Tucson’s raspados and Mesa’s Salt River have two things in common: highly desired during the hot summer months and arguably, equally refreshing.
If you’re wanting to escape the scorching sun this summer or wanting to knock off Salt River Tubing from your summer bucket list, you’re in luck.
The Salt River Tubing season opened Saturday, May 1st. If you’ve never experienced this essential summer activity, we’re breaking it down with tips and tricks to help make your float down the river smooth and splashy.
New Covid-19 Requirements:
Face coverings will be required during the tube rentals, returns, shuttle transport to and from the River and on "beach areas"
Employees will be wearing face masks and gloves; in addition to daily temperature checks
Shuttles will be limited to 20 passengers
Shuttles will be disinfected every 24 hours
Social distancing will be in effect
Everything you need to know:
The Lower Salt River is located in the Tonto National Forest in Mesa, Arizona and despite its name, is actually freshwater. What a catfish. Speaking of fish, you’ll be sharing the river with Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass, Sunfish and Catfish.
Salt River Tubing is open daily from 9:00am to 6:30pm. There are three float routes which vary in length. Be sure to get there as early as possible to avoid long lines.
It’ll cost you $19 + tax and fees per person or tube which includes tube rental, shuttle ride and parking at Salt River Tubing. Children must be at least eight years old and four feet tall.
While mostly smooth tubing, there are some rapids. The trick? Hold on tight and don’t let the rocks getcha by lifting your bum out of the tube.
What to bring:
Don’t dismiss Arizona’s hot sun unless you want to be sporting a lobster-like glow by the end of the day. Bring lots of water, sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply!), a hat and sunnies.
A sheet. Yes, that’s right, a sheet. Thrift a sheet from Goodwill or grab the one you cover your plants with in the winter, in case you lose it down the river. The tubes are black and made of rubber which means it’ll get hot...really hot. Do your skin a favor and don’t let it burn.
Get ready to embark on your floating picnic. Bring food and snacks that can be sealed in a water-tight container. ProTip: Unlike Pringles that come in a cardboard-like cylinder, destined to get soggy, opt for Lays Staxs instead, in a plastic cylinder.
Protect your toes and wear shoes. The river can get shallow in some areas and you won’t want to hit your feet on any rocks. Plus, are you really going to walk on sizzling asphalt in the parking lot? Drag your old tennies out of the closet or channel your inner 90’s child and get some glitter jelly sandals; just stay away from flip-flops. They’ll probably come off.
Bring an ID, cash or card, and your old-fashioned car key. Just expect everything to get wet. ProTip: Keep your ID, phone and car keys on you. A waterproof phone holder is always handy.
What NOT to bring:
Glass. It’s against the law to bring glass to the Salt River and they will check your cooler before boarding the shuttles.
Valuables. If it any items are lost to the depths, there’s a good chance you won’t ever see it again.
Styrofoam coolers. They’re not allowed on the river either.
The Lower Salt River is home to wild horses. As you float along the river, keep an eye on the banks, you might see a few. With this in mind, remember you’re not the only one enjoying the river. It is a habitat for many creatures that call the Salt River home. Don’t litter and remember to pack out what you pack in.
Choosing to Stay in Tucson After Graduating from UA
University of Arizona graduates talk about how their decision to study and work in Tucson has shaped their careers
| By Amanda Oien
Tucson’s green saguaros and silver barked mesquites aren’t the only colors that feel like “home” to a Tucsonan. Evident from the highest tip of Tumamoc Hill, or the rocks of Windy Point—it’s clear the heart of Tucson is brick. Not just any brick, but University of Arizona brick. The city may have grown, but that brick-clad campus has remained its crown jewel since 1885.
Given the countless distractions in Tucson—like its enticing climate, heavenly Mexican food, miles of stunning hiking and biking trails and an insanely diverse foodie, art and culture scene—it’s surprising to most newcomers just how obsessed Tucsonans are with their Arizona Wildcats. While Tucson may be a midsize city, it has the heartbeat of a college town.
