Tucson, nicknamed the Old Pueblo, is Arizona’s oldest
a city with a unique blend of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo
heritages. It is the second-largest city in the state. Tucson is a
modern city with high-tech industries and world-class cultural
events, yet it retains the charm of its desert frontier roots.
Tucson is an Indian word that translates as “water at
black mountain.” Located beside the Santa Cruz River, it has
been home to Indian villages and farms for at least 2,000 years.
In 1700, Father Kino established the first Spanish mission, San
Xavier, at the Indian village of Bac, 10 miles south of Tucson.
Tucson was founded in 1775 as a Spanish presidio or military
garrison to protect settlers from Apache raids. It was governed
by Mexico from 1821 until 1854 when the Gadsden
Purchase made it a part of the United States. Tucson was once the
territorial capital of Arizona.
Tucson was incorporated in 1877 and is the Pima County
seat. At 2,389 feet, it is known for mild winters. Federal, state and local government employ more than 60,000 people. The University of Arizona remains the largest single
employer with more than 10,000 employees. Davis-Monthan Air
Force Base has over 8,000 military and civilian employees. Part
of the city of Tucson is an Enterprise Zone. Manufacturing plays a major role in the economy. Manufacturing employment in metropolitan Tucson has more
than doubled in the past 10 years. This growth is due to the
increase of high-technology manufacturers such as Raytheon
Missile Company, AiResearch (Tucson Division), Sargent
Controls, Opto Power and Burr Brown, locating and expanding
in Pima County.
Tourism contributed over $2.3 billion to the Pima County
economy in the past year and continues to be a major part of
the economic base. Many new hotels have been constructed.
Area attractions include San Xavier mission, Saguaro National
Park, Old Tucson Studio (movie set and theme park), Biosphere
2, and Kitt Peak National Observatory. The vast Tohono
O’odham (Papago) Indian reservation is a few miles west of
Tucson. Mexico is an hour away via Interstate 19. Tombstone,
home of the famous OK Corral, is only 70 miles to the east.
Classical cultural events include a symphony, opera, ballet,
dance, and theater. Popular arts are represented by country and
western, rock, folk and jazz clubs. Sports range from professional
baseball, golf, and tennis to college programs including the
very popular University of Arizona football, baseball, and basketball
There are a host of museums including the Tucson Museum
of Art, Arizona Historical Society Museum and the Arizona
Sonoran Desert Museum with its extensive exhibits of native
wildlife. The University of Arizona has several specialized museums.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park is at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, in the Coronado National Forest. The park has 5,511 acres of desert plant and wildlife. Here you will discover high desert foothills, canyons, and
streams. The park offers bird watching, hiking, picnicking, camping, and horseback riding.
There are many hiking trails to choose from at the park. The park rangers are a great source of information. Make sure you talk to a ranger before you start off on a hike. Rangers will give you a trail map and let you in on the current trail conditions. The park advises hikers to not hike alone. Camping is a lot of fun in Catalina State Park. There are 48 campsites available. The camping area offers water, restrooms, showers and a dump station. Campsites are open all year round.The park also has some unique parts that interest many people. The equestrian center has many trails perfect for riding, along with horse trailer parking.
The Audubon Society offers a Friday morning bird walk, starting at 7:00 am. The time does vary depending on the time of year, so please call ahead. Catalina State Park has more than 150 species of birds. The Catalina State Park is open every day from 8:00 to 10:00 pm. The admission is $4.00 per vehicle. Camping cost is $10.00 to $15.00 per vehicle. If you would like more information, you may call 520-628-5798.
You can get to the park from Tucson by taking State Highway 77 (Oracle Road), which goes through town and head north along it. You will arrive at 11570 North Oracle Road at milepost 81. Here you will see signs directing you to the park. It is nine miles off of State Highway 77 (Oracle Road). You can get to the park from Phoenix, by taking Interstate 10 south out of town. Just as you reach Tucson, you will take the exit for Tangerine Road and head east on Tangerine Road. You will travel on Tangerine Road, until you come to State Highway 77 (Oracle Road). Here you will turn right and head south on State Highway 77 (Oracle Road) until you see signs for the park.
Visitors love coming to Catalina Park because of all the unique activities it offers.
