Chain Reaction

A how-to guide to cycling Tucson’s award-winning Chuck Huckelberry Loop

By Robert Gibson

There is nothing quite like the desert at dawn. Getting out of bed, fed, dressed, and out the door to ride is the proverbial race before the race. Even though Tucson’s midday temperatures can be unrelenting, the early mornings are wondrous. There is something very satisfying about being on the bike before the sun peeks over the mountains. I am fortunate that I live about one-and-a-half miles from The Chuck Huckelberry Loop, named after the Pima County Administrator that oversaw its construction. This asphalt network follows along the banks of the city’s waterways, circumnavigating busy Tucson streets for 131 miles, and is affectionately referred to as The Loop by locals.

The Anatomy of The Loop

When I say waterways, I mean that metaphorically. These rivers only flow during abundant monsoon deluges now. Their banks are the bedrock for the asphalt that encompasses The Loop. The main or “inner” route of The Loop follows the Rillito River Path on the north side, the Pantano River Path and Harrison Greenway on the east side, the Julian Wash Greenway on the south side, and the Santa Cruz River Path on the east side. Along certain sections, mainly the Santa Cruz and the Rillito, there is a path on both sides of the river bank. But be mindful as you’ll need to cross over at certain locations.

The Loop itself is a figurative loop; it’s more of a rhombus or trapezoid. The complete inner route is 54 flattish miles and can be ridden clockwise or counterclockwise. If ridden clockwise, you’re looking at about 700 feet of elevation gain. If ridden counter-clockwise, it’s around 900 feet of elevation. Each direction has a slightly different vibe predicated primarily on how and when you want to finish the uphill sections and, vis-á-vis, your starting point.

What the Tucson area lacks in a cross-town freeway, it makes up for with The Loop. The vast majority of its miles are tarmac uninterrupted by car traffic or stop lights. There are a few instances of road crossings and venturing out onto surface streets. However, you’ll be able to maintain a steady clip as you’ll fly under most major roads for the lion’s share of the route. Signage, directions, and mileage are abundant, easily facilitating orientation, staying on course, and managing time constraints.

Loop Routes to Ride

There are vestigial sections of The Loop that extend farther north and south, primarily along the Santa Cruz River Park. The most significant is the Cañada Del Oro River Park (CDO). The CDO peels off the inner loop at the northwest corner and proceeds northeast along the western flank of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This section heads uphill (+500 feet; .8% grade) for 11 miles and affords stunning views of the rock formations that comprise the northern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

My favorite route starts at a popular midtown location at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, located at the intersection of Alvernon Road and Dodge Boulevard. Riding clockwise, you’ll cycle upward for the first 18 miles along the Rillito River Park, Pantano River Park, and Harrison Greenway (+510 feet of elevation; +.6% grade). After that, you are treated to a downward slope for the next 26 miles along the Julian Wash Greenway and Santa Cruz River Park (-680 feet of elevation; -.5% grade). The route concludes on 10 miles of false-flat Rillito River Park back to Brandi Fenton Memorial Park. The benefit of rolling clockwise is that most of the uphill work is completed early, and numerous corners and chicanes exist on the Julian Wash Greenway.

Rolling counterclockwise, you’ll go downhill for the first 10 miles on the Rillito River Park before hitting the 26-mile uphill section from the Santa Cruz River Park and Julian Wash Greenway to the Harrison Greenway on the southeast side. After that, you are treated to a 17-mile downhill dash along the Harrison Greenway, Pantano River, and Rillito River back to Brandi Fenton Memorial Park. The benefit of this direction is that the last 17 miles face the Santa Catalina Mountains, the crown jewel of natural beauty in Tucson.

Herein lies the charm and utility of The Loop: its predictability. The Loop can be whatever ride you want or need it to be, especially if you are riding solo.

Where Recreationists and Cycling’s Masochistic Elite Meet

The Loop is a multi-use path. As such, the list of “pathletes” is lengthy. There will be parents teaching their kids how to ride. Kids showing their parents how to ride. Weekend warriors and cycling’s crème de la crème (especially in the winter) training for their next big race. Human-powered machines of all manner and configurations. Hand-cyclists, recumbents, and the occasional aerodynamic-research- project-inspired fully enclosed bicycle. You’ll witness bipedal modality of all sorts, from your leisurely morning dog-walker all the way up to various luminaries of the endurance pantheon. This variety makes the people-watching aspect of The Loop second-to-none.

You will cross paths with people on all modes of self-propelled transportation at varying speeds and skill levels. Some are commuting to work, some are chasing fitness, and some are exorcizing the day’s anxieties. I feel that, especially if I am the more experienced cyclist, it is my responsibility to ride cautiously and predictably, especially in the more congested areas.

When you’re using The Loop, be communicative. Throw a smile, a wave, a couple dings of your bell, or a friendly “coming up on your left” when encountering others. A little extra courtesy can go miles (pun fully intended).