The University of Arizona gifts people who call the Old Pueblo home with a sense of community and hometown pride. If you’ve ever gone out to breakfast on a Friday morning during football season, or shopping on a game night during basketball season you know what I’m talking about. Dress codes and work uniforms are ditched for spirited UA shirts and jerseys. You can feel the collective pride in Tucson, you can see it everywhere.
Some UA graduates might leave the Sonoran desert to call a new place home, taking with them fond memories and nostalgic longings. But others fall in love with this inspirational place and proudly take up the name Tucsonan.
Madden Media, a national destination marketing agency, also calls Tucson home. Located in Downtown Tucson in the historic flat-iron MacArthur building, over 40 ‘Maddenites’ are UA graduates. Over the years, more than a hundred UA Wildcats have worked at Madden Media, including its founders, Kevin and Jill Madden.
Campaign Manager Hometown: San Diego, California Major: Marketing and Sports Management
Julie knew she wanted to branch out and go away for college. With an exceptional business program, she chose UA. “I loved the feel of the campus the second I stepped out onto The Mall, I just had that feeling. Tucson is a big city in some ways, but it has that small-town college feel. All of the jobs I’ve had post-college have been from being able to connect with so many people at UA’s Eller College of Management. The network of people I met there has really impacted my career path.”
Marketing Development Strategist Hometown: Flagstaff, Arizona Major: Business Administration and Marketing
“UA evened the playing field so you understand the language, concepts and theories and how to apply them in a job or whatever specific career path you choose. The UA takes you beyond that high school understanding of basic mathematics and accounting to understanding what a sample size is. It just helps you have that business language.”
Digital Marketing Strategist Hometown: Tucson, Arizona Major: Sociology
“UA was everything. Forever and always. I live and die for UA basketball. I still have my National Championship t-shirt from ‘97. I really hadn’t looked to go anywhere else. UA was always my top pick. I really like working with groups of people and understanding those dynamics and when digital marketing presented itself, I thought, ‘I could fit into this role.’ I like watching how groups of people interact on sites and how they interact with ads.”
Creative Strategist Hometown: San Jose, California Major: Visual Communications
Neil wasn’t your average student. He took a year off and began his studies at Pima Community College before transferring to UA.
“Being in an educational environment made me a lot more conscious of graphic design, more than it just being a job. You learn a lot more theory. It made you feel apart of art society.”
For a while, Kristen thought she would graduate from UA and move to find a job and begin her career. But like many others, she fell under Tucson’s spell and made the decision to stay. “Being at UA and having such a great time in Tucson made me want to stay here. Just being able to work in town and having had all the opportunities I did at UA, shaped my career today.”
Tucson’s Moveable Feast
Why sit in one place all night when there is so much to savor? | By Louie Christensen
You can find plenty of restaurants scattered across the Southwest that will wow you, from Phoenix’s award-winning Tarbell’s to Santa Fe’s fabulous Pantry Restaurant. But there are very few cities in the western sprawl where foodies can walk from one jaw-dropping experience to the next with relative ease. Fortunately, a beacon of light beckons you to Southern Arizona.
Validated by becoming the first city in the United States to receive UNESCO’s Capital of Gastronomy designation and bragged on by the likes of National Geographic, The New York Times, and TripAdvisor, Tucson’s food scene is finally getting the attention it deserves. Like any other city, there are fantastic restaurants worth visiting scattered across its entire metropolitan sprawl, but it’s Tucson’s downtown that sets it apart.
Located within a very small circle in downtown Tucson (we’ll keep it within a third of a mile to make it fair to other Southwestern cities) exists a true Moveable Feast. You can jaunt from one spot to the next, grabbing an appetizer here and a drink there, experiencing wildly different culinary expressions at each place without ever breaking a sweat or passing a national chain.
Now, there are plenty of other haunts along the famous Historic Fourth Avenue, and dozens of new spots in downtown worth visiting within this circle, so it can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor. Here are a few tried-and-true journeys worthy of a date, double date, or a friend’s night out to get you started.