The Kitt Peak National Observatory
The Kitt Peak National Observatory is located on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. It is in the Quinlan Mountains, at an elevation of 6,875 feet. The location was chosen, due to its dry atmosphere allowing for 260 days a year of clear skies and its isolation from light pollution. The Tohono O’odham Indian Tribe has leased the land “until the end of time”, as long as the structure is not used for military purposes.
The Kitt Peak National Observatory is a three building research structure. The National Optical Astronomy Observatories oversees the site operations of Kitt Peak. The observatory has the McMath Solar Telescope, which is a largest solar telescope in the world. The telescope is aligned with the North Pole. There are 22 optical and 2 radio telescopes from eight astronomical research institutions. Kitt Peak also has the Mayall 4-meter telescope, which is the nation’s second largest optical instrument. This observatory monitors solar, stellar and extragalactic activities.
Visitors will learn about the history of optical astronomy and how Kitt Peak Observatory has played an integral part in gathering research over the past years. Guests will take a tour and discover how astronomers have gained so much knowledge of the universe. One section that you won’t want to miss is the National Solar Observatory exhibit gallery. Here you will watch astronomers using the world’s largest telescope. Kitt Peak National Observatory offers visitors another unique opportunity. At night, the Visitor Center telescope dome is available for a tour. This tour begins with a light dinner while admiring the spectacular sunset from the peak. Following the sunset, there is a complete tour of the night skies.
Using binoculars, star charts and a state-of-the-art 16-inch telescope, you will be able to look at the sky in a whole new way. It is a chance to see planets, galaxies, star clusters and the birth and death of stars. Night stargazing tours usually last three hours and are limited to 20 participants. Due to this tour’s popularity, it is required that reservations are made in advance. Since stargazing depends on the weather, if the weather turns poor, a decision will be made at 2:00 to determine if the tour will be held that night. If you are not a part of the night time stargazing tour, you will be asked to leave the peak at 4:00 pm.
Visitors should be aware that the temperature on top of Kitt Peak is almost 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in Tucson. Please bring the appropriate attire, especially if you are participating in the nighttime tour. The nighttime stargazing tour spends approximately three hours outside. Also, individuals with cardiac and respiratory ailments should be aware of the steep walking paths to many of the telescopes. There are no food or gas services available at Kitt’s Peak, so be prepared.
It is a good idea to pack a lunch and eat it at the picnic area at Kitt Peak. Kitt Peak National Observatory does provide restrooms and wheelchair accessible facilities. The Kitt Peak National Observatory is open everyday, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9:00 to 4:00 pm. Guided tours are offered daily at 10:00, 11:30, and 1:30 pm. Tours are approximately one hour in length. The nighttime stargazing tour costs $35.00 for adults, $25.00 for students with I.D. and $25.00 for seniors over 55. The daytime admission cost is free.
The Visitor Center dome is available to reserve in its entirety for a large group, by calling in advance. You will need to call in advance to go on a night-time stargazing tour. However, if space is available, you may be fortunate to go on the same day as your visit. You may schedule a group tour by calling and making a reservation. If you are interested in a group tour, call 520-318-8732. If you have any other questions, you may call 520-318-8726 or for a recording, you can call 520-318-8200.
You can get to the observatory from Tucson by taking State Highway 86 west out of town. Continue on State Highway 86 for approximately 56 miles, until you come to the signs for Kitt Peak Observatory. Kitt Peak is an amazing spot. You will learn so much on a tour of this unique place tucked away in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
San Xavier Del Bac Mission
San Xavier Del Bac Mission is located on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. The mission was named after the Jesuit Apostle of the Indies, Saint Francis Xavier. Today, “White Dove of the Desert” is the name given to the mission because of its beautiful white adobe brick rising from the desert floor. It is a magnificent building with Spanish mission architecture. This mission stands apart from other missions because of its domes, carvings, arches and flying buttresses. The murals and alter inside the mission are
It all began in the early 1700’s when the Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino came through the area in which the mission now stands. Father Kino was sent to help the Native Indians. The Franciscans built the present structure of the mission in 1783 through 1797. The purpose of the mission was to Christianize the Indians and to be the headquarters for a ranch worked by the Indians. In 1828, the missionaries were forced to leave the mission, but in 1911 they returned. Since then, the mission has remained the main church and the school for the Tohono O’odham Indians.