The other benefit of The Loop’s utility is getting you to and from other rides. Have an itch to tackle the world-class climb that is Mt. Lemmon (25 miles; 5,300 ft. of climbing)? Get off The Loop at the Tanque Verde bridge and head east.

I asked a friend if they had a favorite part of The Loop. They responded, “This right here. You can do a little bit of ‘this’ (gesturing with their head down, mimicking a hard effort) and a little bit of ‘this’ (gesturing with their hand going back-and-forth between us).” So, whether you are using The Loop as a warm-up, a cool-down, a transition to a larger ride, or it is the entirety of the ride, it has something for every cyclist and occasion.

About Robert Gibson

Robert “Robb” Gibson has been riding primarily mountain bikes with some road riding since 1992. What began as a sport he tried to best his friends at became a lifelong passion he has since taught his child (on The Loop). Robb hates getting up early but loves early morning rides. His favorite road ride is Mt. Lemmon, and his preferred mountain bike ride is La Milagrosa.

The People of Tucson: Performer Gigi Chanteuse

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

You can't miss Gigi Chanteuse. This petite  performer packs a vocal and visual punch as the front-woman for Gigi and The Glow. Arizona’s favorite dance music cover band draws a crowd at entertainment venues around Tucson, performing happy, upbeat, nostalgic music from the 50s to today’s hits, with cumbia and Latin songs sprinkled into each set.

Her passion for performing was sparked by her grandma, who would make her perform for friends. At five, she started dance classes, and at 15, her professional career began. She formed Gigi and The Glow with her husband Daniel, a seasoned drummer from Los Angeles, CA, when the pair recognized a need for high-energy dance music in Tucson. The couple also works with various musicians to perform other musical styles, including jazz.

She moved from California to Tucson in 1993, raising four children and welcoming a grandson in the Old Pueblo. While her band takes her to gigs in California and Texas and a beach home to Mexico, she’ll always take the five-hour trek to return to Tucson.

Follow Gigi Around Tucson

It should come as no surprise that a performer would seek out local theater. One of her favorites is The Gaslight Music Hall of Oro Valley, where audiences enjoy concerts and revues spanning every musical genre. Guests are treated to the finest family entertainment in Arizona, and a full menu with pizza, wings, sandwiches, salads, and a wide variety of beverages, including cocktails and milkshakes.

Outdoor adventures take Gigi to Sabino Canyon and all the hiking trails found in Southern Arizona. She also enjoys the Omni Tucson National Resort golf course that hosts PGA tournaments and The Westin La Paloma Resort golf courses, noting they’re not only a great place to play golf but also for walking.

Plus, Tucson is known for bike riding. It is the home to one of the premier bicycling events in the country—El Tour de Tucson—that has been part of the community for nearly four decades and welcomes more than 7,000 cyclists annually.

“We performed for them, and it was so much fun. El Tour de Tucson is a tradition here, and we were very honored to do that,” says Gigi.

Tucson is also home to The Chuck Huckelberry Loop, recently voted Number 1 on USA Today’s 2022 “10 Best Reader’s Choice List” for Best Recreational Trail. The 131-mile loop connects the communities of Tucson, Oro Valley, South Tucson, and Marana and provides a safe place to walk, bike, skate, and even ride a horse.

“Riding those bike trails, you’ll see so much beauty. The Tucson desert has so much breathtaking scenery, especially during monsoon season when everything turns green and pops with color. It’s a work of art, like tapestries that unfold overnight,” says Gigi.

Finally, she can’t say enough about the sunrises and the sunsets. When you’re in Tucson, look to the sky for a real treat.

“I grew up in California, and I love California, but there’s nothing like Tucson. The weather here is amazing, and the sunsets are the most beautiful you’ll ever see,” she says.

GIGI’S TASTES OF TUCSON

“Where can I begin? Everything is good here!” says Gigi. “I’m not a big eater, and I love that in the last five years, Tucson now has more and more vegan venues and menus.”

Of course, St. Philips Plaza is high on her list; Gigi and The Glow regularly perform on the patio surrounded by Proof Artisanal Pizza & Pasta, Reforma Modern Mexican, and Union Public House. Guests can choose to dine on handcrafted artisanal pizza and house-made pasta, authentic Mexican food with a modern and playful twist on fresh local ingredients, and made-from-scratch American fare using local and sustainable ingredients. Each restaurant serves clever libations and is a happy hour and brunch staple.

“I could go on and on; Tucson is packed with delicious restaurants. Tavolino Ristorante Italiano and Wild Garlic Grill in the Foothills are some of my favorites. Another is HiFalutin, and inside the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa is Azul Restaurant. Not to mention all the Mexican food; there are just so many options here,” says Gigi.

The People of Tucson: Public TV Executive & Notecard Creator Enrique Aldana

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Enrique Aldana immigrated to New York State when his mother remarried. He was five when he arrived and was enrolled in kindergarten without speaking English. Bullied in school, his haven was watching shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and The Electric Company on PBS. He credits the shows with helping him learn American culture and the language. At 12, the family relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where he graduated from Amphitheater High School and began a career.

