Colossal Cave Mountain Park27 miles southeast of Tucson at 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
First used by the Hohokam Indians more than 1,000 years ago, Colossal Cave also served as a hideout for bandits and convicts. Walk 6.5 stories down and back up through the stalagmites, stalactites and other formations in the 50-minute tour, or book a candlelight, ladder or wild cave tour. You can walk through the museum at the La Posta Quemada Ranch, then take a trail ride through the Sonoran Desert. Be sure and visit the desert tortoise exhibit, or picnic and take a walk through the butterfly garden.
Information: 520-647-7275; www.colossalcave.com
Coronado National Memorial17 miles south of Sierra Vista off State Route 92
Established to commemorate Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's exploration of the American Southwest, visitors to the memorial can learn about Coronado's explorations and enjoy exhibits at the Coronado Visitor Center, and then spend some time outdoors hiking, bird-watching or picnicking. Spelunkers can see beautiful limestone formations on a self-guided tour of 600-foot-long Coronado Cave. Enjoy views of the San Raphael Valley, San Pedro Valley and Mexico at Montezuma Pass scenic overlook 3 miles west of the visitors center.
Information: 520-366-5515; www.nps.gov/coro/index.htm
Kartchner Caverns State Park9 miles south of Interstate 10 off State Route 90, just south of Benson
Tour Arizona's only living cave, Kartchner Caverns, where the spectacular formations are still growing, and see what seeping water can do to the layers of limestone underground. Formations in a variety of colors adorn the cave surfaces, including one of the world's largest soda straw stalactites. Visit the Discovery Center with interactive displays and a gift shop, or picnic in the shaded ramadas and outdoor dining area. Visitors may camp in the state park, or enjoy the hiking trails and Hummingbird Garden Walk.
Information: 520-586-2283; www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/kartchner.html#anchor_tourinfo
Parker Canyon Lake25 miles southeast of Sonoita off State Route 83
Located in the rolling hills of southern Coconino National Forest, Parker Canyon Lake teems with trout, bass, sunfish and catfish. A fishing pier and boat ramp provide easy access to the water, and you can rent a boat or pick up last-minute supplies at a lakeside store. Enjoy hiking, camping and wildlife watching, with the possibility of spotting bald eagles, osprey, javelina and other animals among the oaks and desert grasses.
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve2 miles southwest of Patagonia on State 82
Along the banks of Sonoita Creek lies some of the richest riparian habitat in the state, home to a few of the largest (100-plus feet tall) and oldest (130 years) Fremont cottonwood trees in the country. You will also find velvet ash, willow and Arizona black walnut trees. The streamside environment is a good place to watch wildlife, including whitetail deer, bobcat, desert tortoise and the more than 300 bird species that live in the preserve. You can take a guided tour on Saturdays, or walk the grounds yourself during any visiting hours.
Pima Air and Space Museum6000 E. Valencia Road, Tucson
With more than 250 aircraft filling 150 acres, Pima Air and Space Museum retells the history of flight through photos, hands-on exhibits and aircraft on display ranging from an exact replica of the Wright Brothers' flyer to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Tram or walking tours of the outside grounds takes you through a plethora of commercial, military and presidential aircraft. In the hangars you can see World War II combat gear and memorabilia, visit the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame or take the kids to the interactive hangar on space exploration.
Information: 520-574-0462; www.pimaair.org/pasmhome.shtml
Saguaro National Park East15 miles east of Tucson on Old Spanish Trail
Federally protected saguaro cacti adorn the hills of the Rincon Mountains and Tanque Verde Ridge east of Tucson, along with prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo and barrel cacti. Visitors of all ages can explore the beauty of the Sonoran Desert in Saguaro National Monument East. A visitors center has maps, a hands-on touch table for the kids and information and directions to find your way around the park. You can hike among the cacti-studded desert or take one of the one-way car loops for a scenic drive through the park.
Information: 520-733-5153; www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park219 Toughnut St., Tombstone
Incorporated in 1881, Tombstone became a mining boomtown with a population that once exceeded 15,000 people. One of the best-preserved rugged frontier towns of the 1870s and 1880s, today Tombstone remains a living tribute to the Old West. Visit the historic Boot Hill Cemetery, OK Corral, Crystal Palace Saloon, St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the Tombstone Courthouse, built in 1882 during Tombstone's wild heyday. This courthouse held the offices of the sheriff, treasurer, recorder and board of supervisors as well as the jail and courtroom for Cochise County. In 1955 the courthouse was converted to a historical museum and state park, housing exhibits and thousands of artifacts detailing Tombstone's colorful history. You can explore the museum and picnic on the grounds, or take advantage of their many resources to research the history of the region.
Information: 520-457-3311; www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/tombstone.html
International Wildlife Museum4800 W. Gates Pass Road, Tucson
To see more than 400 species of insects, mammals and birds from around the world, visit the International Wildlife Museum. Exhibits of prehistoric saber-tooth cat skulls, wild sheep dioramas and killer bees give visitors a taste of what these critters looked like in their natural habitat. Some hands-on displays include walking under a giraffe and stroking antlers and animal skin. The Wildlife Theater shows movies throughout the day on a variety of wildlife topics.
Information: 520-629-0100 www.thewildlifemuseum.org
Reid Park Zoo1030 S. Randolph Way, Tucson
If live animals are more your style, the Reid Park Zoo has plenty. Be sure to visit the polar bear exhibit to see Boris and Kobe lounging in their indoor swimming pool, and watch the endangered white rhinos, Yebonga and Zibulo, wallow in their thick, sticky mud bog. Go in the morning to catch animals when they're most active.
Informtion: 520-881-4753; www.tucsonzoo.org
Tucson Botanical GardensStroll through 15 specialty gardens on the 5-½ serene acres of the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Located in the heart of Tucson, this peaceful haven includes a Native American Crops Garden, Wildflower Garden, Cactus and Succulent Garden and a Backyard Bird Garden. Visit the only tropical butterfly exhibit in Arizona through February 28, 2007. The gift shop features books on Southwest gardening, cards, wildflower seeds, jewelry and garden art. (2150 N. Alvernon Way, Tucson)
Information: 520-326-9686; http://www.tucsonbotanical.org.
Fort Huachuca Historical Museum70 miles southeast of Tucson off State Route 90
For an overview of the U.S. Army's role in the colorful history of the Southwest, head out to the Fort Huachuca Historical Museum. View documents and artifacts dating back to 1861 and learn the history of Fort Huachuca, starting with Camp Huachuca, constructed in 1877 to protect settlers and travel routes in southeastern Arizona from the Apache Indians, to today's Fort Huachuca, currently occupied by the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.
Information: 520-533-5736; http://huachuca-www.army.mil/HISTORY/museum.htm