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When in Tucson (Southbound)

Tucson has been a wonderful place to stay. Partly because I simply enjoyed being a city again with all the amenities: trendy gyms, spas, Russian grocery stores, Korean BBQ, outdoor markets, and medical services. Partly because of the 360 degree view of mountains surrounding the city. And partly because there are lots of great options for day tripping too. This is the first of a two part series highlighting some of the fun and random activities and sights you might enjoy too if you come visit.

1) Tombstone. See a gunfight at high noon. Walk down a dusty street surrounded by so many people dressed in period clothing that you aren't sure if you're dreaming. Step into the historic OK Corral or Bird Cage Theater. And of course, take a sepia-hued old-timey photo. Even if reenactments and lots of tourists with obnoxious children aren't your thing, it's still worth a quick stop to see the historic buildings, funny street signs, and the friendliest restaurant staff you will ever meet at the OK Cafe.

old theater building in desert town

street signs and American flag

2) Bisbee is Tombstone's polar opposite. It is a hippy haven that reminds me of the small towns outside Boulder, Colorado since the Boulder hippies all got pushed out by tech money and botox babes. There is live music everywhere - some of it sanctioned by the restaurant and some of it pop-up drum circles. You can take on the 1,000 step challenge and (fake) poop in the great outdoors, admire elaborate artwork on people's doors and fences, and partake in some craft cocktails served up by friendly gals in slightly punk, slightly retro dresses. Most incongruously, you can also view the gaping maw of the Lavender Pit open copper mine just outside of town and visible from hiking vantage points.

town with open mine in background

woman by old building in desert town

3) In the endless brown landscape that lines the Mexican border, you can find a literal oasis in the desert. The strip of green trees visible in the center of the photo below is part of the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. Tucson loves calling things "rivers" that are just large sandboxes, but this actually has water flowing through it. There is an old mining town at the end - one with the buildings still in tact. Most old mining towns barely have one crumbling structure left. But be careful, humans aren't the only mammals attracted to the flowing water. You just might see the face of an apex predator peeking out at you from the tall grass.

desert with strip of bright green trees

4) Against my better judgment, I went to the Desert Museum of Tucson. I sometimes delude myself into believing that in America and other western countries, we've evolved enough to treat our zoo animals well. But I know that's not true and at my core, I think zoos shouldn't exist all. They are an antiquated notion, when we didn't have the internet or amazing global planet shows on television. There's no reason for them now. So yes, I'm a hypocrite for paying to go into one, and I regretted my decision very quickly. The enclosures are not nearly large enough for the animals. It made me feel sick. For the mountain lions, but also for the snakes. The only one that made sense was the outdoor loop for the javelinas, which was the whole reason I went but I still didn't see the "pigalinos," as one of my friends call the creatures who look like pigs but, in fact, are not in the same family. Damn it! These garden eels were really cool, though.

5) The abandoned Lisa Frank factory on Lisa Frank Avenue in South Tucson. Ah, childhood throwback!

abandoned parking lot of factory

6) The best thing about Tucson is that within the city limits, it's all a bit chaotic. The city seems to have formed in a totally hodgepodge manner (although I do appreciate that the streets have been built at the right capacity for the volume of traffic), with businesses and homes springing up as needed. And in the middle of it all is an honest-to-god ranch with dozens and dozens of sheep and horses a mile and half from my rental. I like to think that the farmers that were there as the city expanded gave a big middle finger to developers and kept their farms right where they were. In reality, the ranch belongs to the university and is for research. But Americans are living in a "make your own truth" world right now, so I'm sticking to my made up story. And really, does it matter why it's there? Sheep and horses roam around eight city blocks, surrounded by Trader Joe's, Yoga Pod, a winery, and many, many homes and apartments. How cool is that?