His then-girlfriend-now-wife encouraged him to continue his education. At age 28, Aldana enrolled in the Eller School of Business at The University of Arizona—earning his degree in three years and becoming a sales manager at Tucson Newspapers, Inc. Life was good, but it was going to get better.

Aldana had two daughters by now, and his wife, Katie, volunteered at their school. As fate would have it, their daughter’s teacher was married to Jack Gibson, CEO of Arizona Public Media, Tucson’s PBS station and NPR radio licensed through The University of Arizona. He took a chance and asked for an introduction to Jack as a resource for job opportunities. The meeting paid off: Aldana received an offer to join the very organization that gave him comfort as a child. Today he is the senior director of development at Arizona Public Media and won the Association for Fundraising Professionals "Outstanding Fundraising Executive" for 2021.

“I grew up watching public media; it gave me a strong foundation to succeed. I get to pay it forward for people who want to continue to learn or have children who need a safe place to watch quality educational television,” he says.

Tucson Through Aldana's Lens

Not only does Aldana connect to his community through public media, but he also creates notecards. At his daughter Sophie’s encouragement, he started Yours Truly Notecards, marrying his passion for photography with the city he loves. Many of his notecards feature the Tucson landscape and the charm of the Southwest.

“People don’t realize that The University of Arizona has a beautiful botanical garden open to the public. It’s a hidden gem where you can walk around campus enjoying hundreds of species of plants,” says Aldana.

The UA Campus Arboretum houses plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world. In-person guided tours start at The University of Arizona Memorial Fountain. Tours range from Arboretum History to Sonoran Native Plants, each tour lasting 60–90 minutes.

Aldana recommends Agua Caliente Park, a lake area with spring-fed ponds and ducks, herons, turtles, and fish.

“This is a great place to spend time with family and have a picnic. You’ll feel like you aren’t in Tucson anymore it’s so green,” he says.

He also says to explore Mt. Lemmon, an hour from Tucson. The peak of Mt. Lemmon is the highest in the Santa Catalina Mountains at 9,171 feet. The temperature there averages 30° cooler than in the valley, offering a respite from the desert heat, complete with tall trees, brooks, and streams. Hikers, rock climbers, campers, cyclists, and skiers flock here.

ALDANA’S TASTES OF TUCSON

“Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so there is no shortage of delicious food here,” says Aldana.

His favorite restaurants include The Little One and Boca Tacos y Tequila. The Little One is a Tucson staple and has been around since the 80s, serving healthy and authentic Mexican food for breakfast and lunch in a little space in downtown Tucson. Boca Tacos offers authentic Sonoran Mexican cuisine developed by the founder, owner, and award-winning executive chef, Maria Mazon.

“The Little One is tiny, quaint, loud, colorful, and delicious. I never order the same thing twice. Bring cash here, and be prepared to get a hug with your dish,” says Aldana. “At Boca Tacos each of Maria Mazon’s salsas taste unique and imaginative. The flavors she creates are a taste explosion in your mouth. You must try them all.”

Of all the places to get great food in Tucson, the ultimate for Aldana is not a restaurant at all but a food truck. For more than 25 years, El Manantial Tacos Y Hotdogs has served Tucson from the corner of 36th Street and Park Avenue.

“I’ve been eating their burritos, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, and quesadillas for at least 20 years. I even had them cater my 50th birthday party; they pulled right up in my front yard,” he says.

Keep Tucson Weird

It’s hip to be weird here. Let us show you the ways.

By C. Jill Hofer

How do you describe a place that defies definition? Words like unusual, unique, strange, surprising, odd, and yes, weird come to mind. After all, it’s hip to be weird. The now-famous motto “Keep Austin Weird” was adopted by Portland, Oregon, and other quirky-cool communities looking to retain their unique identity. When we consider a few ways T-town is different, it’s easy to see why we’d like to keep it that way.

Tucsonans Put the “WE” in Weird

It’s the people that make Tucson so special. Diversity defines our municipal identity, and for this, Southern Pacific Railway deserves some credit. In the 1880s, the arrival of the railroad diversified an existing melting pot of Indigenous, Mexican, and American people. The result? A city brimming with culturally influenced dining, events, art, and music.

Tucson’s art and music scene reflects our wonderful weirdness, spans every genre, and defies categorization. For a sampling, simply stroll down Congress Street and Fourth Avenue. Tucson’s love affair with itself is on display and beautifully illustrated by the Tucson Portrait Project at the Fourth Avenue underpass. Marvel at the 7,000 individual photo tiles and consider how we combine to create one amazing community. Throughout town, large-scale professional art installations are showcased alongside a myriad of murals and a plethora of personal projects, all contributing to the collective, arty vibe. Walk, skate, or bike through a rattlesnake bridge. Appreciate the small and large-scale mosaics adorning the city of South Tucson. Cruise around town to applaud the homes, yards, and traffic roundabouts flaunting handmade creations. From sculptures and mosaics to Little Free Libraries, giving pantries, free art sidewalk galleries, and business and residential murals, Tucson’s creativity is on display.

