Even though I grew up in the Phoenix area, I never really got to know Tucson. I mean, I never really had any particular need to go there, and didn’t see any reason to drive a couple hours to see another place that was, in my mind then, exactly like where I was, just a bit smaller. I found out on this trip, however, that Tucson is far from a smaller clone of Phoenix, and has its own unique charm (and some outstanding Mexican food). And, in the case of this trip, Tucson was also our home base for some day trips to some other sights in southern Arizona, including the famous Old West town of Tombstone, Mount Lemmon, some of southern Arizona’s wineries (yes, there be wineries here!), and the Kitt Peak National Observatory. This is also where we met up with my parents for the start of our Arizona/New Mexico RV caravan.
After another amazingly easy drive from Mesilla/Las Cruces New Mexico (I remain eternally vigilant for another scene from the movie “RV” to play out!), we arrived at the Lazydays RV Campground, which is very conveniently located a bit south of the intersection of I-10 and I-19. To call this place a campground, however, doesn’t come close to doing it justice. This is a huge park with outstanding accommodations: the stone-covered sites are large and long, with a concrete patio with table and chairs, and an adjoining paved driveway for your towed car (a.k.a. “the toad”) or pickup if you’re hauling a trailer. The only downside is that while there are some trees, mostly citrus, in the park, there isn’t any tree cover to speak of. For those like us who live on the Internet, there is Wi-Fi, which is common at many parks now; this one is better than most, but still drops out now and again.
The campground, however, is really only the tip of the iceberg at this place. There is also an adjoining Lazydays RV sales and service center (huge!), so if your RV needs any work done, they can handle just about everything (note: I’m not sure if they do any chassis maintenance here, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t), and they’ll even send a mechanic to you to do on-site repairs. There’s also a Camping World on-site, and there are two or three other RV dealerships in rock-throwing distance, plus a CostCo just a mile or two away. In short, this place is an RV mecca!
One of the best things, however, is the Florizona Restaurant. When we first went in, I was expecting something along the lines of Denny’s: basic Americana food, not bad, not great. Boy, was I wrong! This restaurant has a real chef who knows his way around a kitchen, and while the menu doesn’t have a huge number of items or anything terribly exotic, everything we had in the couple/few times we ate there — including what I’ll rate as the best burger I’ve ever eaten — was fantastic, and at prices that were quite reasonable. So, if you stay at Lazydays in Tucson and you’re in the mood for something to eat but don’t want to bother driving around to find a place, walk your buns over to Florizona (which is collocated with the office) and treat yourself.
On to Tucson itself (I’ll cover the day trips in separate posts). While this is Arizona’s second largest city with a million or so residents, it has the feel of a much smaller town, which is a good thing in my mind. In fact, our main focus for the day we dedicated to actually spending in Tucson, as opposed to running off somewhere else in the area, was the historic downtown area, while my parents went off to wander about the Sonora Desert Museum (alas, we didn’t make it there this trip).
Now, before we get to our toddling about in the downtown area, let me comment on the weather here for those who aren’t from the area and are used to the conditions. In late June during our stay, it is hot, dry, and windy, with high temperatures during our stay of around 103, humidity ranging from 4 (!!) to around 20 percent, and winds that kick up in the mid- to late-morning that are pretty constant until evening at anywhere from 15 to nearly 30 miles an hour as measured by my little weather station. What that means for you when you go out to do your tourist schtick during the day is a) wear a hat that not only covers your eyes, but the back of your neck and sides of your head, and that lets air pass through to cool your noggin, and is snug enough that it won’t blow off easily (we got cowboy hats in Tombstone that worked pretty well, although Jan’s wasn’t tight enough and had a tendency to fly off in gusts – but that gave us some extra exercise as we tried to run it down!); b) a high SPF sunscreen for your face, neck, and any exposed areas of your upper body, as the sun here is very intense and will burn the crap out of you if you give it a chance; and c) water to stay hydrated. The combination of the heat, wind, and bone-dry humidity will suck the water right out of you! And if you do feel like you’re getting a bit too hot, just find a shady spot and take a break. Being out of the direct sun will make you feel a lot cooler.
However, while it may sound on the surface like you wouldn’t want to go outside at all during the day, the heat-humidity-wind combination actually works to keep your body cool as long as you stay hydrated and keep your noggin covered. We wandered the streets for a couple/few hours during mid-day, and while I was hot, I wasn’t at all uncomfortable. Just keep what I said above in mind when you’re getting to go out and you’ll be fine.
Ironically, we didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Tucson itself, so we focused our attention on the historic district downtown, which was a veritable visual smorgasbord for picture-taking.
One recommendation I have is that you stop by the visitor center at 100 South Church Avenue (there’s convenient parking in a garage across the street, then just take the skywalk over to the complex where the visitor center is located). The folks there are extremely nice and helpful, and they’ll give you a treasure map to make your wanderings more purposeful and point out some of the cool spots to check out downtown (or anywhere else in the area).
We started our wanderings by heading south past the convention center and across Cushing Street into the historic barrio area there. There are some simply gorgeous homes and commercial buildings here that are worth the look-see.
Once we were done ogling down there, we headed back north, past the convention center area again, to the old courthouse (which is beautiful) to check out some of the architectural goodies there. Of course, there are also shops and other places you can plop down your money, but it’s not at all a touristy area.
One of the highlights of our trip thus far was to be found at 311 North Court Avenue: the El Charro Cafe. We had originally planned to hit another place while in Tucson, the Cafe Poca Cosa (which has garnered outstanding reviews and sounded really great), but the timing didn’t work out, as the restaurant was closed on the only days we could go there. However, El Charro didn’t disappoint in the least! I grew up in Phoenix and have had my share of Mexican food, but I have to say that El Charro had the best I’ve ever had, hands down (or paws up, as Lady GaGa might say). We actually went there twice, once for dinner with my parents, and then again when Jan and I were out sightseeing. I had the carne secs the first time, and a carne Colorado chimichanga the second. Both were simply outstanding, and the margaritas aren’t bad, either. So if you’re in Tucson, make sure to check out El Charro (and, even though we didn’t get a chance to go there, Cafe Poca Cosa).
Next up: Tombstone, Arizona, the site of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral!