After leaving White Sands and Silver City, we drove right next to the Rio Grande as we headed over to Tucson and the Arizona Saguaro Desert Museum. This museum is really an open air zoo where you can wander through the desert landscape and see open pens of wild desert animals. They also have the very popular Raptor Free Flight Show where birds of prey (hawks, falcons, owls, etc.) fly freely over the landscape all around you. This is not your typical amphitheater show where birds make a loop over seated benches. And, afterwards, you can also visit the Saguaro National Park nearby to see the massive Saguaro cacti covering the landscape. If you do eat here, the museum has a general cafeteria but what many do not know is there is a small cafe, Ocotillo Cafe, with much better food but hours are hit and miss so be sure to check.
Tucson has a range of lodging for every budget. We chose the Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain due to its location in a remote desert valley. After traveling so far and walking the desert zoo, this hotel is located in a beautiful area to watch the sun set and relax with a meal at Ignite on the patio overlooking the area. At sunset (5:15 pm each evening) a Native American stands on the opposite hillside and plays a flute as you enjoy your meal and they light the fire pits around the pool as the sun sets.
Please note, our goal is not to review hotels but we do feel we need to note, this particular hotel’s location is amazing. However, we had a lot of trouble with the reservations and arrangements we made beforehand. More than we had really had anywhere else, so we would recommend double checking any arrangements you make right before you leave for your trip if you do stay here.
A few unique aspects to this hotel are the nighttime scorpion tours in the Summer where you can use black lights to highlight scorpions in the desert as they glow. Also, for kids, you can arrange to have a tent experience (for a fee of course) where they will provide an in-room tent, bed and camping lamp, as well as a nighttime star display where a laser image of the milky way is projected onto the ceiling. And if the oranges are in season, you can pick oranges right from the trees for breakfast for freshly squeezed orange juice. Other options in the area if you want to explore some more are to drive up the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway or visit the nearby Greek Monastery.
For a truly unique experience, you can arrange a private glass blowing session at the Sonoran Glass School. The instructor was terrific with our kids and each person was able to choose whether to create a bowl, glass, ornament or paperweight. Our kids loved being able to pull the liquid glass from the fire; combine it with various colors and then spin and blow the glass into the final shapes. The instructor handled any complicated tasks like spinning specific edges or blow-torching off rough areas, but you can pick from a variety of options. They also offered to ship the items home for a fee, as the glass needs to rest for several days.
Afterwards, you can enjoy some time to relax at the resort where there are pools and water slides, as well as a badminton court and bocce ball – which has the feel of the Italian country side as it is tucked away into a grove of orange trees. For dinner, Cayton’s Burger Bistro is a must stop if you stay here. It requires a golf cart ride to the other side of the resort, but the patio has a 180 degree view of the sun setting with terrific burgers and very large, freshly-made shakes for both kids and adults.
The next day you can make your way south to the Sabino Canyon to hike the Seven Falls trail. Like everything in Arizona, it’s a thirty minute drive (it just seems everything is that far away from each other in Arizona) and we recommend arriving at the earliest tram ride as it will get quite hot even a few hours later. The tram will take you to the trail head or you can walk to it. However, the walk is simply along a road with nothing to see so the tram is a much better option for a few dollars – and you’ll want the ride back after hiking the round trip to the falls.
The Seven Falls trail is one of our top picks for most unexpected hike. As you make your way up the trail and into the canyon, the red walls tower over you with massive Saguaro Cacti along the sides. The best analogy we could come up with was it was almost like a slightly smaller Zion National Park with cacti everywhere. It is a moderate hike as you make your way back to the falls themselves. We brought our water (see Gear tab) and lunches to eat at the falls which descend from the mountains above down several levels to the main pool. Along the way back, we also saw a rattlesnake slowly crossing the path. It did not mind the hikers as it was just slowly making its way from side to the other.
If you have kids with you, one option afterwards is to spend some time at the Pinnacle Peak steakhouse surrounded by Trail Dust Town which includes shows, rides, stores, etc. For us, it was back to the hotel to rest after the hike and then a second dinner at Ignite to listen to the flute music one more time and watch the sun set. The buffalo tacos at Ignite are worth a try and the hotel has individual fire pits set up on most nights to make S’mores. The next day was the drive to Phoenix.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for New Mexico/Arizona or Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce or destination notes for Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Phoenix, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Zion/Bryce Canyon and Albuquerque.
LINKS – tucson
- Arizona Saguaro Desert Museum
- Raptor Free Flight Show
- Saguaro National Park
- Ocotillo Cafe
- Sonoran Glass School
- Sabino Canyon – Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls