We Explored Tucson And Found Lots Of Things To See And Do
Tucson was the final stop on our fall trip to Utah and Arizona. We planned a great pampering stay at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. But also took some time and explored some of the fall things to do on Tucson, Arizona.
We were not surprised to find that there were many reasons to head back to Tucson for a return visit.
1) Visit The Saguaro National Park
As we came down in altitude from our stay in Page, Arizona and then in the Sedona Valley, the landscape changed rapidly. We lost the stunning red rocks. Approaching Phoenix we saw our first large fields of Saguaro cactus. And quickly came to recognize many other varieties of cactus.
There are two different sites for the Seguaro National Park in Tucson. We visited the park at the Rincon Mountain District. We planned to visit the other location in the Tucson Mountain District. It was known for its sunset views. But we simply ran out of time.
We were happy to find that our National Park pass got us into the park. At the visitor centre we stopped to get a bit of information about what we would find in the park. There were several hiking paths. But we chose to drive the loop and stop at the many observation points.
The loop through the Saguaro National Park was a single lane road. It wound its way around with twists and turns and ups and downs. In the distance we saw hills and mountains.
There were signs that reminded us we shared the road with bikes and turtles. And signs warned bicyclists about the hazards they might find.
See The Cactus In The Saguaro National Park
The park was one of the great fall things to do in Tucson. On a mid-week visit, very few people drove the cactus loop. We stopped to take pictures as we drove. And at the empty observation points. There were signs that provided more information.
We saw a great variety of Saguaro cactus as we drove around. But when we stopped at the “Sequaro Forest”, we were surprised that the density of cactus was quite low. One of the signs explained this.
In 1937 and again in 1962 the cactus population was decimated by frost and cold temperatures that stayed around for more than 24 hours. There were fears that the cactus would be gone by the 1990’s. But the cactus proved to be far more resilient and the Seguaro forest was re-growing.
We saw many other kinds of cactus as we stopped around the loop. We looked for prickly pear cactus leaves that looked like hearts. The teddy bear cactus definitely looked fuzzy.
We were fascinated by the bushes that looked like kelp trees. Not cactus but desert plants that survived with little water. When we looked close we saw the hooks on the fish hook barrel cactus. And a few cactus with red blooms. But we really wanted to return to Arizona when the spring bloom was on.
When we wanted to learn more about cactus, a visit to the Saguaro National Park was a great one of the fall things to do in Tucson. When we did a sunset hike at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, we took the opportunity to learn even more from Ranger Steve.
2) Look For Wildlife In The Sonoran Desert Area
We never specifically looked for wildlife on our visit to Tucson. But we found it. Sometimes in the most unexpected places.
We found cactus everywhere. But when we looked close we often saw the Cactus wren birds. One night we saw a woodpecker drilling a hole in the cactus for the wrens to nest.
During our visit to Arizona, we were amazed at how green and lush we found some areas. And this vegetation drew in dragonflys and butterflies.
When we hiked around the property at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, we caught sight of hares darting around. But we were delighted when we finally caught sight of the elusive Javelina pigs. Although we were wary to stay away from the sharp hooves.
We grew up on Loony Toon cartoons and have amusing memories of the RoadRunner cartoons. This large bird beeped and ran off as it tempted the Coyote. When we saw our first roadrunner on our visit to Tucson, we were surprised to see how small it really was!
The roadrunner moved really fast. But the giant tortoise Rocky at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain stayed hidden from the heat most of the day. We were never sure who was watching who.
We were happy that we never encountered dangerous wildlife on our visit to Arizona. There were often signs posted to watch for snakes. We were told to be careful when we walked out at night. Apparently bobcats and coyotes roamed the area.
We found wildlife without even looking for it on our stay in Tucson.
3) Drive Up Mt Lemmon
Much of the area around Tucson was flat and arid land, littered with cactus. But we saw hills and mountains surrounding the flat valleys. When we marked things to in Tucson on our offline map, several of the pins were for viewpoints. One day we headed out to drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway up Mt Lemmon.
It was a great mountain road to drive. Hairpin turns excited us as we drover higher and higher in the Santa Catalina Mountains. We moved from cactus to evergreen trees as we climbed to over 9,000 feet (2,800m) in altitude. The temperature dropped about 20℉ by the time we reached the top.
After spending a month in the Utah National Parks and in Northern Arizona, we thought we had grown tired of seeing awesome rock landscapes. But we were wrong! All along the route and at the viewpoints, we saw stunning rock structures.
When we stopped at the overlooks, the views out over the landscape were stunning. We saw the area around Tucson in all directions.
Our plan for the day did not leave us enough time for our drive up Mt Lemmon. We turned around before we hit Summerhaven and the Ski Valley area to head back for our booked sunset hike at the resort.