El Tour De Br’ucson
While many cities’ craft beer scenes are just budding, Tucson’s has fully blossomed. There are plenty of fantastic spots to grab a pint in downtown, like Tap & Bottle and Reilly’s Beer Garden, but this journey starts at local spots that brew their own beers.
Crooked Tooth Brewing: Order a few samplers or a flight.
Borderlands Brewing: Because where else will you find Horchata Cream Ale?
Ten55 Brewing: You are here for the plate of Belgian Fries...and a beer if you’d like.
Iron John’s: Geisha, Chico, Nardo, Ricco...you pick.
Pueblo Vida: If you like to start with dessert first, try the Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Stout.
Wine & Dine
Tucson may be known for its Mexican food, but that’s not all the city excels in. On this path you’ll want to put down the tequila and limes, and pick up your wine glass. From the quaint space at Revel to the Sommelier-led service at Maynards, get ready to clink some glasses.
Revel: Order a glass of wine from their ever-rotating list.
The Coronet: Sit down for a nice dinner, and a glass of wine of course.
Maynards: Take it slow on the patio with a glass of wine and an order of Poutine.
HUB Ice cream: Because why wouldn’t you end with ice cream?
Like a Big Pizza Pie
If you haven’t noticed, pizza has gone through a renaissance. Gone are the days of elastic cheese stretching across the pages of Ninja Turtles comics. We have restored order with the classic Neapolitan style. Think burnt bubbles, artisanal toppings, and celebrity pizza chefs. Take this journey to experience the best pizza in downtown.
Anello: Try the Special Pizza of the Day if it sounds like it’s up your alley, but the Margherita is always a fantastic choice.
Reilly’s Pizza: The Chefs Choice is always interesting, but it’s up to you!
Empire Pizza: Just in case you were still hungry, grab a slice of NY style pizza.
Screamery: Because why wouldn’t you end the night with ice cream?
Pour Me a Drink, Barkeep
A town like Tucson, which hid the likes of John Dillinger, has a few legitimate speakeasies. And by legitimate we mean illegal. But, don’t worry, this journey will give you that hideaway experience without the fear of the place getting raided and shut down around you.
Owl Club: Yes, this is for real…$6 Manhattans.
Scott & Co: Take your pick from their rotating craft cocktail list.
Tough Luck Club: Head downstairs and let the bartender make you something off the cuff.
When in Rome...
...do as the Romans do. In Tucson that means eating Mexican food. Admittedly, much of the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food falls outside the downtown area. But, there are some real gems scattered throughout the Moveable Feast circle you won’t want to miss.
Street Tacos & Beer Co: Get warmed up with tacos and beer...margaritas await!
Penca: Take your pick from the fantastic margarita list.
Charro Steak: Pull up a seat at the bar—there’s a high quality tequila calling your name.
Boca Taco’s: End the night with the city’s most creative taco experience...and maybe grab one last drink.
Your “Totally Not Hipster” Bar Scene
This journey is for people who knew all the best spots in town way before everyone else did. While you roll your eyes when anyone calls you a hipster, you won’t be able to help but fall in love with these spots. From the quirky Royal Room to Tiger’s Tavern—the epitome of cool-without-trying-to-be-cool spots.
Royal Room: Pick from their crafted cocktail list or snag a glass of wine or beer.
Exo Bar: Let the bartender make you something special.
R Bar: Find the drink that’s calling your name and enjoy the ambiance.
Tiger’s Tavernat Club Congress: No need to be fancy, grab your PBR and head for the patio.
A Taste of the East
Why wouldn’t you want to fill your night with some of the best food in the world? This journey takes you through the Far East, and drops you out the other side a changed person. Enjoy!
Miss Saigon: You’re here for an appetizer and a chilled Vietnamese beer.
Senai Thai: The entrees at this place will knock your socks off.
MiAn: Order the sushi roll that catches your eye and a sake to prepare yourself for what’s coming next.
OBON: Time for sake bombs and sushi or Ramen if you’re still hungry.
