Aside from redefining herself as a world-class golf destination, with a variety of courses (from Scottish traditional to desert nouveau), Arizona's temperate Tucson is a historical cornerstone of the Southwest and home to some of the world's most enchanting landscapes. From natural museums to Old West Hollywood, there's an attraction for every adventure in Tucson.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
2021 North Kinney Rd., Tucson AZ; Tel. 520.883.2702
More like Biosphere II than a walled institution, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part zoo, part natural history museum and part botanical garden all in one Tucson attraction. From tarantulas to black bears, coyotes to scorpions, the museum-zoo is an entrancing and full-contact tribute to the Sonora desert's wildlife (the wire fences are nearly invisible and the hummingbirds in the buzzing, walk-in aviary seem to think you are the attraction). Give yourself time to soak in the Southwest splendor and if time is all you have, the Museum is also on the fringes of Saguaro National Park, home to the world's largest forests of Saguaro cacti.
Kartchner Cavern State Park
Bensen AZ; Tel. 520.586.4100
In 1974, two lucky cavers noticed a small slot in the hillside on the Kartchner family's property. The proverbial iceberg underneath, a 2.5-mile-long, living cave, is one of the Chihuahua desert's subterranean wonders. The caverns house the quartzy formations of "Throne Room," grander than any of man's crystal cathedrals, Earth's patiently ancient stalactite formations and soda straws -- pencil-thin formations 20-feet long. A fragile system, the caverns are now under state control and are equipped with airtight shutters and electric trams for hands-off viewing. No worries, the visuals are unprecedented and unearthly.
Old Tucson Studios
201 S. Kinney Rd., Tucson AZ; Tel. 520.883.0100
Ever notice that Hollywood's Old West, the backdrop for the gun-slinging and cryptic comments of Hollywood's Western icons -- Wayne, Eastwood, Douglas and Newman -- has much in common with the Wild West of today's Tombstone and Geronimo? They've all been filmed at the Old Tucson Studios, originally built in 1939 for the making of the William Holden vehicle Arizona. Still an active film, TV and commercial set, it's also a nostalgia-themed park, with main drag shootouts, corseted Can Can dancers, educational shows, pre-Prohibition saloons, restaurants and gift shops.
Mission San Javier del Bac
1950 W. San Javier Rd., Tucson AZ; Tel. 520.294.2624
The "White Dove of the Desert" is a Tucson mission. Pure white and pristine against a hot desert backdrop, and still heady inside its elaborately colored and muraled interior from centuries of supplication, the Mission San Javier del Bac, was finished in 1797 when Arizona was still New Spain. It has since been restored to its heavenly glory. The church on the small hill just to the Mission's east is still the San Xavier Indian Reservation's active Catholic church.
--Capsules by Erica Pedersen