Journey with Kileen

Journey with Kileen to Tucson in the Desert Southwest

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Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona (next to Phoenix) but it has more of a small town atmosphere. The population in the city is a little over 400,000 and over 750,000 in the greater metro area. The city boasts that it has 3,800 hours of sunshine a year and although hot in the summer, it is usually a little cooler than Phoenix. There are mountains nearby you can drive to and get cool when the heat is too much in the summer.

The University of Arizona is located here and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and aircraft storage facility. Because the air is so dry, they ship lots of old airplanes here because they won't rust, and there is a wonderful museum to visit. Hughes Aircraft and IBM also have a presence so the city has a sound economic base.

Tucson is in a high desert valley and was once the floor of an ancient inland sea. It is surrounded by four mountain ranges. Because the Santa Cruz River runs through the area, they can trace human habitation back 12,000 years. 

In 1700 a Jesuit priest, Father Kino, established the San Xavier Mission when he laid the cornerstone of his church. Today you can visit the newer church that took fourteen years to build starting in 1783. There are twin towers and the one on the right was purposely left unfinished. The prevailing theory is at the time you didn't pay taxes on uncompleted buildings. These are very poor Indians who live in this area, and you can find many of them sitting around the church yard during the day selling frye bread and other items to earn a living.          

At one time, Tucson was on the stage route between San Antonio and San Diego and offered a safe haven against the feared Apaches. By the 1950's dude ranches brought many wealthy people to the area.           

There is definitely an Old West flavor to the area and not too far away are Tombstone, where the famous shoot-out at the OK corral and Boothill Graveyard are located. Another little town tucked in the mountains and close to the Mexican border is Bisbee. It is about 90 miles from Tucson and known for its mining history. Today you can still see the beautiful Victorian homes and businesses that were built with the gold, silver, and eight billion pounds of copper that were mined in this area. The town's elevation is 5,300 feet so you don't get the heat like you do in the other nearby desert areas.   

As you drive around this region there is another town you may want to visit. About 45 miles south of Tucson and right next to Nogales, Mexico is the oldest European settlement in Arizona. Tubac, established as a presidio in 1752, is a pretty little area with old adobes, studios, galleries, and shops. There are over 120 stores and Kevin Costner filmed the golf movie, Tin Cup, here so you can also find a golf course to play.         

If you are staying in Tucson there are plenty of things to do right in the town. You can visit Old Tucson, where many movie sets still stand from when they made all those old Western movies. And there is a National Park that sits right on the edge of the city, Saguaro National Park.          

The Saguaro are protected in Arizona. You may not realize it but these cacti only grow about 1/2″ a year. When you see the tall cacti they are at least 50 years old. And if they have arms, those don't start growing until somewhere between 50-75 years. There are hundreds of these cacti in many shapes and sizes growing in this park and I love driving through the area.          

You may also want to visit the DeGrazia Gallery. He was a famous artist who died in 1982 and his paintings are very distinct. Being fascinated with the desert colors and cultures, he is famous for his portrayal of Indians with big black eyes, sticky hair and round faces.            

Finally Sabino Canyon is another must go to place in the area. The canyon is in the foothills northeast of Tucson so it is always cooler there. In the 1930's CCC workers built bridges and a 3.8 mile road up the mountain. You can take a narrated 45 minute shuttle ride and get off and walk around, visiting saguaro up close and personal. But I need to warn you to be careful. One time I had a driver who was standing outside the door of the bus waiting for our return when he heard a rattle. He was smart enough not to even look around. He jumped up the stairs of the motor coach and closed the door. It wasn't long when he saw a rattlesnake slither by the front of the coach.           

But then again, that is all part of the adventure when you are in the desert Southwest.


Editor's note: To read in depth about the Seattle, WA area, check out Kileen's book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition. 

Happy to say that Kileen has been very busy. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon/kindle, and it's also in book form through Amazon. Also, on her website (, you can both preview a few chapters as well as order the book.

Have questions? Kileen would be happy to hear from you at  


Kileen Prather has been a Tour Manager since 1997. Her exciting career takes her to between thirty-five to forty states a year. According to Kileen, there aren’t too many places in the US that she hasn’t visited. She absolutely loves traveling and meeting so many wonderful people from all over. In her column for After Fifty Living, Journey With Kileen, she shares her favorite places and talks about the different means of travel, whether you care to go by car, boat, train or motorcoach (bus).

Kileen is also the author of five books. If you’d like to learn about the Seattle area in depth, check out her book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon Kindle. You can preview a few chapters of this book, also, on her website (

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