In 1997, an Italian craftsman restored the mission’s interior. This restoration has revealed detailed frescoes and vivid murals. Some say it is the Sistine Chapel of North America. There are legends about the mission’s missing the right tower. One legend says that it was never completed because of a tax that the Spanish government would have exercised if the mission had been completed. Another says that the Apache Indians destroyed it in the late 19th century. Still, another says that if it ever was completed the mission would be destroyed.
Today visitors will have the opportunity to listen to a taped 15-minute lecture about the mission. These lectures are offered every hour. A 45-minute self-guided tour is also available.There is a museum that has displays of vestments and artifacts for visitors to admire. You will also find small gift shops across from the museum, where you will find a memento of your visit. The mission is open every day from 9:30 to 5:30 pm. Church services are Monday through Saturday at 8:30 am and on Sundays 8:00, 9:30, 11:00 and 12:30 pm. There is no admission charge, but donations are greatly appreciated. If you would like more information on the mission, you may call 520-294-2624.
You can get to the mission from Tucson by taking Interstate 19, south out of town toward Nogales. Then take exit 92 off of Interstate 19 to the mission. It is about nine miles off the Interstate. If you are coming from Phoenix, take Interstate 10 south out of town to Tucson. Continue through Tucson, until you come to Interstate 19. Take Interstate 19 south down toward Nogales. Travel on Interstate 19, until you come to exit 92. You will get off the Interstate at exit 92 and follow the signs to the mission. It is approximately nine miles off of Interstate 19. San Xavier Del Bac has withstood the ravages of time and weather, and it stands today in timeless beauty, visited by thousands of visitors each year.
Biosphere 2 Center – Note: This is really outdated. I just leave it in here for its historic value
The Biosphere 2 Center is a great place to visit, especially if you have an interest in our environment. Here you can explore how man’s actions affect the world. This center is the western campus of the Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The Biosphere’s mission is to serve as a center for teaching, learning and research about the Earth and its systems.
The Biosphere 2 Center is located on a 250-acre piece of land in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. The main structure on the property is large and beautiful. It looks like something from the future, with its glass windows surrounding the entire structure. It is the focal point of the grounds. This structure is used for experiments related to our environment. Once you arrive at the Center, you will have some choices to make on how you are going to spend your day. You will definitely want to participate in a tour of the Center.
Tour presentations are every 60 minutes. The tour includes a mile long trail through the Biosphere 2 Center. Along the trail there are knowledgeable guides to describe what you are seeing and answer questions. During the tour, you will see a mini-biosphere, the Test Module and an Underwater Viewing Gallery. The tour concludes at the 3.15-acre Biosphere 2 structure. This structure cost $200 million to build.
You will also want to take in the exhibits, films, and interpreters all of which will help you learn more about the goals and visions of the Biosphere. You will be intellectually stimulated. Another spot you won’t want to miss is the setting. Outside the Biosphere you will see the Sonoran Desert in its beauty. If you are a birdwatcher, you will enjoy this area.The Canada Del Oro Restaurant is a great place to sit down and eat a meal. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From the Canada Del Oro you look out on spectacular views of the Catalina Mountains. Reservations are requested; you can call 520-896-6220 to make your plans.There are three gift shops on the property. Each gift shop is based on a theme. The Desert Digs, the Rainforest, and the Coral Reef gift shops have interesting items for you to purchase to remember your visit.
The Visitor Center is open daily (except on Christmas Day) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. The last tickets are sold at 5:00 pm. and all exhibits close at 5:30 pm. It is to your advantage, to arrive before 3:00 pm, in order to participate in all the activities. The tour presentations begin every 60 minutes, starting at 9:00 am with the last tour beginning at 4:30 pm. The admission is $12.95 for adults, $8.95 for youth ages 13-17, $6.00 for children 6-12 and children 5 and under are free. Reservations are required for parties over 10. If you would like to schedule a group tour, you can call 1-800-828-2462 for more information.
