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.
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