Add a Little Weird to Your World

Tucson loves Tucson. We appreciate authenticity and prefer to express our style through handcrafted, upcycled, local goods. As a result, T-town is filled with fun, funky galleries, shops, flea markets, and a dizzyingly diverse swap meet.

Don’t miss Old Town Artisans, Why I Love Where I Live, & Gallery, PopCycle, and other T-Town merchants for a locally focused, nonstop shop’portunity. For expertly curated threads previously flaunted by stylish Tucsonans, explore the aisles of Buffalo Exchange, a thrift store with 40 stores across the US and founded right here in the 520.

“Tucson is a place where people are appreciated for being unique, individual, and creative. When I came over from Sweden at 18, I felt like I could finally be myself and express my own style, and people actually liked it,” says Buffalo Exchange Founder Kerstin Block. “Tucson is a haven for artists, creatives, and anyone who wants to forge their own path rather than just going with the flow. That’s the beauty of Tucson.”

Take a Walk on the Weird Side

The creative team behind the All Souls Procession dreams up meaningful events, remembrances, craft workshops, benefit performances, and offbeat fundraisers throughout the year. These gatherings orbit around the All Souls Procession and Ceremony, a signature event to honor the dead and celebrate the living. Well over 150,000 people join the two-mile-long human-powered procession through downtown Tucson in the fall. It ends in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with the photos, hopes, offerings, and wishes of those in attendance for their loved ones who have passed.

MSA Annex Festival Grounds plays host to a bevy of weird and wonderful happenings. This welcoming plaza pollinates community culture with galas, concerts, artisan markets, workshops, roller discos, dance parties, and more. Mix and mingle with a band of merry weirdos through the local chapter of the  Cacophony Society. Self-described as a “randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society,” this group gives Tucson’s counter-culture a boost.

“I transplanted myself to the Sonoran Desert over 35 years ago. Every day I am re-burned by the light, impressed by the tenacity of the bumpy, toxic creatures that thrive around me, and inspired by the magical Wild West surrealism surrounding the Old Pueblo. How could this place ever NOT be weird? Viva!” says All Souls Procession Artistic Director and Founder of Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theatre Co., Nadia Hagen-Onuktav.

Weird by Nature

Native flora and fauna must be a little weird to survive hot summers, winter freezes, and temperature fluctuations regularly topping 30° in a single day. Towering saguaros and unique species of scorpions thrive alongside the only known non-captive jaguar and ocelot in North America in Southern Arizona. Our javelinas look so much like pigs it’s weird they actually belong to the deer (peccary) family.

And if anyone tells you Tucson is weird because we don’t have seasons, let them know we do daily! Tucsonans enjoy spring before 8 a.m., mid-day summers, early evening fall, and a bit of winter overnight.

The 520 even boasts a unique fifth season identified by the Tohono O’odham. “A special time takes place around April, when the mesquite, palo verde, creosote, brittlebush, and other yellow flowering plants are in full bloom. It’s one of the 12 seasons of our lunar calendar, called s-uam masad or yellow month,” says Maegan Lopez at Mission Garden.

Try your Weird on for Size

Don’t be shy! Get out and contribute to the vibe. By exploring the more interesting side of Tucson, you might also discover a whole new side of yourself.

HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD

For some wildly weird attractions, stop by any of these fun and funky places around town. The Old Pueblo is home to El Tiradito, America’s only Catholic shrine dedicated to a sinner.

El Tiradito

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures packs a world of wonder into staggeringly small creations. Valley of the Moon is a unique artist-created enchanted historic fairyland that promotes kindness and imagination. The University of Arizona’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Tucson Steampunk Society take members back in time with gatherings, events, and an annual Wild Wild West steampunk convention.

About C. Jill Hofer

An avid appreciator of the Tucson arts, fire performance, music, and maker scenes, Jill Hofer can be spotted at galleries, restaurants, Tucson hotspots, and on a tile in the Tucson Portrait Project. Between openings and special events, she’s sculpting jewelry in her home studio overlooking the Tucson valley.

South-of-the-Border Sweet Treats

By C. Jill Hofer

Visitors and residents agree. In Tucson, life is sweet. Picture-perfect weather, arts, music, culture, nature, and abundant culinary choices make Tucson a top spot to live and vacation. It doesn’t hurt to have easy access to many treats from south of the border without leaving the Old Pueblo. Explore a world of Mexican sweets with no passport required.

What’s so Sweet? Raspados

This cool concoction is enjoyed around the globe. Known as shaved ice, snow cones, Italian ice, and more, by any name, they are refreshing and delectable. Crafted from a variety of freshly chopped fruits and a myriad of toppings, raspados can be creamy with condensed milk and ice cream or non-dairy with just fruit and ice. Add chamoy syrup, chili powder, a squeeze of lemon, and tangy tamarind candies for a distinctively south-of-the-border sweet and sour twist.

