Tucson, nicknamed the Old Pueblo, is Arizona’s oldest and 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.