On our last logged trip to Arizona in 2000 we lumped Tucson in with Phoenix. This time it can have its own page although it has to share with surrounding attractions. This is downtown Tucson and a bit of the quirky Tucson Mountains in the background. This picture is taken from the University of Arizona vicinity which is a great place to just wander around aimlessly. Much of the rest of Tucson is sprawling and decentralized so this part of town is probably the best place for a walking tour.
Along with the Tucson Mountains, the Santa Catalina, the Rincon and the Santa Rita mountains fence in the rest of the valley that mostly contains Tucson. One trick to navigating in Tucson is that the road names seem to be assigned to latitude and longitude lines more than to actual roads. As a result, roads with the same name and contiguous numbering systems often randomly experience breaks where mountains or rivers may intrude.
The Santa Catalina Mountains form the northern boundary of Tucson and there is a road that winds up to Mt. Lemmon. This is the ideal side trip for views over Tucson and the surrounding areas. In the lower elevations of the Catalinas, there are several campgrounds. This overlook is at 5000 ft (1550m) - about twice the altitude of Tucson.
Seven falls looks like this with a decent zoom lens from the overlook on the Catalina highway. It can be reached on foot from the Sabino Canyon area in northeast Tucson. There are actually several trailheads along the northern edge of Tucson which lead up into these mountains. Most of them are pretty strenuous from the altitude gain alone.
As you gain altitude you eventually climb into a conifer forest in the higher portions of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We don't actually seem to have any pictures of that portion as we mostly spent our time driving between trailheads trying to find one that wasn't impassable due to snow. We do however have a picture of these impressive hoodoos towering above the road.
The foothills of the Catalinas like all the foothills around Tucson are covered with Saguaros. Saguaro National Park has units east and west of the city, although they can be seen extensively in other areas as well. For the more adventurous drivers, there is a road down to the north from Mt. Lemmon that connects into the town of Oracle. We had intended to follow this down and make a nice little loop. However the road was closed for the season still so we had to come back down the mundane way.
If you were able to descend to the north, you could easily stop by Casa Grande National Monument on your way back around to Tucson. Casa Grande is the largest remaining building from the Hohokam. The Hohokam are an ancient Pueblo race closely connected to the Mogollon and the Anasazi. The building is made of caliche (also known as hardpan) and is surrounded by remnants of the city walls. Nearby is evidence of other, smaller buildings as well a ball court similar to those found in Mexico. Casa Grande (which is a bit outside of the modern city of the same name) is a little less than an hour's drive from Tucson.