Where to Find the Treat? OASIS FRUIT RASPADOS

Since 1983, the Carrizosa family has delighted Tucson with authentic raspados at Oasis Fruit Raspados. Pick your passion from a dozen or more raspados varieties, including banana, coconut, pineapple, and mango, or venture off the beaten path with plum, tamarind, or cantaloupe. Amp up the experience with a Picosito — the combination of tamarind, plum flavoring, and chili powder goes down surprisingly smoothly through the (also delicious) tamarind-dipped straw. Order yours macedonias-style to substitute ice cream for ice. Try an escamocha (loosely translated as “leftovers”): a Mexican fruit salad crafted with variable, flexible ingredients, such as creamy yogurt and a sprinkling of granola for an added crunch. Iced coffees and a broad selection of snack foods ensure everyone goes home happy.

What’s so Sweet? Pan Dulce

The subject of pan (bread) dulce (sweet) conjures images of the pastries offered to ancestors on the Day of the Dead. The most iconic example found in every Mexican bakery is the concha, thus named because it looks like a seashell. Soft bread is baked with colorful cookie dough designs on top. Other classics include bandera (flag) cookies in red, white, and green, and pretty pink niño envuelto (sponge cake jelly rolls) coated in coconut sprinkles. Ever-popular empanadas are tasty filled turnovers, beloved around the world.

Where to Find the Treat? LA ESTRELLA BAKERY

For a pan dulce taste tour, head to a La Estrella Bakery. Sample their showy conchas, taste the bandera shortbread cookies, and bite into the almost too-cute-to-eat cohitos (little pigs) made with molasses and cinnamon. Delight in a variety of classic doughnuts, jelly rolls, and specialty cakes, and don’t miss their top seller: empanadas. Regulars line up for these petite turnovers filled with pineapple, mango, apple, Bavarian cream, and their most popular: pumpkin. The family-operated bakery opened in 1986 on 12th Avenue: both locations also offer bread, tortillas, tamales, and menudo to satisfy sweet and savory cravings of Mexico.

What’s So Sweet? Loca Diced Fruits

Fresh fruit cups (vasos de fruta), found in cities and towns across Mexico, have been a beloved street food for generations. They’re a symphony of seasonal fruits, often topped with tangy chamoy syrup, chili powder, and lemon juice. These colorful cups are a simple, healthy snack full of flavor and zing. As beautiful as they are delicious, unique versions of this Mexican street fare can be sampled at select Tucson raspado shops.

Where to Find the Treat? FUNLAND RASPADOS AND MUNCHIES

This colorful establishment has a jam-packed menu, but Funland’s loca diced fruit treats can’t be beat. Available in Sandia Loca (watermelon) and Piña Loca (pineapple), they are a fiesta de fruitas. It’s easy to see why they’re named “loca” (crazy). Fruit lovers are lured in by the gorgeous presentation of a whole watermelon or pineapple, cored and filled to overflowing with fruit, Japanese peanuts, and tamarind candies, then topped with a tamarind straw, a single saladito (salted dry plum), and a tiny umbrella. They’re a feast for the eyes, and their generous size makes them suitable to share with the whole family.

What’s So Sweet? Specialty Cakes

Grown-ups and kids on both sides of the border share an affection for confection and a love of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions with a cake. When we think of Mexican-inspired cake flavors, tres leches (three milks) most often come to mind. Give this moist, luscious cake a try, or choose from an endless variety of familiar favorites, from cheesecakes to good old-fashioned chocolate.

Where to Find the Treat? SUSPIROS PASTELERÍAS

Now the largest bakery in Mexico with outposts in Tucson, this family business began in Hermosillo in 2003. The name Suspiros (sigh) refers to desserts so good they “don’t last as long as a sigh.” Artfully decorated and almost too pretty to slice, customer favorites are strawberries and cream, piña colada, black forest, oreo, plum, coconut, and quatro leches.

It’s a step beyond tres leches, and the fourth leche is yogurt! For a taste of old Mexico, the bakery serves coyota cheesecake with a sampling of coyota pastries on the side. Coyota was the name given to the women of Mexican and native heritage who visited cities and towns to sell their round pie-crust goodies. Eventually, the famous pastries were also called coyotas. To this day, they provide a decadent taste of history.

What’s so Sweet? Paletas

At first glance, these frozen delights look a bit like an ordinary Popsicle. One bite reveals a world of difference. Refreshing and simple, paletas are handcrafted from a dizzying array of ingredients, from natural fruits to nuts and cookies. The contents are blended with condensed milk or water, poured into a mold, and chilled. A bit like a mosaic on a stick, paletas are delicious works of art.