There were trail heads at various points up the mountain. And it would have been great to take more time enjoying the views. Exploring Mt Lemmon as one of the fall things to do in Tucson was great. But I am sure it would be wonderful in the spring when the wild flowers were in bloom. Or in the winter with snow on this high point.
4) Wine Tasting Around The Tucson Area
When we did wine tasting in the Verde Valley from Sedona, we were told that most of the grapes came from the SE area of Arizona around Willcox. We were excited when we learned there was a wine festival in Willcox when we were in town. And then we were told about another wine region in the Elgin and Sonoita area.
One day we headed for out to do wine tasting in the Sonoita area. We found several great wineries to visit. Arizona Hops and Vines was the perfect spot to start to sample local Arizona wines. They were also working to get their license to brew beer soon.
Our second stop was at Flying Leap Vineyards. This was a much larger vineyard with many locations around Arizona. We sampled a variety of local wines. But this vineyard was also a distillery. They had both vodka and several brandies on their tasting menu when we visited.
We never did make it to the Willcox wine festival on this trip. But we definitely want to spend more time wine tasting on a future visit to Arizona. Wine tasting in Sonoita was one of the fall things to do in Tucson. But we were sorry we missed the wine harvest!
5) Visit Tucson For The Festivals
Tucson was the last stop in a month long visit to Utah and Arizona. At home in Toronto, we have a good sense of when the major festivals occurred. But we really did not plan this Tucson stop around any special events. When we checked, we found there are festivals in every season in Tucson. And there is something for everyone.
When we drove around, we saw the Lights of the World Lantern Festival being set up. We enjoyed our first lantern festival in Spokane. At the end of summer exhibition in Toronto, we were intrigued by a massive indoor Chinese lantern display. So when we saw the parking lot in Tucson fill with lanterns, we really wanted to enjoy this.
Unfortunately, the lantern festival started just a few days after we finished our trip. But it would have been a great addition for fall things to do in Arizona.
6) Catch Sunsets and Moon Rises
The wide open skies we found on our visit to Arizona provided the perfect canvas. We arrived in Arizona just as the Hunter’s Moon was rising. The Hunter’s Moon was the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. It provided almost an hour more moonlight by which to hunt. Or for moon watching!
We first caught the Hunter’s Moon when we stayed in the Sedona Valley. It was not yet perfectly formed. On our visit to Scottsdale, we chased the moon to Dobbins Overlook high on the South Mountains. But when we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain outside of Tucson, the moon came to us. We watched from our suite balcony as the full moon rose over the canyon walls.
We planned to visit the Saguaro National Park to watch sunset. But ultimately missed it there. A hallmark of Ritz-Carlton customer service was the hand-written notes from staff. Our favourite notes came on a beautiful postcard of a sunset over the Seguaro cactus. When we asked, we were told that the best spot to get sunsets on our resort was from the golf course.
We chased a couple of spots on the golf course for just the right place. A sunset over the green with one cactus was considered. But I really had my heart set on a field of cactus. So we scrambled to the hills over the tennis courts for the prefect sunset spot.
Chasing the night sky was one of the best things to do in Tucson. So many of the towns and cities in Arizona are committed to being “Dark Sky” towns. They try to limit the light pollution so that the night sky can be enjoyed.
7) Enjoy A Pampering Resort Stay
Our schedule was busy as we enjoyed the National Parks in Utah and had many outdoor adventures in Northern Arizona. So we were so happy we planned for some downtime at the end of our trip.
The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain was a great spot to relax and be pampered. While we were tempted to just chill out at the resort, we found so many things to do on the resort.
We ate well at the different resort venues. The daily mixology demonstrations showed us so many ways to enjoy tequila. And a wine tasting hour let us discover French wines.
The decision to book a pampering stay at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain to end our adventures was the right one. Enjoying a luxury resort is definitely one of the fall things to do in Tucson. It was a bit off-season so there were no crowds. And the temperatures were still high. But not unbearable.
Fun Fall Things To Do In Tucson Arizona
We enjoyed the final stop in Tucson on our fall trip to Utah and Arizona. We took a few opportunities to venture off the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain resort. And discovered some of the things to do in the fall in the Tucson region. But we left with many things for a return visit.
We really wanted to do the tours in the Colossal Caves and in the Kartchner Caverns. We visited the Rincon Mountain District area of the Saguaro National Park. But the Tucson Mountain District region was supposed to be amazing at sunset. The Pima Air and Space Museum looked like a fun spot to explore. And a return visit when the desert cactus are in full spring bloom will definitely be planned.
Did you find fall things to do in Tucson Arizona? What should we plan for a return visit?
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