I have regularly visited Arizona for the past 10 years. My son came out here for a summer and stayed – since then I’ve been visiting at least once a year. Well, technically, it’s been two years now, since I visited or we relocated to Puerto Rico. But in prior years, it was a yearly or a bi-yearly trip.
During these visits, I explored Arizona. I’m pretty familiar with Phoenix and areas north of it, all the way up to the Grand Canyon. In fact, Sedona is my favorite town in all of USA and I’ve secretly been dreaming of moving there for over a decade 🙂
This year however, Tim and I decided to check out some of the southern Arizona, basically anything south of Phoenix. It seems weird that for all these years, we’ve never thought to do that. So, we embarked on checking out Tucson, Sierra Vista (where Tim lived for 3 years, in the mid 90’s), and everything in between.
Southern Arizona: Tucson
I have to admit that I was surprised how much I liked this part of the state. Tucson, I thought, was fantastic. We stayed in an Airbnb rental in midtown and loved it! Tucson is much different from Phoenix; for one thing it’s much smaller.
Our Airbnb host said it best:
“It’s like Phoenix, only more manageable. Phoenix is a large city, while Tucson is a big town.”
Entering Tucson, right away, I noticed that it has a smaller and more southwestern feel than Phoenix. It also has an undertone of a hip college town – it is home to the University of Arizona, after all.
There is an interesting mix of residents here – country folks, college students and faculty, and Latino population. Spanish is spoken freely and most road names and signs are in Spanish but the background chatter is mostly in English. It’s kind of like Puerto Rico but in reverse.
Tucson has a vibrant downtown and night life. The University of Arizona is located in the heart of the city and adds to its college feel. The northern parts of the city are situated in the beautiful foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the area is truly beautiful. You will see Saguaro cacti and other dessert vegetation everywhere. It’s all generally much more green than I expected from southern Arizona.
Sabino Canyon is super accessible and an easy drive from the city (literally just 30 minutes from downtown), as is Mount Lemmon – the Santa Catalina Mountain’s highest peak. There is a culture of hiking, biking, and outdoorsy-ness here – I truly love it!
Another thing that it noticeable in Tucson is the community spirit. Lots of local community activism going on and strong support of local products. There is a farmers market for every day of the week and there is a great outdoor swap meet.
All in all, Tucson was a pleasant surprise.
Southern Arizona: Sierra Vista
While we were in this part of Arizona, we also decided to a drive to Sierra Vista. Tim was stationed there many moons ago, when he was in the Army. He wanted to take a trip down the memory lane, and I wanted to see where he had lived so long ago. We took the highway down to Sierra Vista and the drive was pretty but what you would expect from the desert. Interestingly enough, I noticed a definite decrease in the number of Saguaro cacti in the landscape.
If you’re not familiar, Saguaro cactus is a large, tree-like cactus that defines the Sonoran Desert and Arizona. It’s essentially the universal symbol of the American west. Saguaros can live as long as 150-200 years and grow branches as they get older. However, the first branch doesn’t usually grow until the cactus is at least 50-70 years old. It is illegal in Arizona to move a Saguaro cactus without a permit, regardless of where it grows.
Back to Sierra Vista.. I found this small town of 40,000+ residents to be largely uninteresting. It is basically a community that grew around the Fort Huachuca military base, which is now the town’s largest employer. One thing that was cool about visiting the area were the views of the Sonoran Desert and its mountain ranges, some of which are actually located on the other side of the border, in Mexico.
Border Patrol In Arizona?
We even got stopped at a border security check-point, and a drug dog sniffed up our rental truck. This was actually a little bit weird but I understand why it’s needed.
Although we didn’t have enough time to do it on this trip, we were also intrigued by the many cave systems along the Tucson-Sierra Vista route. We’re saving exploring Kartchner Caverns State Park for next time.
All in all, our foray to the southern part of Arizona was successful and well worth the trip. We really enjoyed it. We covered a lot of ground during this vacation. Next up, a post about our visit to northern Arizona (yes, this was a long road trip 🙂