Where to Find the Treat? PALETERIA Y NEVERÍA LA MICHOACANA

Named for Michoacán, the Mexican state where paletas originated in the 1940s, this bustling pink-striped paletería offers a tantalizing variety of flavors. La Michocana’s strawberries and cream paleta is numero uno, and among the dairy-free selections, their watermelon and mango paletas top the list in popularity. Several varieties are dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut, pistachios, walnuts, or pecans for an added flavor sensation. The spicy Diablito features Mexican candies and chamoy syrup for a tangy twist. Variety, freshness, and innovative paletas keep customers returning again and again.

What’s so Sweet? Mexican Candies

To most American palates, the mix of tangy, spicy, sweet, and sour tastes aren’t expected in a candy. One brave bite will pucker your mouth, open your eyes, and tantalize your taste buds. At first odd and intriguing, the flavor combinations may have you reaching for more. You might find yourself dreaming about complex, nuanced Mexican candies long after your taste-test expedition.

Where to Find the Treat? FOOD CITY, MOM & POP MARKETS

A quick trip to the grocery store or corner market can feel like a mini-vacation in Tucson. Add a little spice to life at any Food City grocery store or one of the many Hispanic mom and pop markets around town, where bountiful candy aisles transcend the standard Snickers and traditional Twix. Tried-and-true favorites include dried mango strips coated in spicy chili powder, mysterious wrinkled saladitos (dried plums), colorful bandera coconut bars, and off-the-chart sweet marzipan varieties. Tamarind-based snacks abound, served in plastic spoons, on drinking straws, and in the spiraling serpentina candies often found atop raspados and diced fruits. Mexican candies are often presented in clear packaging to reveal a glimpse of what’s in store, so grab the ones that catch your eye.

The People of Tucson: Wine Importer Dale Ott

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Dale Ott knows the alcohol and spirits business. This fifth-generation Arizonan grew up on a little farm in Coolidge, Arizona, before arriving in Tucson for college. She left and came back five times — the sixth time, she thought she might as well stay. Eventually, she married Steven Ott, a fifth-generation Tucsonan, and the two embarked on careers in the alcohol industry that led them to wine importing. The pair are opening Nossa Imports this spring, an import and distribution company that gives a platform to underrepresented wine regions of the world. They often travel to Mexico and the Iberian Peninsula to meet with small vineyards to help them break into the tricky US market while simultaneously bringing what has been an inaccessible luxury item to everyone.

“Why do we need inaccessible things? We need things that bring people together, especially now, and landscape and food and beverages do that. It’s the things that make us all the same,” said Ott.

THE LANDSCAPE

While these two are often off traveling the world, Tucson is always where they return, a place filled with culture. She points to South Tucson with its different municipality, vibrant style, and the native reservations, most notable the Tohono O’odham Nation, as examples.

“The coolest thing about Tucson is that we are such a multicultural place. The Borderlands is one of the most diverse regions with our mix of cultures across the region and all the history that goes along with it,” said Ott.

Ott says unique geographical spots around town are what tie cultures to its community. Gates Pass is one of her most special places. According to Ott, the land was part of Mexico, and now it’s in the US.

“Going up to Gates Pass, there’s a little rock house that’s kind of up on top. It’s a two-second hike up from the parking lot and has the best view of the sunset in town. When we’ve accomplished something big, we’ll take a bottle of champagne and go watch the sunset with our dog,” said Ott.

Another place that has been part of Mexico is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles south of downtown Tucson, on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. And, of course, there are hiking trails with three noted favorites. The Finger Rock Trail leads to Finger Rock, a 100-foot-high formation that marks Finger Rock Canyon located in the Santa Catalinas. Seven Falls is a trail found in Sabino Canyon that boasts seven waterfalls, and 25 miles south of Tucson is Madera Canyon Nature Trail that features beautiful wildflowers.

Ott’s Tastes of Tucson

When it comes to food, Ott has praise for two of the most talented chefs in her eyes, both born and raised in the Old Pueblo. Mike Hultquist Jr., the fourth generation to run the family-owned-and-operated El Torero with his dad, Mike Hultquist Sr., commands the kitchen inside the pink restaurant that opened in 1956. He blends old school and new school that Ott says is beautifully unified.

The other notable chef is John Martinez of Tito and Pep, a contemporary neighborhood bistro that encompasses the spirit of Tucson and the Southwest. After starting restaurants in New York and along the East Coast, Ott says that he returned with a completely different level of understanding internationality and hospitality that he brought back to his hometown of Tucson.

Of course, Ott has a bevy of places to get a cool drink across town. She loves dive bars, including Danny’s Baboquivari and The Shelter in midtown. On the west side is The Wagon Wheel and Nevada Smiths Steakhouse Saloon on Miracle Mile, where you can toss peanut shells over your shoulder onto the sawdust-covered floor. Downtown, her favorite is one of the oldest bars in Tucson, Arizona, The Buffet.