The Biosphere 2 Center is located between Phoenix and Tucson, near the Town of Oracle. If you are coming from Phoenix take Interstate 10 south toward Tucson, just as you are about to enter Tucson (about 20 miles north of it) take the Tangerine Road exit. Turn left onto Tangerine Road and travel 15 miles east to North Oracle Road. Turn left onto North Oracle Road/State Highway 77 and head north. When you arrive at Oracle Junction take the right fork and continue on State Highway 77 up to the Biosphere turnoff (approximately 6 miles).
If you are coming from Tucson, you will take Interstate 10 north of Phoenix. Exit the Interstate at the Ina Road exit. Turn right onto Ina Road and travel east to North Oracle Road. Turn left onto North Oracle Road/State Highway 77 and continue to Oracle Junction. Take the right fork and continue on State Highway 77 up to the Biosphere turnoff (approximately 6 miles).
There are some things you should keep in mind if you are planning to visit the Biosphere Center 2. The first thing is to remember to wear walking shoes and a hat. These items will make your tour most comfortable. Wheelchairs and strollers are available for rent, on a first come, first serve basis. No pets or picnicking are allowed on the premises.
I know you will enjoy your visit to the Biosphere 2 Center. If you really want to spend more time at the Center, there is a hotel on the property. You will want to look into special rates including the room and tour. You can call 1-800-828-2462 or 520-896-6200 to find out more. It is a great place to learn more about our world.
Sabino Canyon lies in the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. The canyon has been a source of life for several cultures over the centuries. The Clovis people used the canyon nearly 13,000 years ago to hunt bison and mammoths. Then the Hohokam Indians arrived in the canyon to use the water for their ingenious irrigation systems. The Papago and Pima Indians came along and hunted game in Sabino Canyon. During the 1870’s pony soldiers from Fort Lowell rode up to the canyon for a day of swimming.
Then in the 1940’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed bridges, picnic tables and walls to help preserve the canyon. Today visitors can enjoy the trail and amenities provided at Sabino Canyon. The canyon offers a variety of outdoor fun for its visitors. You may choose from swimming, bird watching, picnicking, hiking, and horseback riding.
There are many kinds of wildlife that make their home in the canyon, such as deer and birds. Sabino Creek flows all year round, except for one or two months, depending on the weather season for the year. The color of the creek’s water is a brownish shade, due to the tannin found in oak tree roots and pine needles. The water provides a good environment for crayfish and sunfish. Swimming is so much fun in the natural pools along the creek. One of the special highlights of this canyon is the Sabino Canyon Tours. These tours offer a narrated tram tour into the canyon. It is a great way to take in nature’s beauty.
The 45-minute tour takes visitors along a three and a half mile paved round trip journey through the canyon. You will travel through cottonwoods, willow trees, and sycamores. It is a great choice if your time is short. The tram makes nine stops on the way to the top. These stops are great for hikers to get to the trailhead or for picnickers to get to a great spot
to enjoy a meal. You can get on and off as often as you like, as long as it is it a designated point. Another tram will take hikers up to the Bear Canyon Trail. This two and a half mile hike takes you to the Seven Falls. This waterfall drops 500 feet down the side of a hill and is an amazing sight.
There is a moonlight tram tour offered in April through December, three nights a week. It takes visitors on a wonderful journey. The tour is much slower paced than the daytime tram ride, but it does stop at the top. The moonlight tour is approximately 75 minutes long and does not have narration. You will need to make a prepaid reservation to attend the moonlight tram tour. If you are interested, you may call 520-749-2327. There is a visitor reception desk at the canyon to help you enjoy your visit to Sabino Canyon completely. Please may sure you allow a minimum of one hour to see the canyon. Pets and motor vehicles are not permitted in the canyon.
The canyon is open every day from 8:00 to 4:30 pm. There is no admission fee, but if you are interested in the tram there is a charge. The tram tour is $6.00 and $2.50 for ages 3 to 12. If you have more questions, you may call 520-749-2861. You can get to Sabino Canyon from Tucson by taking Sabino Canyon Road north into the Sabino Canyon or by taking Sunrise Drive east into Sabino Canyon. If you are coming from Phoenix take Interstate 10 south out of town to Tucson. Just as you get to Tucson take the Ina Road exit and head east on Ina Road.
The road then veers southeast and changes into Skyline Drive. Continue on Skyline Drive for a while, until the road name change to Sunrise Drive. Take Sunrise Drive right into Sabino Canyon. Sabino Canyon is a real nature lover’s treat. The tram tour is a delightful way to see the area.
Saguaro National Park
In 1933, the Saguaro National Park was created to protect the saguaro, other desert plants and rock formations with petroglyphs made by Native Indians long ago. The park is separated into two sections. The Rincon Mountain District is approximately 15 miles east of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District is about 15 miles west of Tucson.
Both of these districts represent the Sonoran desert and include magnificent stands of saguaro cacti. Saguaros are unique cacti. They have also been described as the monarch of the Sonoran Desert, as a prickly horror and as the supreme symbol of the American Southwest. Saguaros grow only in southern Arizona, in California along the Colorado River and in northern Mexico. Protection is the key to the success of a saguaro. Palo Verde trees and other shade plants protect a young saguaro.
Saguaros can live up to 200 years and can reach the heights of 30 to 40 feet. They are slow growing. It takes about twenty-five years to grow, just two feet. The Saguaro arms do not appear until the cactus is 75 years old. The arms of the saguaro have caused people to call them the plant with personality. Saguaros with arms look all too human. They have white blossoms that appear in May and June. The saguaro blossom is Arizona’s state flower.
The Rincon Mountain District houses the park’s headquarters and is located on Freeman Road, south of Old Spanish Trail about 15 miles from Tucson. This district stretches out 66,336 acres. It also contains a visitor center with plant and animal displays. The displays include desert animal skeletons and a cross section of a saguaro. A 15-minute slide show tells about the park’s plant and wildlife. There are nature programs available in the winter. Visitors can also explore the desert by taking a driving tour. The Cactus Forest Drive starts at the visitor center and continues for 8 miles through the beautiful Sonoran desert.
There are two picnic spots along the drive. If you would like more information, call 520-733-5153.The Tucson Mountain District has a visitor center filled with informative exhibits. Here you will see 20,738 acres of desert landscape. The Red Hills Visitor Center is on Kinney Road about 15 miles from Tucson just off of Speedway/Gates Pass Road. There are signs to direct you to the park. There is a driving trail that is located in the area. Before embarking on the drive, you will want to stop in at the visitor center for a map. The Bajada Loop Drives winds for 6 miles through the National Park.
There are four picnic areas available at the Tucson Mountain District. For more information, you may call, 520-733-5158. When you make your visit to either of these Districts, is it recommended you come prepared for the adventure. It is advisable to bring water, dress appropriately for the climate and plan on at least a half a day to take in the whole park. During the summer the temperatures can rise past 100 degrees, therefore the best time to plan a trip is during the winter, fall or springtime. Both districts offer bird watching, photography, hiking and guided walks. You will want to make a stop at the visitor center to find out more. Both districts in the Saguaro National Park are open every day from dawn to dusk.
The Visitor Centers are open every day from 8:30 to 5:00 pm, except on Christmas. Admission costs vary depending on which district you would like to visit. Admission to the Rincon Mountain District is by a 7-day permit or by annual permit. The 7-day permit costs $4.00 per vehicle or $2.00 for individuals arriving by other means. The Tucson Mountain District admission is free. The Saguaro National Park is a one of a kind place to visit. Please remember to leave only your footprints and take nothing but wonderful memories.
Tucson Area Attractions
The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
This is a spectacular place to visit any day of the week. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum uses natural landscapes as a backdrop for the numerous creatures that live here. The Museum is divided into four areas for visitors to enjoy. The four areas are Life Underground, Riparian Habitat, Desert Grassland and the Hummingbird Aviary. These four exhibits give you the chance to see the animals in their natural habitats. In the Life Underground exhibit, you will see tarantulas and kit foxes.
The Riparian Habitat allows you to see various creatures underwater. Some creatures you will see are the river otters and desert fish. You will spend some time at the Desert Grassland enclosure watching the black-tailed prairie dog colony. These prairie dogs can be quite entertaining. Everyone delights in the Hummingbird Aviary. The Aviary has hummingbirds from all around and visitors are able to walk through to see them up close. What an experience!
There are so many animals at the Museum. You will see a Gila Woodpecker, Mountain Lion, Fig Beetle, Mexican Wolf and a Collared Lizard. It can be surprising to discover how many creatures do live in the desert. Many individuals view the desert as a dead lifeless place when in actuality the desert is teeming with living creatures.
