Tucson Citizen staffers share some of their favorite out of the way spots to unwind.
Tucsonans take pride in knowing they live in a growing Sun Belt city with a future. But as the city expands with new suburbs and strip malls stretching farther from the Old Pueblo’s traditional center, special places of enchantment that don’t get misplaced in the older corners of town grow more precious with age.
And people who love these quirky little spots that have held their own in a landscape pushed around by urban renewal and bare dirt parking lots become more attached to their favorites.
Just like a beloved person’s ticks and odd habits make him or her more endearing, these special places give our city more personality.
Whether the private place is an uneven tile patio shaded by trees that have survived the desert heat for decades, or perhaps a public park bench beside a quizzical clutter of architectural styles from long ago, or a wall-sized mosaic celebrating personal beliefs or a community mural painted by the neighbors themselves, each contains mystical appeal.
Risking the popularity that could destroy the fragile magic of these places, members of our staff have decided to share the names of their private spaces, hidden treasures and spots to seek reflective solitude from the accelerating speed of modern life. Even in laid-back Tucson, everything is running faster than it used to, making these places even more special.
Hidden within the midtown Broadmoor neighborhood is a great place I have dubbed the oleander forest. Along the stretch of Arroyo Chico, between Country Club Road and Tucson Boulevard, is a double row of very old, very tall oleander trees (They may really be bushes, but at this height should be honored with the title of tree.) The arroyo runs between the rows of oleanders.
What makes this place so special, besides offering shade and giving my dog, Marley, a perfect spot to sniff, is the amount of birds that call this stand of trees home.
Head to the “forest” at dusk and witness the aerial show as hundreds of birds descend to the greenery to pick a branch for the night. Doves, thrashers, grackles, quails and sparrows squawk up a storm as they interact and jockey for prime seating. Sometimes it gets so deafening, the impulse is to cover your ears. But it’s best to take it all in and appreciate the sheer number of native birds around you.
It’s fun to walk between the lines of oleanders and listen to the commotion in stereo. Inside is also the best vantage point to look for birds quietly hiding among the leaves.
This midtown nature spot is one of my favorite little-known places in Tucson.
• Cara Rene
Gazebo at La Placita
A beautiful white gazebo, tucked behind a wrought-iron fence and surrounded by plush grass, is a fantasylike treasure in the thick of downtown. Often the courtyard it sits near is empty, so one can sit inside the gazebo and read a book, glimpse the sunset or simply breathe in the calm.
Dusk is perhaps the best time to visit, when white lights that cover the structure glow like fireflies (an insect we miss out on in these parts).
The gazebo sits at the northern end of La Placita Village, at the southwestern corner of Church Avenue and Broadway. Take a friend, your pooch or simply go by yourself and enjoy.
• Polly Higgins
Tumamoc Hill shrine
If walkers on Tumamoc Hill need any inspiration, they can find it at the base of the popular West Side mountain.
Gracing the wall of a small home at the entrance to the hill is a vibrant and glorious shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The statue itself is homely, but the mosaic tile work encircling the Virgen is breathtaking. Composed of turquoise, royal blue, green and mirrored tiles, the wall mural forms a brilliant aura around the small statue.
The home’s owners have provided seating for those wishing to relax and reflect while they admire the shrine. Some seeking the Virgen’s assistance have left candles, photos and other mementos.
This hidden shrine offers a serene place to rest or meditate before or after you climb that monster hill. Pray for strength, my friends. You’ll need it.
• Rogelio Olivas
Now that North Campbell Avenue has become a major artery from downtown Tucson to the foothills, there is a daily afternoon rush of commuters heading for the hills. It’s always been my personal belief that consumer demand could be satisfied with an alcohol-by-the-drink distribution system in a licensed design similar to the Sonic Drive-in.
On the way home after a hard day at the office, you pull in to this happy hour drive-in, order your favorite libation without leaving your car, refresh yourself and listen to oldies-but-goodies on the drive-in loudspeaker, then continue on home.
Well, it’s probably illegal or something.
But a similar satisfaction can be enjoyed by pulling into the hidden mini-Tahoe Park behind the Catalina Theater. Basically just turn east on Edison Street, the last street off North Campbell Avenue before East Grant Road. Follow that street a block to Norris Avenue, which intersects at Tahoe Park.