An insider’s guide to the best golf courses in Tucson | By Louie Christensen
As winter lingers in the northern half of the United States, thousands have to shovel themselves out of hazardous conditions. Here in Tucson, the only tool we ever need to escape our winter hazards is a sand wedge. When temperatures heat up, local golfers praise the earlier, later, and discounted tee times.
Tucson has a ton of top notch golf courses, making it difficult for visitors to feel like they are picking the absolute best spots for their limited time spent in town. So how do you possibly pick from the dozens of highly rated courses? To avoid any tee time regret, here are eight courses in Tucson that will make a big impression.
Omni Tucson National
RATING: 75.4, SLOPE: 136, LENGTH: 7,262
Home of Phil Mickelson’s first PGA Tour win and the PGA Champions Tour’s new Conquistador Classic, the Catalina Course allows you to test your muster against some of the best who have ever played the game.
While the Catalina course does provide views of the desert scenery, its design and style falls more in line with a classic country club course feel. Looking at the course layout, and its lack of desert-lined fairways, you may leave the course unsure of why you shot such a high score. But, you wouldn’t be alone. It is a tough course. You may not lose a ball to a prickly pear cactus, but the fairways are lined with enough tall pine trees and water hazards to keep you honest.
RATING 72.8, SLOPE: 143, LENGTH: 6,898
Consistently rated one of the top courses in Arizona and among the best course conditions in the United States, Ventana Canyon is a must play.
Winding in and out of the high Sonoran desert at the very base of the Catalina Mountains, both the Mountain and Canyon courses provide holes worthy of any golf magazine’s front cover, but the most photographed would be the short third hole on Mountain. Hitting back into the belly of the mountain, the green on the short par 3 is more craggy cliff and desert than it is a safe target.
AVERAGE RATING: 72.3, SLOPE: 146, LENGTH: 7,034
Local lore says that when legendary golfer and course designer Jack Nicklaus came to Tucson for the first time to design La Paloma’s course, his hosts did not show him a very good time. Being known for his sarcasm, Nicklaus took it out on Tucson by making La Paloma extra challenging. The three aptly named nine hole courses dip in and out of the steep hills, canyons, and ridges of the Catalina Foothills, providing some of the most intimidating, risk-reward, corner-cutting shots in the city.
Each of the three courses has a personality all its own. Ridge is the shortest, narrowest, and most crooked, forcing long hitters to choose between playing smart or fearlessly. Canyon is the longest, and there are a few carries and elevation changes that will punish players who don’t correctly judge their carry distance. On Hill, Nicholas gives you the tee shot for free but will make you pay if you miss the green.
There’s a good chance you’ve actually seen this course. It was the filming location of the tournament where Kevin Costner’s character Roy McAvoy had to carry his own bag in the movie Tin Cup when heat exhaustion struck his caddy.
If you are daring enough to take on the Golden Bear’s diabolical interpretation of target desert golf, this will be a golfing experience you won’t soon forget.
RATING: 73.5, SLOPE: 138, LENGTH 7,283
The newest addition to Tucson’s golf scene made a big impression when it opened in 2015, bringing home the #8 spot on Golf Advisor’s Top 25 Course Conditions in the United States list. The course has remained on the Best of Golf Advisor list since then.
The course plays long from the tips, but because the fairways are kept in living-room-carpet condition, you can get a lot of run if you catch one of the small swails correctly.
Where almost all of Tucson’s desert golf courses are located up against or in the mountain ranges that surround Tucson, Sewailo provides a completely different desert golf experience. The course sits in the wash basin on Tucson’s far southwest side, giving it an almost Las Vegas golf course vibe. There are water hazards on almost a third of the holes, which is very uncommon in water-conscious Tucson. While that may be many golfers’ personal nightmare, to others they will welcome the challenge and fall in love with the beautiful design and perfectly manicured course.
Arizona National Golf Club
RATING: 72.5, SLOPE: 143, LENGTH: 6,785
Named one of the Top 10 courses in Arizona by Golf Advisor, Arizona National provides a different look at desert golf. Located on Tucson’s east side, the softer mountain swailes are dotted with thousands of saguaros. The challenging course has played host to NCAA golf tournaments, and until recently was the home course for the University of Arizona teams.
