Hidden Tucson: Newcomer and Tourist Information You May Not Know

A bitter cold February in Chicago and my husband was working at The Chicago Tribune when he got a recruiting call. “You’re calling from where? Tucson? What’s the weather like?” We knew; a heck of a lot better than February in Chicago. Long story short, The Arizona Daily Star and the now mostly defunct Tucson Citizen hired him! By April (a month & 1/2!) we had purchased a house, sold a house and were living with our 22 month old and 1st grader in a town we knew nothing about. We had been to the tourist spots in Arizona and had visited Phoenix but Tucson? Who knew much about Tucson?

We had never even been here before I flew in to buy a house. I see retirees here that look at me in a way that says “You got it figured out early.” Indeed. While Tucson is to Phoenix what the South Side is to the North Side of Chicago, there are a few things most people outside of Arizona don’t know about Tucson (besides how to spell it) that are surprising and wonderful. Do you know:

Tucson is a short two-hour drive to the ocean. We call it our beach and although there are no surfing waves, it is the salty warm ocean and has sand beaches that you don’t associate with Arizona. Called Rocky Point by the gringos, Puerto Penasco is a fishing village with loads of luxury condos and hotels with restaurants, bars and service that you expect on a Mexican vacation. This is the Sea of Cortez, which you may know about in relation to Baja California. This is the other side of the water and swimming and shelling and playing with hermit crabs is the name of the game. There are parasailing tours we wouldn’t dare take but sailing was cheap; $40 for all four of us for a couple of hours on a catamaran with a captain!. Prices vary but that is half the ticket for one in most places. Fresh fish every night for dinner! Banana boat rides are also popular and inexpensive. Tucson is cooler and wetter than Phoenix. Wait! Isn’t Tucson farther south? Yes but we are at a higher elevation (about 2000 feet at the lowest) and because Tucson embraces dirt roads over asphalt, and obviously has less population we don’t have as much of the heat island effect. We are almost always 10 – 15 degrees cooler than Phoenix. In fact the weather here doesn’t conform to convention; our weather often comes in from the East. We have a real winter too; winter nights see freezing temps but its usually back to shirt sleeves by 10 AM. We have more seasons. More weather oddity; we have 5 seasons. They are quite distinct once you have been here for a year or two. Winter, Spring, Dry Summer, Wet summer, and Fall. Anyone who lives here knows that, while visitors say, “wet summer just your rainy season right? ” True, but totally different things bloom, different bugs come out and going from 5% humidity to 80% assures you; this is a different season. We have 15 different “sky islands” to explore. The road to one of the most popular mountain destinations , Mount Lemmon actually starts in town and takes you through 7 ecosystems with the biodiversity you expect in each. You start at desert with saguaro (sah- whar- oh) cactus and ascend to pine forests. They may feel a little scrubby to Coloradans but the vistas and various rock outcrops, including hoodoos make the trip worth it. Many of the Arizona Highway magazine photos are taken here and in our canyons. Mt. Lemmon is part of the U.S. National Park Service and can easily be a day trip. Biosphere 2 is here. It is actually in a nearby town called Catalina but a pretty and fairly quick ride gets you to this scientific marvel. It was recently donated to the University of Arizona but is expected to continue accepting visitors as usual. It is open daily. www.b2science.org/ Tucson is big! Its entire metropolitan area is 500 square miles. Often newcomers say they live in the “Central” area but that can mean completely different parts of town depending on where you live. Map things to be find how far you will travel. Tucsonans have their own language. Formerly being Mexico, we definitely roll our R’s here. You will get quick corrections for pronunciation but it is always meant in an informative way not to feel bad about. We also have slang that is unique to Tucson. My favorite is a word for a bargain. Tucsonans love to get a deal and call it a “ganga” (gong-a). “I found a ganga today.” Spanish and English are equally common here so dust off your high school Spanish. Speak it or not, if the word looks Spanish, try to throw in an accent if you want to look local. Tucson is home to the University of Arizona Wildcats. Tucsonans are crazy about sports and especially their home town University’s teams. Most people have heard of U of A, but most don’t think of Tucson when they hear U of A unless they know the school well. They have a beautiful campus with museums to visit, and a library that is open to the public.

Come visit Tucson!

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