The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum shows just how many plants and wildlife are living out there. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum does a spectacular job creating such realistic habitats for the animals. As a matter of fact, the gardens are a highpoint of the visit to the Museum. The gardens display cacti, wildflowers, and succulents, which make the desert bloom.
When you make a visit to the Museum, please come prepared. Your visit is primarily an outdoor experience. Make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and comfortable shoes for walking. The Museum provides shady ramadas, drinking fountains and restrooms. There are two restaurants at the Museum. One is a coffee bar and the other is a casual refreshment Ramada. Visitors are asked not to picnic on the grounds. You may choose to browse in two of the gift shops on the grounds. There you can find something to take home to remind you of the trip. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is open every day of the year. The hours are
October through February 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and March through September 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. The admission to the Museum is Adults $8.95, children (ages 6 – 12) $1.75 and children under 6 free. The Museum does offer group rates. You may wish to become a member of the Museum. Members receive discounts on a variety of items. Please look into a membership at the admissions gate.
The Desert Museum is located in Tucson. The best way to get to the Museum of Tucson from Phoenix is to take Interstate 10 to Speedway Boulevard. Exit on Speedway Boulevard and head west. Turn right onto Kinney Road. Travel down Kinney Road about 2.5 miles and the Museum will be on the left side. The drive to the Museum is marked with brown signs saying “Desert Museum”.
I had a great time at the Arizona Sonora Museum and I know you will too. The Desert is a beautiful place.
Tucson is an Indian word that translates as “water at black mountain.” Located beside the Santa Cruz River, it has been home to Indian villages and farms for at least 2,000 years. In 1700, Father Kino established the first Spanish mission, San Xavier, at the Indian village of Bac, 10 miles south of Tucson. Tucson was founded in 1775 as a Spanish presidio or military garrison to protect settlers from Apache raids. It was governed by Mexico from 1821 until 1854 when the Gadsden Purchase made it a part of the United States. Tucson was once the territorial capital of Arizona. Tucson was incorporated in 1877 and is the Pima County seat.
The name Tucson originated from the Pima Indians. It comes from the word “schookson” meaning “spring at the foot of a black mountain”. This saying refers to the dark base of the Sentinel Mountains where the Santa Cruz River flows near Tucson.
The area around Tucson has been dated back to 800 to 900 A.D., from pottery shards found in the ruins of a pit house. The first European influence came in 1694 with the arrival of Eusebio Francisco Kino. He established a mission called San Augustin de Oiaur and a village named San Cosme de Tucson. However, Kino spent most of the efforts at the San Xavier del Bac mission.
In 1775, Tucson gained more power when the Presidio in Tubac was moved to Tucson and was renamed San Agustin del Tucson. Hugh O’Connor, an Irishman founded the 12 feet high walled presidio of San Agustin del Tucson.
The Presidio was completed in 1803. This move was made so Mexico could gain control over the Apache Indians. However, not much changed, even when Mexico took over Spanish ruled Tucson. Then in 1853, Tucson became the possession of the United States through the Gadsen Purchase. However, it wasn’t until 1856 when the Mexican soldiers finally left the Tucson presidio. In 1857, a Butterfield Stage stop was established in Tucson. By 1860, Tucson had 650 citizens.
At this time, Tucson was known for its ruffians and a whipping post that was set up in the plaza. Tucson looked like a small Mexican town with Pueblos and narrow dirt streets. The capital of the state was given to Tucson in 1867. There were enough votes at the time to bring the capital down from Prescott. The population had grown to 3,200 by the year 1869. Gambling and casinos were the highlights of the town. Playhouses were also a popular gathering spot. Yet, in 1877 the capital was returned to Prescott and in that same year, Tucson was incorporated.
The Southern Pacific Railroad came to Tucson in 1880 and the town began to grow even more. Soon afterward, the Territorial Legislature gave Tucson money to build a university. Arizona ‘s first university opened in 1891 with 36 students and 6 faculty members. The nation’s first municipally-owned airport opened in 1919 and the first airmail was delivered to Tucson in 1915. Modern living was beginning to inch toward Tucson.