“This is really where my husband and I courted each other. We both worked till four in the morning, and then we would find a place for breakfast before going to The Buffet at 6 a.m. for a hot dog and to say hi to all the rest of the hospitality community with the same schedule. Talk about part of the community. It’s a place where everybody is the same, you know,” said Ott.

The People of Tucson: Photographer Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Tucked away in a Tucson neighborhood is a magical home where almost life-size dinosaurs made of weathering steel stand guard over a firepit encircled by sheered-in-half clawfoot bathtubs for benches. Inside resides photographer and artist Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli and his trusty perrito Petey.

Originally from Spokane, Washington, Bonuccelli’s career took him on a wild ride that began with shooting assignments for Seattle magazines to touring the Old World with Rick Steves Europe to getting lost in Melbourne, Australia, only to stumble into a job for Lonely Planet. He’s also been to France, Slovakia and Slovenia, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and even Tibet, to name a few. Yet, it is Tucson that captured his heart and where he put down his roots.

“I’ve been lucky to hit so many places around the globe, and those I loved the most are authentic like Havana, Cuba. People survive on $30 a month there, so they focus more on food, music, family, art, and color. It’s a lot of what Tucsonans focus on, too. I love this city because it just feels authentic, and it’s rife with real characters, artists, and ferals,” said Bonuccelli.

FOLLOW BONUCCELLI TO DISCOVER MORE OF TUCSON

One of Bonuccelli’s favorite things to do is wander and see where the winds take him. Favorites he’s come across on Tucson walkabouts include mosaic masterpieces on tile risers and magical alter shrines. Using this technique before an assignment at the Tucson Rodeo in 2020, he parked far away and walked the train tracks in, coming across Tucson photog Scott Griessel doing the same thing. Of the rodeo, he has the fondest memories of stumbling upon a ghost atop his steed.

“I was on a side street, and there was this rider in the distance calming his horse who looked like Pancho Villa, solo and noble amid the mailboxes. I captured a black and white shot that transported me to 1896,” said Bonuccelli.

There’s more to explore on foot, with seemingly limitless places to hike around the mountain ranges of Tucson. His favorite: Pusch Ridge Trailhead. The fairly grueling three-hour hike—that he compares to the spines of a stegosaurus—takes you to the very top. Your reward is amazing 360-degree views up to Mt. Lemmon and across the city. If that’s too much for you, there are alternatives.

“One-third of the way up, there’s a kind of Eagle’s nest that you can perch at with about a 270-degree view that takes about 45 minutes to reach. You don’t see many people on the trail, but you might see someone on horseback on the lower loop or even a bighorn sheep or two up top,” said Bonuccelli.

A burrito, a band and coffee

Bonuccelli’s Tastes of Tucson

The coolest restaurant in town for Bonuccelli is LaCo Tucson (previously La Cocina), where a tree of life springs from the center of a sprawling patio aglow in twinkle lights. It’s located in the El Presidio Historic District across from Tucson’s original Spanish fort. The outdoor restaurant is surrounded by adobe and brick buildings in Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American, and eclectic architectural styles, many adorned with knickknacks and funky tchotchkes.

“They have the most fantastic three-color smothered burrito that recalls the Mexican flag. It’s the best burrito in town, and it’s about the size of a suitcase,” said Bonuccelli.

For a night out, it’s a dive bar for Bonuccelli. The Shelter is the area’s only 60s retro lounge. The inside is a sight to behold with red-and-black tiger-striped decor, lava lamps, vintage paintings (some are velvet), and lots of JFK paraphernalia that he thinks makes for the ideal George Jetson man cave. And if coffee is more your speed, Exo Roast Co. is his go-to and not only for a tasty cup of joe.

“You never know who you will be in line with when you walk into that coffee shop. One day it’s a mariachi trumpeter, the next an old prospector, and the next can be any one of the colorful people who haunt downtown,” said Bonuccelli

Cool Escapes

Discover Daytrips to Higher Elevations and Even Waterfalls

By Heather Wuelpern

Whether you are visiting Tucson for the first time or have lived here for decades, elevating your Tucson experience by venturing out to nearby areas not only can help beat the heat, but you will see some of Mother Nature’s most superb work. Go ahead and treat yourself to a change of scenery. You may find that you have an entirely new perspective when you journey to higher elevations, explore underground, or discover a place to dip your toes in the water.

Get your camera ready! Adventure awaits.

CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL MONUMENT

Chiricahua landscape

Head east on Interstate 10 through scenic Texas Canyon and take a side trip to the Amerind Museum or the infamous roadside attraction “The Thing” on your way to or from Chiricahua National Monument.

The area encompasses 12,025 acres filled with 17 miles of hiking trails developed to protect the “Wonderland of Rocks” created from the eruption of an ancient volcano. As you drive the nicely paved road past the pines and live oaks, and spot the otherworldly hoodoo rock formations the first time, the chances of someone in the car not belting out Paul Simon’s lyrics, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” are slim to none.

