the southern edge of Tucson lies a monument to man’s military ingenuity at designing aircraft. Besides some 3,000 mothballed airplanes, which can be seen for miles along Kolb Road, you’ll find the Pima Air Museum, with 130 representative types of aircraft from American air history. This unusual mu seum, associated with nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is at 6000 E. Valenica.

Within and around Tucson, the destination resort is a typical part of the travel picture. Golf, swimming, and tennis, are popular at these resorts. There are many modest accommodations in the area, but the upscale luxury resorts are a force in the tourism story. Two main examples are Loews Ventana Canyon and The Tucson National.

Loews Ventana Canyon wins high praise in the Tucson area for the manner in which the resort seems to arise organically from the Saguaro cactus forest in which it is set. The subdued manner of the resort, whose entrance is scarcely marked, is in keeping with the understated style. So unobtrusive are the low-lying buildings in the landscape that the resort does not seem to exist until you appear directly before it. As an index of the care that went into planning the resort, the entire building plans were redrawn at great expense to save one 200-year-old saguaro cactus on the grounds. A labeled nature trail winds through the back of the resort, allowing you to meditate on the desert plants and climb into the hills. Rooms are luxurious, as you would expect, and the setting is tranquil. Meals in the Ventana Restaurant are exquisite, whether you order an Eggs Benedict breakfast or a western steak dinner. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is at 7,000 North Resort Drive. Near Ventana Canyon you can take a scenic tram ride up Sabina Canyon, with an excellent view and opportunities to see wildlife in the desert below.

The Tucson National Golf Club and Resort is another of the resorts. For years the Tucson National was a private country club hosting the annual Tucson Open. In later years the owners built an elaborate lodge and spa to cater to the affluent traveler, especially one with a golfing interest. The resort positions itself as different from other resorts because of its spa facility and its noted historic golf course. Tucson National is at 8300 North Club Drive.

Other resorts in this league are the Westin La Paloma and the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador.

A different type of vacation experience is available around Tucson at the guest ranches, where comfortable rather than luxurious accommodations are offered and where family ranching life, rather than a corporate resort environment, is the attraction. The best example of Tucson guest ranching is the historic Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, run by Bob Cote. The Tanque Verde Guest Ranch is on the east side of Tucson, adjacent to the Saguaro National Monument. Because of pejorative connotations to the word dude ranch, the acceptable modern term is guest ranch, which reflects less on the presumed city-slicker skills of the patron.

“The first time visitor to Tucson may be brought here by a travel agent who is familiar with the big resorts,” says Cote. “But we find that the visitor who explores may end up at a guest ranch the next time. The guest ranch offers an authentic American vacation ripe for a comeback. Horse back riding and a rural location are the main draws, though today’s guest ranches also offer the amenities of a resort, such as pools and tennis courts. We feel that the guest or dude ranch is an important Tucson symbol.”

The sprawling city of Tucson has swallowed up most of the guest ranches. However, those that remain are adjacent to large public lands so the mystique of the wide open spaces, so necessary for the guest ranch experience, is assured. A few more guest ranches flourish in southern Arizona within a two-hour drive from Tucson.


The mountain ranges in all directions from Tucson offer appealing drives and hiking destinations. North are the Santa Catalinas, east are the Rincons, south are the Santa Ritas, and west are the Tucsons. For example, Catalina State Park in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson is an inviting site for hiking, camping, and horse riding. The Coronado National Forest covers over 1.7 million acres of the region around Tucson in 12 scattered parcels. Within this forest, in winter, there is skiing 30 miles from Tucson at the Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the contiguous states.

East of Tucson, the Colossal Cave is a spelunkist adventure through a partially illuminated passageway. The cave is 20 miles from the city. Guided tours are available.

South of Tucson, an hour away, is Nogales, Mexico, preceded by the fertile pecan farms and new residential areas of Green Valley. An interesting day trip can be made by driving south from Tucson, taking in the San Xavier Mission, then stopping at nearby Tubac, once a major presidio, now an artist colony. At Tubac you’ll find an excellent small mu seum depicting early Arizona life in the uncertain 19th century, when Apache raids were mu ch feared.

Traveling farther, stop at mission Tumacacori, now a National Historical Park, before heading for the border. Tumacacori was built by the Franciscans in 1795 and was regularly besieged by the Apaches in the 19th century. Today a garden at the mission approximates the herbal plants used in the missionary period. The mission persists, architecturally stabilized, a legacy of Jesuit enterprise here in the 18th century. At the mission you may see a craftsperson at work, such as the skilled woodcarver, Alfonso Flores, known here and in Tubac for his ability to carve birds, especially roadrunners and owls, from mesquite wood that he gathers in the river washes.

At the border, park on the U.S. side before walking across. Stop in at the small mu seum celebrating Nogales, since the year 1000, at the corner of Grand Avenue and Crawford on the California side of the border. The building was once the city hall. This Pimeria Alta Historical Society mu seum contains an assortment of images and artifacts, from a photo of Pancho Villa getting on famously with General Pershing to a lithograph exhibit of plants from this desert region. The other building of interest on the U.S. side of the Nogales border is the silver-domed Santa Cruz County Courthouse, a short walk away. This courthouse is the oldest in Arizona . The main draws of Nogales are its genuine foreignness and its crafts shops. Nogales is a dusty, hustling little border town, replete with blanket sellers spreading out their wares in the sun and small Indian women, carrying their babies, pleading that you purchase dollar dolls.

Return to Tucson on a slightly more easterly route that takes you through Patagonia, with its celebrated small Museum of the Horse, and Sonoita, whose mountain location offers many pleasant vistas. Anne Stradling’s horse mu seum, begun in 1960, contains six rooms of horse-related artifacts, ranging from a Remington painting of Sioux warriors and their horses at a waterhole to bridles, bits, and shoes. The mu seum also displays a range of Arizona artifacts, such as Hohokam Indian burial pots filled with cremated bones. The high, grassy valleys, covered with mesquite trees, flanked by mountains of moderate size, make a pleasant alternative drive from Nogales to the I-10 turnoff near Tucson.

Tucson is also a major site for land-based astronomy. The facility is the Kitt Peak National Observatory, 56 miles southwest of Tucson in the Quinlan Mountains . The observatory includes a visitor center where films explain the research conducted by the 82-inch and 158-inch telescopes. This is also a pleasant picnic destination in the mountains. Admission is free.



The local information source is the Tucson Convention and Visitor Bureau, 130 South Scott Ave. , Tucson , AZ 85701 , 520/624-1817, Ask for their self-guided walking tour and their Visitor Guide.

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is at 2021 North Kinney Road , Tucson , AZ 85743 , 520/883-1380.

Saguaro National Park information comes from: The Superintendent, Saguaro National Park , Route 8, Box 695 , Tucson , AZ 85730 .

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is at 7000 North Resort Drive , Tucson , AZ 85715 , 520/299-2020.

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch is at 14301 East Speedway Blvd , Tucson , AZ 85748 , 520/296-6275.

The De Grazia Gallery and Foundation is at 6300 N. Swan Road , Tucson , AZ 85743 , 520/299-9191.

The Arizona Historical Society is at 949 E. 2nd St , Tucson , AZ 85719 , 520/628-5774.

The Arizona State Museum is at University of Arizona , Tucson , AZ 85721 , 520/621-6302.

The overall Arizona state tourism information address is: Arizona Office of Tourism, 2702 North 3rd Street , Phoenix , AZ 85004 , 602/230-7733 or 800/842-8257 and 888/520-3434, web site

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