The Stornoway sun has started setting mid-afternoon. Given the constant cloud cover, and the fact that the sun doesn’t make its morning appearance until around 8am, it feels very dark indeed. This wintry weather is in stark contrast to the summer of sunshine I spent in Arizona‘s Sonoran Desert – a summer that was still in full swing when I returned to Scotland this October.
Until I stumbled sleepily off my flight onto Tucson soil, I had never set foot in a desert. Part of me was expecting rolling Sahara-style sand dunes, but I never imagined the desert to be so… green. True, most of the greenery is out to get you (a ‘jumping’ cactus, anyone?) but it was something of a pleasant surprise. The offending cacti came in all shapes and sizes. The saguaro cactus – the one that appears to have come straight out of a cowboy cartoon – is found solely in the Tucson area.
Aside from the mutinous greenery, there were all kinds of wildlife on the prowl. Spiders the size of your hand, poisonous toads at the front door, rattlesnakes slithering across the street – a lizard even met me in the bedroom one morning.
A large city that feels more like a town, Tucson is surrounded by mountains that seem to alter in appearance with the changing sunlight. The sunsets are almost unbelievable, matched only by the lightning storms playing out in the evening sky.
Tucson offers plenty for the outdoor enthusiast; while not one myself, I did attempt something of a hike in Sabino Canyon, avoiding all areas marked with mountain lion warnings. Then there was the movie-style desert experience: a desert trail horseback ride at sunset, complete with unfiltered views of the evening sky and a cowboy leading the way.
There’s history, hiking, golfing, shopping and endless eating, but if all that can’t tempt you to take a trip to Tucson, there’s always the weather. Who can argue with 350 days of sunshine a year?
Tucson travel tips from inside the suitcase:
Eat: The list is endless, but if you have to choose, make for The Abbey (the mussels and chorizo dish is unbeatable). Don’t forget the Sonoran Hot Dog – but head to Molcas instead of the more well-known El Guero Canelo to sample this local delicacy. For dessert, Frost outposts offer generous helpings of delicious gelato. (2015 Update: The Abbey is now closed.)
Drink: Follow the college crowd to Mr Heads and its neighbours on 4th St. for a weekender vibe. Or try Armitage at the outdoor La Encantada Mall in the Foothills for snacks, wine tasting and a more relaxed atmosphere.
Visit: For fun facts about the wildlife and (wild) plants you’re probably going to encounter, take a trip to the Desert Museum in the Saguaro National Park. Further afield, drive the scenic route up Mt. Lemmon and watch cactus give way to mountain pine.