Arizona National provides all of the desert golf course features that you’ll find at the nearby resort courses, but at a lower price. It’s hard to believe you can play a course in such great condition with such beautiful views at such low prices, but you won’t hear the locals complaining about it.
AVERAGE RATING: 72.1, SLOPE: 141, LENGTH: 6,812
If you talk to someone about golf in Tucson, and they don’t mention Starr Pass, they clearly aren’t a golfer. This desert classic weaves through the rugged hills near southwest Tucson. One minute you’ll feel like you’re lost on the edge of the wide open West, and the next you’ll be looking down onto Downtown Tucson and the rest of the valley.
The course is designed (by Bob Cupp, Ed Seay, and Arnold Palmer) to allow the rougher edges of the desert to bump directly up against the course, providing a challenging obstacle for golfers of every skill level.
Tee boxes are carefully positioned to allow golfers of all swing speeds a chance to not only challenge themselves, but the hole itself. This allows even the shortest of drivers to feel like they can enjoy and not struggle through a round of desert golf while still allowing longer hitters to let the big dog eat by simply bumping back a tee box.
RATING: 72.5, SLOPE: 139, LENGTH: 7,006
Don’t let its location within the Saddlebrook retirement community fool you, this course is no walk in the park. The desert sits just yards off of every fairway and rolling elevation changes provide nerve-racking carries over washes and high desert scrub. But, thanks to the stunning views of the Oro Valley side of the Catalina Mountains commanding the scenery, you can lose a whole sleeve and still walk away with fond memories.
Regulars will stress the need to play to the course’s condition. Those hills, doglegs, and island fairways may serve as eye candy, but you can also easily roll off the end of a fairway and into the desert if the course is playing a touch fast. You’ve been warned...this isn’t your grandpa’s retirement community course.
The Views Golf Club at Oro Valley
RATING: 72.5, SLOPE: 13, LENGTH: 6,715
If you’re looking to enjoy some desert golf but you don’t want to leave the course feeling beat up...The Views is the perfect course for you. With phenomenal views of the Catalina Mountains, The Views take the high intensity of most desert courses and dials it back a few notches, allowing for a more relaxing golfing experience.
You can also get a good look at some rather affordable golf course adjacent neighborhoods, and dream of enjoying the beautiful desert weather for years to come. Not a bad place to be while all your golfing buddies back home are practicing their swings in their garages.
Hector the Loneliest Saguaro
Kathryn Humphrey’s move to Tucson inspired her new children’s book
| By Amanda Oien | Photography by Brielle Farmer
Sunshine and scorpions surround Kathryn Humphrey, who is embracing her new home in Tucson, Arizona—with the help from a secluded, yet resilient, saguaro.
Kate, an illustrator hailing from the glitz and glam of Los Angeles, has called Tucson home since 2015. She moved here with her Air Force husband and five rescue dogs. Trying to find her bearings on what she calls “a different planet,” Kate wrote her first children’s book, Hector the Loneliest Saguaro.
When Kate first moved to Tucson, cactuses were just another desert oddity. But the closer she looked, the more intrigued and attached she became.
On a road trip through Southern Arizona, saguaros decorated the dramatic landscape that encompassed her. But Kate noticed something. A lone saguaro, separated from the rest.
And just like that, Hector, the loneliest saguaro, was born.
On the anniversary of her mother’s passing and surrounded by her new environment, Kate remembered the secluded saguaro: alone in the desert but still standing strong and proud.
Kate remembered her mother’s advice: When you are feeling sorry for yourself, go help someone else. So Kate began to write.
“I didn’t intend to write this story,” Kate said. “But I had an idea and I wrote it first word to last in one hour.”
Kate’s children’s book, Hector the Loneliest Saguaro, takes kids on a journey of overcoming feelings of not belonging, remaining strong, proud and true to who they are—just like Hector.
But it isn’t your average kid’s book.
“It’s a more sophisticated language,” Kate said. “When I grew up, books didn’t insult kids. I wanted to write a cool story that sounded pretty.”
