Monday, January 26, 2015

Tucson Mountain Park offers optimum scenery, trails

Tucson Mountain Park
If you’re looking for hiking and mountain biking trails that are close to Tucson look no farther than Tucson Mountain Park. The park is located in southwest Tucson, Arizona,  along a narrow, steep curvy road with many hairpin turns.

If you’ve ever been to Old Tucson, the Arizona Sonora DesertMuseum or Saguaro National Park West, you’ve driven through the 20,000-acre Tucson Mountain Park. There are many turnouts along Gates Pass Road where you can stop to admire the view or take off on a trail.  The trails are rated by difficulty, and range from trails for families with kids, such as those across from Old Tucson, to trails for advanced athletes, such as Brown Mountain.

Pullout at Tucson Mountain Park
All those curves on the road winding through the mountains also make this a popular ride for motorcyclists.

The park offers some of the most scenic views around Tucson, and is open all year-round.  RV and tent campgrounds are available. The scenic route through the park is accessible from Interstate 10. Just take the Speedway Boulevard exit and head south. Speedway turns into Gates Pass Road a few miles down the road.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fort Bliss: from frontier outpost to missile test site

Replica of old fort Bliss
From humble beginnings as a frontier outpost, staffed by infantry, Fort Bliss has grown to be the Army’s the second largest military installation.

The El Paso base can trace its roots back to 18488 when it was established as a temporary outpost on the Smith Ranch, which today is downtown El Paso. The post moved several times over the next few decades until, in 1894, it reached its present location on La Noria Mesa. The base is named after Lt. Col. William Wallace Smith Bliss, who distinguished himself during the Mexican War.

It has also grown from a small base to one encompassing 1,700 square miles in Texas and New Mexico. It also has the largest contiguous tract of airspace in this country the airspace is used for military training and missile testing. It is a city unto itself, with 39,000 soldiers and approximately 40,000 family members.

The fort was occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, but was taken back by the United States a year following the war’s end.

Exhibit at post store at Fort Bliss replica
A replica of the first Fort Bliss on the present site is open to the public. The replica sits on a large open block surrounded by military housing. The replica consists of a few adobe buildings that contain a post store, quarters, a blacksmith shop and a stable. It also hosts a children’s education section that includes exhibits adults also will enjoy.

The replica is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission charge for the self-guided tours. Visitors wanting to see the replica need to pass through a military checkpoint at entrances. There, they can get directions on how to find the replica from that particular entrance.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tucson Botanical Gardens

Entrance to Tucson Botanical Gardens
Gardeners will delight in a visit to the Tucson Botanical Gardens which offers eight different gardens to thrill the senses of sight and smell.

 The gardens range from aloe alley to cactus and succulents, to herbs, and special gardens for birds, butterflies and kids. The Tohono-Oodham Path recognizes the relationship between Native Americans and the Sonora Desert. Almost all gardeners will find something that suits them to a T here. A miniature railway runs through the gardens; ridership is included in the admission price.

The garden is open daily, except for major holidays. A butterfly gallery is open only during the winter months. The Tucson Botanical Garden is located at  2150 North Alvernon Way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tanque Verde swap meet offers outdoor shopping in Tucson

Tanque Verde swap meet
Tanque Verde is a major swap meet in Tucson, drawing between 25,000 and 50,000 shoppers on weekends.

It’s open Friday through Sunday on winter weekends, and Thursdays the rest of the year. It’s been serving Tucson shoppers since 1975.

It’s located on a dirt field north of Interstate 10 in East Tucson. It’s not as big as the Tohono-O’odham swap meet on the other side of the freeway. However, it appears to offer more new and higher quality items than the competition. Women’s and children’s clothing, and shoes are particularly popular.

While you can find quality T-shirts for $2 each, you need to know your prices if you’re after a specific item as it may be cheaper at a traditional storefront business. This also applies to Tohono-O’odham.

Tanque Verde offers live music on weekends. It has a family atmosphere, with pony rides and a carnival for the kids.

