Camp Dad & Mom

Tucson staycation with the 3-year-old for a week of family fun

|By Oakley Hall

With a week between summer camp and school starting, my husband, Chris, and I worried about how to balance work and childcare. We couldn’t exactly tell kiddo, “Hot dogs are in the fridge, pull some weeds, take a nap at noon, and put the dishes away while we’re out.” For one thing, she’d skip the hot dogs and just eat ketchup.

Fortunately, an idea struck me—take advantage of the situation to get quality time with our favorite kid. Chris took Monday and Tuesday off. I took Thursday and Friday. And Chris’ mom was eager for a day, so she covered Wednesday.

Game-day Monday

Day 1: Dad


The adventure started with thrift store hunting. Dad got the thrill of the hunt for a bargain, and kiddo got the excitement of discovery. A Hogwarts T-shirt for Mom (thanks, guys!!) and Rush Hour Traffic Jam Logic Game for Dad (er—the kid…) were the top treasures.

Game store

Jazzed about the puzzle, Isle of Games became their next stop. We’re regulars at this locally owned game store. It boasts a great selection of board games, puzzles, and other trinkets. And the owners are great.

A kid enjoys a game from Isle of Games in Tucson, AZ
Game time courtesy of Isle of Games

The prize Chris bought was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. It’s perfect for our family. He’s especially into board games, and we’re all Harry Potter nerds. Seriously—kiddo decided to go by Hermione when she was a toddler (and we’ve indulged enough that it’s now a full-fledged nickname).

Tuesday at the park

Day 2: Dad


Hermione loves the Reid Park Zoo. She’s been enthralled by the place since her first visit. She talked about it for days using the simple vocab she’d had at the time: “zoo” and “otter.”

So, when Dad told her they’d be visiting the zoo the night before, she was thrilled! What she didn’t know is that she’d get to hand-feed one of the animal residents. That’s right—Dad hooked her up with the Giraffe Encounter. Cool parent points!

The Giraffe Encounter at Reid Park Zoo

Video evidence shows Hermione methodically doling out lettuce, while the poor giraffe stretched its tongue to the max trying to snag the snack faster. The two of them fumbled once, but Hermione retrieved the fallen veggie and tried again. She handed off the rest of the giraffe’s salad without a hitch, making observations about the giant animal’s tongue. Snack delivery complete. Memory achieved.


Once kiddo was back in action post-nap, the duo headed to Udall Park. It’s one of our go-to spots since it’s conveniently located, walkable, and has tennis courts. The big win here was the firefighter pole. With Dad’s help, Hermione picked up the know-how and confidence to slide down all by herself. So, she did again and again and again. Chris looked proud as he recounted the event.

Working Wednesday

Day 3: Grandma

Mom and Dad went to work while kiddo spent time with her grandma. Highlights include splashing in the pool and—rumor has it—a movie and cake.

Déjà vu Thursday

Day 4: Mom


Overlapping with Dad’s itinerary, kiddo and I returned to the park—this time to the tennis courts to meet my aunt. We hardly needed the net, sticking mostly to drilling and practicing forehands and backhands on one side of the court. Having fun while making contact was the objective. Mission accomplished.


Overlapping with Dad’s itinerary a bit more, the three of us went to feed animals, this time at a friend’s farm. While I can’t recommend all Tucsonans and visitors storm my friends’ place, I can absolutely vouch for the fun of getting up close and personal with farm animals. One spot to do this on my radar is Funny Foot Farm. There, I intend to get in on the Kangaroo Experience.

Finding farm fresh eggs in Tucson, AZ
Farm day success!


I needed to pick something up from Mesquite Valley Growers, so I thought we’d meander around plants and call that good for the soul or something. But then I remembered a cool flower I’d heard about and started searching for it. Enter Jody, a friendly employee who gave us a golf-cart ride to the balloon flower.

After we found the natural bouquet of balloons, Jody offered to take us to meet cats and turtles. It turns out the Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary is on site. This is where Jody and one other employee take care of abandoned cats, which are all up for adoption. There were about 30 cats that day, plus two resident turtles.

The sanctuary—set back amid a dwarf citrus forest—has an added-on fenced-in cat playground. We entered through the kitchen and saw half a dozen cats roaming (or lazing) about on cat trees and counters.