Scarcely a block square, Tahoe is easily identified by the two rows of exceptionally tall, stately palms that diagonally cross its cooling thick expanse of grass. Just sitting in your car beside this tranquil spot is soothing. Imagine the joy in kicking off your shoes to walk barefoot through the grass. For the full relaxation effect, spend a few minutes on the swing set. Or take along a favorite book.
• Chuck Graham
Staff picks for gems include petroglyphs, Dairy Queen
Lincoln Park trail on the Southeast Side, which my kids call “Mickey’s Park,” because Mickey the owl apparently lives there. There’s some playground equipment at the entrance of the trail.
The Babat Duag turnout on Mount Lemmon Highway (three-mile mark) is a great destination for cyclists. You can sip from your water bottle and eat a snack while enjoying a great view of the city and all the mountain ranges. Very few people stop there.
The big slide at Himmel Park is well known, but the one at Arcadia Wash Park, on Arcadia Avenue south of Speedway Boulevard, is equally as fun and not as populated.
• Michael Chesnick
Amphi Dairy Queen has been in business for almost 50 years. It’s fun to go and sit out front and watch the people while eating ice cream. And I always see someone I know when I go there. It’s an institution!
Another is the Garden of Gethsemane. Very peaceful, very special.
• Jeannie Jett
The stream at the end of the Summerlin Trail in Catalina State Park. It has boulders and trees and a babbling brook, which runs a good part of the year. What more could anyone want.
The sun rising over the Catalinas in summer during my walk along the Rillito River Park. It’s a thrill every single day. And, yes, in the summer, it does rise over the Catalinas.
The tiled columns on the Santa Cruz River Park that depict a history of Tucson. I can always find something new or different in that piece and it’s a great place to take a break while bike-riding along the river. It’s between St. Mary’s Road and Speedway Boulevard.
Looking down on the city from the Finger Rock Trail. There’s a place before it goes steeply up in switchbacks that has big, broad sitting rocks that afford a fabulous view of the city, without the city noise and bustle. When the wash there is running, it nears perfection.
• Jennifer Boice
The area just west of the wishing shrine (El Tiradito) near the southwest corner of Meyer Street and West Simpson is one of Tucson’s most overlooked historic sites and one of my personal favorites. Although virtually impossible to find with any certainty, this is the approximate location of Little Eye Spring, an oasis that provided the Old Pueblo with a source of drinking water until the completion of the Presidio in 1776. The area still conjures up images of Father Kino, ranchers and American Indians, all pausing here to refresh themselves more than two centuries ago. Despite the fact that it now is surrounded by development, the immediate locale is both peaceful and intriguing.
• Larry Cox
I only have one suggestion, and it’s a place I haven’t gone to in entirely too many years. One of my favorite spots is at Agua Caliente Park, where the underground spring comes out of the ground, feeding the creek and pond. You can’t get all the way down to it anymore because people were abusing it, but it’s still the most serene area of the park. It’s hidden away in a cluster of trees at the southeast corner of the property. If the spring’s not as exciting as it used to be, there’s still the ponds to walk around and the miniforest of mesquite trees.
Even though it’s become more popular over the years, Agua Caliente is still one of the most peaceful and untouched places close to town. I use “close to town” loosely, though. To get there, drive east (past Houghton Road) for a really long time on Tanque Verde Road, then turn left at Soldier Trail; head north for a really long time on Soldier Trail to Roger Road; head east on Roger until you see the sign for the park (on the left). I hesitate to even mention it because I’d hate to see it overrun with people, but it’s far enough away that it’s probably relatively safe.
• Jennie Faries
The Signal Hill picnic shelter in Saguaro National Park west. It’s the same parking area as for the petroglyphs off Golden Gate Road. Covered shelter, restrooms, hiking trails. But mostly it’s just a gorgeous view of the valley, especially at sunset. We’ve seen snakes, great bugs and a Gila monster there.
• MJ McVay
PHOTO CREDIT: VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen
On the cover: Katrina Corella relaxes at Tahoe Park.
UA student Jesse Siegris, 22, works out at Tahoe Park near East Grant and North Campbell Avenue.
PHOTO CREDIT: NORMA JEAN GARGASZ/Tucson Citizen
Tumamoc Hill shrine
PHOTO CREDIT: RENEE BRACAMONTE/Tucson Citizen
Gazebo at La Placita
PHOTO CREDIT: Citizen file photos
Agua Caliente Park (pictured) is where an underground spring produces ponds and a creek. See the rest of our staff picks on Page 24.
Agua Caliente Park
(Petroglyphs at Saguaro National Park west)