Pima is in Eastern Arizona. It is in Graham County. The town covers two square miles. The town is located on Interstate 70. Pima is approximately 134 miles from Tucson and 160 miles from Phoenix. If you are coming from Tucson, take Interstate 10 east out of town to U.S. 191 and head north toward Stafford. Once you are in Stafford, take U.S. 70 west into Pima. If you are coming from Phoenix, take U.S. 60 east out of town to Globe and then take U.S. 70 into Pima.
Pima is a becoming a retirement and tourist spot. There are so many recreational facilities located nearby that there is something fun to do for everyone. Pima began as an agricultural community. Today Pima’s population is 1,725. The town sits at an elevation of 2,885 feet. The mild climate is found all year round with a summer high temperature of 99 degrees and a winter low temperature of 30 degrees. Pima is known as “The Little Town with it All”.
One great attraction in town is the Eastern Arizona Museum and Historical Society. This museum has wonderful displays that preserve the heritage of the area. Visitors can even arrange for tours when you call in advance. Another popular hang out is the Graham County Fairgrounds and Recreational Area located in the town of Stafford. The 220-area complex has facilities for fairs, an equestrian arena, an oval race track and many public recreation spots.
These recreation areas range from tennis courts to baseball fields and 56 picnic tables. The Graham County Fairgrounds and Recreational Area is the place to be if you are interested in small town fun. Discovery Park is a fun place to go explore the past, present, and future of the desert southwest. There are 200 acres of scientific, historical and cultural exhibits including the Gov Aker Observatory and the space simulator ride called the Polaris Shuttlecraft. The Discovery Park Express narrow-gauge train takes you on a tour of Nature’s Hideaway with wildlife, flora, and fauna.
Most of the activities available around Pima are outdoor activities. There are so many to choose from its hard to decide where to start. The Swift Trail (State Highway 366) is one of Arizona’s most popular scenic drives. The drive begins just eight miles south of Safford. The trail takes you up to the top of Mount Graham in the Pinaleno Mountains. There are many spectacular sights along this drive. Columbine is a great camping area. Riggs Flat Lake has fishing and camping. However, the last section of the trail leading to the lake is closed during the winter season. Visitors will want to head to the lake in the spring and summer to enjoy the water fun.
Another lake that has lots to offer is the Lake Roper State Park. This lake is only four miles south of Safford. The park has 240 acres and 30 acres of water. Visitors will find two developed areas, which surround a small man made a lake. The park has picnicking, camping, boating and a natural hot spring. The Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area has been a popular recreational spot since the turn of the century. It lies at the base of Mount Graham and is only five miles south of Pima. Visitors can choose from fishing, camping, and photography. Wildlife can be spotted at several ponds and riparian areas located in the area. It is a wonderful spot to enjoy nature.
The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area is a vast wilderness. It is an area that has no trails, no facilities, and no signs. The area is for those interested in really getting in touch with the outdoors. Hikers, campers and those wanting to see wildlife will enjoy heading to the Aravaipa Canyon. The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is a wonderful piece of land including a 15-mile segment of Bonita Creek and 23 miles of the Gila River. This area is the perfect place to take a kayak, canoe or raft. Visitors can float down the Gila River taking in the variety of birds that make this place their home.
Fur trappers and mountain men first used the area around Pima as they searched for pelts during the 1820’s and 1830’s. These men were traveling along the nearby Gila River. This river eventually served as a trail called the Gila Trail. In 1846, General Stephen W. Kearny used the trail as he headed west with his army.
It wasn’t until 1879 when a group of Mormon settlers arrived in the area that a community was created. They were looking for a site to build a canal and grow crops. They discovered that the Gila Valley was ideal. It was close to Mount Graham and to other mountains in the north. The settlers laid out a town site and quickly built a canal system for their crops. They named the town Smithville in honor of the Mormon leader Jesse Smith.
Then in 1880, the town established a post office. It was at this time that the town changed its name to Pima, after the local Indian tribe. The town was incorporated four years later in 1884.
Throughout the town’s history, agriculture has been its most important economic source. The Gila River, along with the canals that were built helped the crops grow and prosper. The main crops harvested were and still are today alfalfa, cotton, and grain. Farms also raise cattle.
Recently, the town has become a popular retirement community and tourist spot. The town continues to grow today.