Summer Travel to Tucson: Fun from Dawn to Dusk

Tucson as seen from the Ventana Canyon Trail, one of the city's best early-morning summertime hikes. © Tim Hull.

Tucson as seen from the Ventana Canyon Trail, one of the city’s best early-morning summertime hikes. © Tim Hull.

It’s summer in the desert city; with temperatures of 105 degrees in the shade, the lizards, tortoises, mountain lions, and humans have all turned crepuscular. They venture out at dawn and dusk but otherwise lounge underground or in a shallow cave—or an air-conditioned habitat. Never too fast or ambitious, life in Tucson slows way down during the summer months, which run from around May through at least September. While it may seem contradictory, this is a wonderful time to visit the Old Pueblo.

The luxurious resorts that dot the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, with their turquoise pools and their hot-rock massages, cut their rates precipitously when the big heat arrives. A stay at Canyon Ranch, Loews Ventana Canyon, or Hacienda Del Sol is memorable enough in its own right, but doing it for roughly half the price that you would pay in February is an even higher pleasure.

Then there’s the rain. Along with sometimes mind-numbing heat, Southern Arizona receives a large portion of its annual rainfall in July and August during the summer “monsoon” season. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter or drier, the rains arrive, hopefully, around July 4. Daily late-afternoon thunderstorms soak the city and the desert for weeks, filling the dry washes, slaking a thirsty land. The desert responds with a burst of green and a blast of life. To see the desert at its most water-inspired and glorious, get up early on the day after a monsoon storm and take a hike on the Ventana Canyon Trail or at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

That takes care of your dawn activities. Now, what to do at dusk?

The brightest star in town this summer is likely to be the Desert Museum’s new baby mountain lion.On Saturdays throughout June, July, and August, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—one of Tucson’s top attractions—stays open late for the “Cool Summer Nights” program (7:30pm – 10pm, $12 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4 – 12). Antsy from snoozing in the shade all day, the wolves, big-horned sheep, ocelots, and prairie dogs are all out and about, ready to be fawned over. Kids will especially enjoy the visit, which offers stargazing and a special emphasis on the usually unseen (but busy!) life of the nighttime desert. The brightest star in town this summer is likely to be the Desert Museum’s new baby mountain lion. The little guy was orphaned in California and came to the museum in March. He’s less than a year old, though his paws are already bigger than your head.

If you prefer your mammals a little less cute and cuddly, head down to one of Tucson’s two “Bat Bridges” (Campbell & River at St. Philip’s Plaza; Pantano & 22nd at Pantano River Park). When the sun falls, a great black cloud of bats rises from daytime perches under the bridges, stalking the night sky for bugs to eat. It’s something to see, especially when the bats flutter out against a red and orange sunset, as if they meant to do it just so you could get a picture. If you’re interested in learning more about these nocturnal creatures, docents with bat detectors and all kinds of fun facts and knowledge hang out at both bridges on Thursday nights starting around dusk.

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