The mesquite valley cat sanctuary in Tucson, AZ
Cats taking a snooze at the Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary

Jody identified the outgoing cats. The ones darting away made their skittishness obvious. She gave Hermione hibiscus pedals to feed the turtles, as well as flakes to feed fish in a little pond.

Every flavor Friday

Day 5: Mom


We were up and at ’em early Friday to meet one of my buddies for a trip to Apple Annie’s pick-your-own fruit orchard in Willcox.

Upon arrival, we were blessed with the powerfully enticing, sweet scent of baking pies. That alone sold us on an early dessert. But first, we’d pick—peaches were our target. We got the lowdown from a cashier on what to find where.

“Honestly, there are a lot of varieties—almost 20,” she said. “They’re all really good. You can taste them off the tree. We just ask you don’t make a meal out of it.”

We walked, smelled, reached, tasted, gathered, and learned. My main takeaway was that Red Globe is the best!

Fresh peaches at Apple Annie's in Wilcox, AZ
Fresh peaches at Apple Annie's Orchard

At one point, I noticed a tree cordoned off by tape. Curious, I investigated. Once I knew why, I called down the row for kiddo and friend to come and see.

I asked Hermione, “What is it?”

“A waffle!” she answered.

Apparently, she'd never seen a honeycomb before.

Paying for our slice of pie back in the shop, I noticed honey sticks for sale and bought a couple for later. The three of us shared a slice of warm peach pie à la mode, which brought happiness with every bite.

Music lessons

I woke Hermione from her nap by offering her a taste from a honey stick. She was ready to go in a heartbeat. We set out to Tucson Music Lessons, a professional home studio in northwest Tucson. I’d told her we’d get to play music but didn’t elaborate since I’d been struggling to get her to play her own drum set.

Stuart met us in the driveway with a sunny smile and greeted us both by name.

Two drum kits, a keyboard, several guitars, and other equipment were set up inside. Stuart dove right into the lesson by leading a warm-up on a drum pad. He then provided both of us with headphones and guided her to the kit.

I could list off the technical communication best-practices I noticed, like making himself eye-level and redirecting off-topic requests like a pro, but what really matters is that Stuart was able to engage Hermione in a positive, authentic way that got her pumped about making music.

I’d tried on several occasions to share drumming with this kid—showing her videos of other kids playing, counting games, even putting “Let It Go” on repeat to get her to jam. I’d always had to coax her to play. But, here with Stuart, she was focused and having a blast!

When we left, I pulled out the remainder of the Apple Annie’s honey stick… because what better time to get a kid hopped up on sugar than right before hopping it out at a trampoline park?

Trampoline park

Hermione’s reaction to this news was the best. She exclaimed with eyebrows high, fingers splayed, and all sincerity, “I am so surprised!”

AZ Air Time in Tucson, AZ
AZ Air Time

As planned, we had an excellent time at AZ Air Time jumping, playing catch and whacking each other with dodgeballs, running up the ramps, leaping into a foam pit, and bouncing in the inflatable house. I got the feeling that it met her every hope and dream.

And, on the way home, she proved the music lessons met my every hope and dream by asking when we’d get to go back.

Sonoran Desert Saturday

Day 6: Dad & Mom

Desert museum

We successfully made it through the school gap but weren’t ready to end the getaway vibe. Fortunately, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was hosting Harry Otter night.

After finishing a round of our new board game, I put on my new Hogwarts tee and drew a lightning bolt scar on my forehead. Kiddo wore her HP dress, and Dad donned a Fantastic Beasts tee. We grabbed the wand and headed out.

I enjoyed watching Hermione’s observations click into place. She commented on other guests wearing HP gear in the parking lot.

When we reached the entrance, she saw the house banners and exclaimed, “It’s Gryffindor! And, and—are we going to Hogwarts!?”

Obviously, Chris and I cracked up; her awe amplified the fun.

Harry Potter Night at the Sonoran Desert Museum
Harry Potter Night at the Sonoran Desert Museum

HP-themed stations dotted the grounds, including a photo booth, face painting, trivia, and planting with Professor Sprout. The decorations added to the ambiance. Still, the main attraction was the museum itself. Among the critters, we saw otters, bighorn sheep, snakes, a scorpion, and birds (including an owl, which may or may not have been a magical mail carrier).

We were up against bedtime, so we had to leave much of the grounds unexplored, including Stingray Touch and the Packrat Playhouse. Another day.

Going forward

Chris and I will face school breaks for the next umpteen years. No worries, though—we’re covered. Check out this lengthy list of fun things to do in Tucson.

Local Business Spotlight: Volare Helicopters

Get a bird’s eye view of greater Tucson with Volare Helicopter Tours.

|By Christian Wlach

|Video by Kristen Brockel, Christian Wlach, and Brielle Farmer

Tasha and Tyler Sturges opened Volare in September of 2017 as a new way to explore greater Tucson. Tour flights take off from the airport in Marana, AZ.

One of the reasons the Sacramento couple chose to open their business in Marana, was the year-round weather southern Arizona offers up for flying. Plus, Marana’s airport isn’t as busy as Tucson International Airport. Not to mention the location has excellent proximity to their family—Tyler’s parents live in San Diego and Tasha’s recently moved to Phoenix. 

The Sturges’ bought a home in the area, and almost instantly fell in love with the region.

If you’re looking to try something new, a helicopter tour is a perfect way to check out Tucson from a different perspective. And if you’re looking to score bonus points—a.k.a kisses—on a romantic date, nothing beats the sunset backdrop.

Volare offers up six different flight packages for the Tucson area:

·      Gates Pass: 20-minute flight

·      Downtown Tucson: 25-minute flight

·      Catalina Foothills: 30-minute flight

·      Mount Lemmon: 35-minute flight

·      The Boneyard: 40-minute flight

·      The Ultimate: 55-minute flight (a taste of all of the destinations listed above)

If you’re vacationing in Mexico, Volare has recently started offering three Mexican tours. For more tour or flight training information, visit

Local Business Spotlight: Active Fun at Arizona Zipline Adventures

|By Christian Wlach

|Video by Kristen Brockel, Christian Wlach, and Brielle Farmer

Emily Goff, along with two other Tucson-area locals, started Arizona Zipline Adventures (AZA) in 2016. Goff, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Oracle, AZ, saw the business as an opportunity to bring life back into a once-thriving community. 

AZA is located on the backside of Mount Lemmon, in Oracle, which is just over an hour’s drive from downtown Tucson. Goff says the company’s mission is to “enrich the community and promote the enjoyment and exploration of the region.”

Oracle is a small town filled with artisans, families, and ranchers. You may be lucky enough to see some of the cattle as you’re pulling into AZA.   

The Zipline Eco-Tour typically takes 90–120 minutes on a total of six ziplines, all located on 20 acres of private land. Majestic views await in every direction—watch the video for proof.    

Arizona Zipline Adventures has evolved since opening. It now has a kitchen serving award-winning chips and salsa, pizza, burgers, and more. They also host team-building activities and events (both large and small) throughout the year. One of the events is Grill Your Own Steak Night, which happens once a month and includes live music. These events help foster a real sense of community.

“I think that there’s always room to grow and evolve,” said Goff. “Whether that’s doing more programming and activities [like] camping, hiking, or events, there are just endless opportunities.”  

Cave tours are an example of this evolution. After receiving permits from the Coronado National Forest and the US National Forest Service, AZA is proud to offer Pepper Sauce Cave Wild Tours. 

AZA has also helped the local economy. Since opening, the company has created jobs and hired employees from the area, as well as seen other businesses pop up as a result of what was started by the three Oracle residents. 

“It’s just really great the way that this town and this community works together,” Goff says with a proud smile, adding, “All of the businesses support one another. It’s a really great feeling to be a part of that.”

Art and Soul

See original works of art at Artemizia Gallery | By Andrew Schaeffer

There’s a clichéd phrase that often gets repeated in galleries by people who are only viewing works skin deep. “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.” It’s perfectly fine for people who just want to see something aesthetically pleasing, but great works of art have deeper meanings that go beyond the canvas. Genuine artists are able to tell a story and convey emotions within their works. Influential pieces of art will make viewers think deeper and ask themselves important questions. So where’s the gallery for the true art lovers among us?

That’s when a trip to Artemizia Gallery in Bisbee is warranted. Owner Sloane Bouchever is an artist himself, but this gallery isn’t to show off his own work—this gallery showcases the art he loves. He’s a man who knows a great deal about art and knows exactly what he likes. The pieces Bouchever has accrued and displays in his gallery are as influential as they are vibrant. Bisbee’s newest gallery is throwing out the notion that only locally made kitschy art is available in town.