Kate said she’s always spoken to kids like adults and she wasn’t about to change that when she wrote her book.
Hector the Loneliest Saguaro not only guides kids through some of life’s challenges, but teaches them about Hector’s own challenges in a sometimes unforgiving Sonoran desert.
Bees, butterflies, and woodpeckers accompany Hector on his educational adventure through the desert’s ecosystem. Kate intended her book to be for 7–12 year olds and read aloud to little ones.
“I address the seasons a lot in the book,” Kate said. “It’s a big part of our ecosystem. The seasons here are all so different.”
Kate is excited to get the book into the local market. Hector the Loneliest Saguaro is printed by Arizona Lithographers, a Tucson green printer that uses 100% renewable resources.
For Kate, Tucson couldn’t have been a better place to create her book.
“It’s the perfect size market,” she said. “It’s big enough to where there’s a lot of things going on and a lot of resources, especially for artists. But it’s not so big that you just get lost in the crowd.”
With her mother’s advice wrapped around her, Kate continues to spread Hector’s story and fall in love with her new Sonoran desert home.
Order Hector the Loneliest Saguaro by Kathryn Humphrey at hectorthesaguaro.ecwid.com.
The Glitz of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
Find your way around Tucson's Gem and Mineral Show | By Amanda Oien
Since 1954, thousands of buyers, sellers, traders and visitors from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Tucson, Arizona for the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in late January to February.
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show has everything from beautifully cut rubies, peridots and diamonds, to fossils, minerals, affordable jewelry and handmade crafts.
While the Show can be overwhelming with so many options and locations throughout Downtown Tucson, this user-friendly app will help make it easier for you to be dazzled.
With the Tucson Gem Show App available for mobile devices or desktop, you can categorize your shopping through Wholesale, Public or both. The app also includes locations and dates.
Download the Tucson Gem Show Mobile App by clicking one of the icons or by visiting the desktop version here.
A Frosty Quick Guide to Mt. Lemmon
Ditch the mild winter weather for the snow-capped Catalinas
| By Amanda Oien
As the winter storm grows stronger, snow begins to fall, blanketing towering evergreens while the creeks freeze over. Locals bundle up to make snowmen, go sledding and sip mulled wine at the ski lodge.
Upstate New York might come to mind, but we’re talking about Southern Arizona. That’s right, the place known for sunshine, cactus and really good Mexican food.
An hour drive, about 30 miles north of Tucson, brings you to Mount Lemmon, one of Southern Arizona’s Sky Islands in the Coronado National Forest. As you travel up the mountain, the ecosystems begin to dramatically change from prickly pear cactuses and mesquite trees to leafy ferns and pines.
Mt. Lemmon’s elevation tops out at 9,157 feet, allowing for cooler temperatures during the summer and snow during the winter months. Mount Lemmon is on average, about 30 degrees cooler than Tucson.
Summerhaven, the small community on Mt. Lemmon, is fittingly named for being a summer escape from scorching temps in Tucson. But during the winter, the community becomes a hub for sledding, fudge from the Mount Lemmon General Store, giant cookies from the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin and seasonal selections from the Sawmill Run Restaurant.
If skiing and snowboarding are more your speed, venture farther up the mountain to Ski Valley. Two chair lifts will bring you to a variety of beginner, intermediate and black diamond trails. Ski Valley offers rentals and for first-timers, ski school.
Après ski, warm up at the Iron Door Restaurant with their famous chili and cornbread or grab something quick while slopeside at The Grub Stake. If you plan to spend a few days on the slopes, Airbnb offers a few cabins for rent in Summerhaven.
During the winter season, the road to Mt. Lemmon can close due to icy conditions. Normally within a day or two, the road is back open. Depending on the snowfall, chains or four-wheel drive may be required. To check on road conditions, call the Pima County Road Condition Hotline at 520-547-7510.
Winter storms come and go and so does the snow. If you want to check how much snow is on the mountain, visit the Mount Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop website and view the four live cameras in the sidebar.