The swap meet is located at 4100 S. Palo Verde Road. Take the Palo Verde Road North exit (no , this isn’t a typo) off Interstate 10.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Walking in the shadow of the legendary Chiricahua Chief Cochise

Monument to Cochise
If you’ve ever watched the Western movie, Broken Arrow, you’ll see the rugged country that the Chiricahua Apaches lived in.  Trails that started in the desert, led through forests and finally through magnificent rock formations of the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona. At the end of the trail was the stronghold of the Chiricahuas’ great leader, Cochise.

The movie stars Jeff Chandler as Cochise and James Stewart as Tom Jeffords, the only white man Cochise trusted. It is based on the real-life friendship the two men shared.

It’s possible to visit Cochise’s stronghold, if you have the stamina t o hike the five miles into it  (I didn’t). The trail to his stronghold starts at the Cochise Stronghold Campground, a small out-of-the-way campground operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The trail to the stronghold takes off from a shorter, 0.4-mile nature trail at the campground.

Beginning of Cochise and nature trails
Legend has it that Cochise is buried in the mountains around his stronghold, but no one alive now  knows where. Only his immediate family and Tom Jeffords knew where he was buried, and they are all dead.

The campground is open only from September 1 through May 31. While there’s plenty of room between camping spaces, the spaces aren’t very long, and are best suited to tent or pick-up truck campers. Trailers longer than 22 feet are not allowed.  Rigs need to be self-contained as hook-ups are not available. The campground has clean toilets, but potable water is not available.

The campground is located eight miles off of Highway 191, 12 miles off Interstate 10. Turn on Ironwood Road.  The road starts off paved, then turns into gravel for the last few miles. Three streams must be forded; bridges are not available.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Trail Dust Town: shopping in the 'Old West'

Town square at Trail Dust Town
Trail Dust Town is a small shopping center in east Tucson that is more than an ordinary shopping center. It’s also an entertainment center that features antique modes of transportation. It also caters to evening shoppers and diners since most shops and restaurants open between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Only a couple of restaurants are open for lunch.

Trail Dust Town recreates an Old West town, with prettily painted store and three covered wagons in the brick-paved square.  “Older” buildings can be found on the western perimeter, but the buildings really aren’t any older than the attractively decorated buildings around the square. They were just made to look old and decrepit.

Antique vehicles at Trail Dust Town
What’s neat about Trail Dust Town is that the stagecoaches, wagons and carriages are the real thing. Visitors who come in the daytime can look  over these old horse-drawn vehicles leisurely. Even though the shops and eateries are closed, visitors are free to roam the grounds. In the back is a carousel with original horses and benches; rides are offered at night. A narrow gauge railroad carries visitors around the town and through an old mining tunnel, too. Another popular nighttime activity is a stunt show and staged gunfight.

Trail Dust Town has been a fixture in Tucson since about 1962. It is located at 6541 E. Tanque Verde Road. Also located at Trail Dust Town is the Museum of the Horse Soldier that contains antique saddles, weapons and uniforms.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Old Arizona mission now an historic site

Old mission church at Tumacacori
Religion and government form a compatible partnership at Tumacacori, the site of the first mission in what is now southern Arizona founded by the Jesuit priest, Francisco Kino. Its purpose was to serve the Pima Indians and convert them to Catholicism.

The mission was founded in 1691 under Spanish rule, though Father Kino was born in Italy to a noble family. Today, the mission ruins are a National Historic Site administered by the U.S. National Park Service. A few years later, Father Kino, known as “the padre on horseback,” would establish a mission at San Xavier del Bac, just south of Tucson. That mission is still a working Catholic church. Father Kino was not a permanent priest at either church, but road between all missions in this area, which is how he got his nickname.
Statue of Father Kino at park museum

The mission may have been established in the late 17th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the crumbling church that sites there now was built. Parishioners wanted their church to be like the one at San Xavier. It was constructed in a style now known as “frontier baroque.”

The mission grounds, which offer a feeling of serenity, also include a cemetery, convent and heirloom orchard. If you’re there at the right time, you can watch as two women prepare tortillas the traditional way.

Tumacacori is located on Interstate 19 that runs between Tucson and Nogales. Take Exit 29 and follow the signs. The park opens daily at 9 a.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.istorH