Located right on Main Street in the heart of Old Bisbee, it’s hard to miss Artemizia Gallery with the life-size mannequin of Andy Warhol in the front window and the strikingly vivid art displayed above the awning. Inside, urban and pop art—Artemizia’s specialty—adorn the walls of the small and narrow gallery space. Art by internationally known and well-established artists, as well as up-and-coming artists Bouchever admires, stand out with their bold and bright styles, competing with one another for the viewers’ attention. You’ll see museum-quality original pieces by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Jean-Michel Basquiat alongside thought-provoking works by rising stars including Andrea Eisenberger, Campbell La Pun, and Arizona-native Chance Lovestrong. Some works are even signed.

A current favorite of Bouchever are The Connor Brothers. The pseudonym for a pair of British artists, the duo is known for playing hoaxes with their art to get the public asking questions. In 2014, The Connor Brothers created a museum that blended fiction and non-fiction together to make it impossible for viewers to understand which exhibits were real and which were not. Bouchever believes their truth versus fiction approach is particularly relevant within our current climate of fake news, post-truth, and social media obsession.

Seeing this amazing art by these insightful artists is paramount to understanding our world. Even if you don’t plan on purchasing a piece, walking through the space and admiring the art is an experience in and of itself. Bouchever’s passion is contagious as he talks about each work, so don’t be afraid to ask questions as you look along.

Artemizia Gallery may be filled to capacity with this colorful and loud collection of pop art now, but in summer 2020 the gallery will move into a space that’s five times the size. Expect to see even more important pieces by Bouchever’s personal favorite artists.

Artemizia Gallery

51 Main St., Bisbee

Whiskey del Bac: a True Tucson Classic

Tucson's Hamilton Distillers, makers of real craft whiskey, harness the power of mesquite to capture the true flavor of Tucson

|By Louie Christensen

Tucson’s youth didn’t grow up with friendly oaks and maternal willow trees to climb. No, in the desert we climbed Mesquite trees. We scrambled up that dusty bark, pushed our way through the thorns, to climb up to that plank of wood crudely tied to a sturdy branch. So, to a Tucsonan…mesquite is the smell of adventure.

It’s also the smell of memories, of gathering the people we love around a fire pit filled with glowing mesquite embers. The smell of mesquite smoke takes us back to our past; to when we snuck that first kiss, laughed with friends, or listened to our family’s stories that we’ve heard a thousand times but couldn’t wait to hear again.

It’s the smell of food, of great food; locally sourced and created with quality in mind. From our newest steak houses, to our favorite spot to grab a carne asada street taco; that sweet and savory smoke bridges cultures and brings us together around the table.

So when Tucson’s Hamilton Distillers released a mesquite smoked single malt whiskey, it captured the city’s heart.

Now, when you hear “Tucson whiskey,” you may be tempted to envision a dusty Old Tucson saloon set piece, with old timey bottles filled with warm, over-proofed XXX whiskey. But, you won’t find any wild-west shootout tropes, cowboy silhouettes, or cattle brand logos anywhere near Hamilton Distillers. No, Hamilton Distillers isn’t chasing after snowbird souvenir sales, they are chasing after creating amazing whiskey, and people have taken notice.

This year, Whiskey Advocate named Whiskey Del Bac’s Dorado (their flagship mesquite smoked option) one of their “Six Great Under-the-Radar-Whiskies”, Esquire Magazine named it the 7th best whiskey in the US, and it took home a gold medal from American Craft Spirits Association in 2018. They’re distributing as far as New York City, and have been making a huge splash across online whiskey review channels and circles.

Hamilton Distillers represents the best of Tucson. Why? Because their Whiskey Del Bac line isn’t worth buying simply because it’s from Tucson and it’s nice to support our local purveyors, it’s worth buying because it is flat out, leave-your-qualifiers-at-home, delicious. Tucson has entered a new era. We no longer need to rely on southwest kitsch, or dude ranch clichés to draw people in. We are a city of creators, of tastemakers, of craftsmen, and their work speaks for itself.

Try a glass of Whiskey Del Bac Dorado, you’ll see.