Get up-close to the magnificent hoodoos and catch glimpses of acorn woodpeckers or Mexican jays when you hike easy trails, like Bonita Springs or moderate ones, such as Echo Canyon Loop Trail. Even if it’s too hot to hike or if mobility issues are a factor, you will still have photo ops galore without leaving your car.

Mt. Lemmon

A woman sits on rocks at Mt. Lemmon.

 

How does being about 20 degrees cooler sound? On a hot day, you’ll love to feel the outside temperature go down as you drive up Mt. Lemmon on Catalina Highway. Typically, being in nature and unplugging go hand in hand, but The University of Arizona Mt. Lemmon Science app is an exception to the rule. Not only will you hear the local band Calexico play in the background, but you will also learn about the history and geology of Mt. Lemmon as you drive to the top. Once there, take the ski lift for a bird’s-eye view, devour a cookie as big as your head at the Cookie Cabin, and venture out on a hike starting from Marshall Gulch or other nearby trailheads. Pitch a tent or rent a cabin for the night to enjoy stargazing in the cool mountain air.

Did You Know?
You can go mushroom foraging with the Desert Alchemist to learn how to spot the differences between edible, psychedelic, and medicinal mushrooms. His tours are typically offered three days a week from mid-July through mid-October.

Bisbee

The town of Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee exudes coolness—both figuratively and literally. This funky hilltop getaway packs history, charm, art, and ghosts within its mountain-flanked roads. After devouring a delectable meal at Café Roka, Poco Restaurant + Market, or Screaming Banshee Pizza, climb up as many of the nine staircases that make up the annual Bisbee 1000 competition that your legs can handle. There’s no better way to sneak a peek at hidden tile mosaics, murals, or gardens than when making the climb.

Just out of town, check out the vintage trailers corralled at The Shady Dell—each one showcases authentic memorabilia from the year it was built. Continue to step back in time on Erie Street in nearby Lowell and snap pictures of classic cars and retro storefronts.

Did you Know?
Ghost tours are excellent excursions to learn about the history of Bisbee. A good night’s sleep might be harder to achieve after you hear about what once happened where you booked your room for the night though.

Mt. GRAHAM

Mt. Graham Arizona

Mt. Graham reaches the highest elevation of these getaways. Being a bit more than a daytrip from Tucson, camping might be the best bet. Riggs Flat campground can be reached by way of the Swift Trail Scenic Drive without the need for a 4x4 vehicle. You will feel that you are on top of the world with the majestic views.

Did You Know?
To expand your horizons even more, head to the Mount Graham International Observatory for an out-of-this-world experience. Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park Campus leads tours with accessibility to the telescopes in the observatory.

Oasis in the Desert

Visitors gather along the rocks in Sabino Canyon

Waterfalls are a welcome surprise at the end of several hikes in and around Tucson, such as Hutch’s Pool or Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon, Romero Pools in Catalina State Park, Bridal Wreath Falls off far east Speedway Boulevard, or Tanque Verde Falls off Redington Road. Of course, the water levels can vary depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Always be extra cautious of your footing since rocks can become slippery when wet. And be aware that monsoons are unpredictable and potentially deadly. Know the forecast and make sure the terrain suits your abilities.

Patagonia Lake

The tip of a red kayak on Patagonia Lake

 

Patagonia Lake offers an escape to water and everything that comes with it, such as fishing, boating, camping, and a beach. Get there by way of Sonoita, and stop at any of the wineries in the area, visit La Cienega Nature Preserve, and get a green chile burrito or a coffee milkshake at the Corner Scoop next to the post office in town. Head back to Tucson via Nogales to see more sights, such as Tumacacori and Tubac.

Did you Know
The town of Patagonia holds a quaint Fourth of July parade each year. Dine at Velvet Elvis Pizza Company and order such gourmet pizzas as The Exorcist, Southwest Diva, and Tuco’s Revenge.

72 Degrees, Please!

Kartchner Caves in Arizona

Southeast of Tucson lies two underground destinations — Colossal Cave and Kartchner Caverns. Book tours in advance to save your spot to learn about stalagmites, stalactites, and other impressive formations carved out from the earth millions of years ago. Know that even though the temperature at Kartchner Caverns can be 30 degrees cooler than temperatures aboveground on a hot summer day, the humidity level can reach heights that sometimes can make breathing uncomfortable. Both caves are wheelchair accessible as well.

Did you Know?
There’s an easy way to remember which is which. Stalagmites with an M before the “ite” grow from the cave floor like an M. Stalactites, with a T before the “ite” hang from the ceiling like a T.

Harrison Ford Will Not Save You

Hikers must understand the importance of ample water, sun protection, and proper footwear. In addition, the monsoon season poses an additional threat of potential flash floods. Be aware of the forecast, always tell someone where you are going, and have a map in case cell service isn’t available.

Heather thinks of life as a journey full of adventures and tries to inspire others to get out and explore. She gives guided hikes to an off-the-beaten-path crested saguaro for her side hustle with Airbnb Experiences.