Terrific Tucson: Spanish Colonial Charm and Cacti Too

The lovely city of Tucson, Arizona, is not only rich with ancient history, it is also an ideal destination for travelers looking for an idyllic spot to hike, ride bikes, climb mountains, go spelunking, or just relax on the edge of a canyon and dream.
Life in the Tucson Valley began about 10,000 BC, when the Paleoindian and Archaic hunters and gatherers migrated to the area. Although historians don't know whether the area was inhabited continually after that, they have found evidence of agricultural settlements along the Santa Cruz River dating back as far as 1,000 BC. The Hohokam culture thrived in Tucson Valley for a dozen centuries, from 200 AD to 1450 AD, before the civilization declined. Today's Pima and Tohono O'odham cultures are the descendants of that advanced civilization, and they have inhabited the region since the mid-16th century.
Around 1540, the Coronado Expedition crossed what is now Arizona, searching for the 'Seven Cities of Gold'. Father Francisco Kino established the Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1699, but it took nearly 100 years for the mission to be completed. In the meantime, the Mission San Agustin, a 'visita' of San Xavier, was established on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River. In 1775, Hugo O'Conor established the Tucson Presido―and that year was when the City of Tucson was officially born.
When Mexico fought for its independence in 1821, Tucson became part of Mexico. In 1854, after the Gadsden Purchase, Tucson was thereafter under the jurisdiction of the United States. Arizona became an official U.S. territory in 1864, and in 1912 it became the 48th state in the Union. By 1950, Tucson's population had reached 120,000, and just 10 years later, the population had doubled. In 1990, Tucson became the 33rd largest city in the United States, with a population of nearly a half million people.
With its colorful cultural history, Tucson offers visitors a wealth of diverse exploration pursuits as well as mild weather all year round. When most people think of Tucson, they get a mental picture of lush, sweeping desert spotted with tall saguaro cacti. But the second-largest city in Arizona is nestled in the heart of an area surrounded by mountains and canyons, state and national forests, rivers, and waterfalls.
The Santa Cruz River Valley, south of Tucson, is being considered for becoming a National Heritage Area because of its historic and cultural significance to the area. The valley is known worldwide to bird lovers, being home to elegant trogons and blue-throated hummingbirds in the Santa Rita and Santa Catalina Mountains. The tall riparian forests near Tumacacori are home to summer tanagers. The area is also the site of many Native American archaeological ruins as well as being a center of Spanish colonial exploration.
In fact, the evidence of Spanish colonial influence is everywhere you look in Tucson, especially in the city's numerous adobe houses. Visitors can learn about the Spanish colonization of the Southwest by taking a trip down the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail, the explorer who established an emigration and supply route in 1776 from Tubac, south of Tucson, all the way to California.
Sabino Canyon, located in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, boasts thrilling desert landscapes. Everywhere you look you can see cholla and prickly pear cactus, ocotillo groves, and palo verde trees. Hikers can make their way down the 2.5-mile Sabino Creek Trail, lined with cottonwood trees, and stop at Seven Falls to relax by clear-running pools of water. The narrated Bear Canyon Trail tram provides a more leisurely route to the top of the canyon. Hikers and explorers should keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, lizards, collared peccaries, tarantulas, lizards, and snakes that live in the canyon.
Be sure not to leave Tucson without visiting the Saguaro National Park, to get a glimpse of the iconic cactus most people think of when they think of Arizona. Majestic saguaros, in all shapes and sizes, tower over the landscape, some as tall as 50 feet high. Drive on a scenic loop to learn more about the spectacular Sonoran Desert. The area offers more than 150 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy, casual strolls to challenging steep, rugged hikes into the Rincon Mountains.
Whether you're a history buff, a nature lover, a wildlife adventurer, a canyon explorer, or a combination of all of these, Tucson is the perfect destination for you!
Sabino Canyon, Arizona
Tucson Arizona skyline cityscape and Santa Catalina Mountains at dusk