yk+ child one-week in Tucson; Feb 2024

Old Feb 25th, 2024, 08:05 PM
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yk+ child one-week in Tucson; Feb 2024

Hi all, my son (age 11) and I are wrapping up our trip in southern Arizona. Thanks to many who gave me suggestions!

Why Tucson?
We, in MA, get a week off school in Feb. While many families go skiing, my criteria is: 1) it has to be warmer than New England, and 2) airfare has to be affordable. Last year the 2 of us went to Charleston SC. Flying anywhere during Feb vacation week is outrageously expensive. We have friends who paid $900pp to fly from Worcester to Orlando for WDW. I found reasonable fares on Delta to Phoenix at reasonable times, for $256 r/t per person for Tue-Tue travel.

Initially I thought we would head north to Sedona and possibly GC south rim (last June we went to Utah + GC North rim), but then I found out it is cold there with potential for snow, I took your suggestion to head south to Tucson instead.

Day 1 (Tuesday)
We have a 7am flight out of Boston Logan. My husband dropped us off at 5:45am and I was a bit stunned to see the huge crowds at the check-in. I guess we weren’t the only people traveling during vacation week. Luckily we have TSA pre check and got through security line quickly.

I had bought the lowest fare on delta (basic economy) without seat selection. At 24-hr checkin, my son and I were assigned middle seats on separate rows. When we arrived at our departure gate I asked the gate agent about our seats, and he moved us so we could sit together. Our flight surprisingly wasn’t completely full.

The flight was 6 hours and I was able to sleep for over 3 hours. We arrived in phoenix 20 minutes ahead of schedule (11am local time). The monorail is convenient and efficient to get to the rental car center (every US airport should have this!!!). I was able to skip the line and go pick up our car directly thanks to status, and we were on our way by 12 noon.

i drove directly to Casa Grande Ruins, or I should say, the small town by the ruins, and got lunch at a roadside taco truck called El Bebos that I found on yelp. Both of us got tacos for just $10 total.

Next stop was Casa Grande Ruins, arriving at 1:30pm. We watched the 20-min movie, followed by a 1-hr ranger-led tour at 2pm. The ranger was an excellent story-teller, giving us background history of the peoples who lived on this land and surrounding area, and then pointed out all the features of the buildings. We definitely learned way more than we could have gotten out of visiting on our own. My son worked on the junior ranger booklet and got his badge.

Even though the ruins is a small site, we ended up spending close to 2 hours there. By then it was 3:30pm, and it’s time to go. Originally I had considered stopping at Picacho peak for a hike if we have time, but obviously we didn’t. I stopped at a Starbucks nearby to get some caffeine, then hit the road and drove all the way to Bisbee, which took almost 3 hours.

I had booked a double room at Hotel San Ramon. They texted me to ask if we would arrive before 6pm (we wouldn’t), so they sent over self-checkin info, along with dinner and breakfast suggestions. We got to the hotel around 6:30pm after parking our car nearby. none of the hotels have parking lots, but you can park in any spots in the streets for free. After dropping our luggage in the room, we followed the hotel’s advice to get dinner at Bisbee’s Table, just around the corner. (Everything in the historic core of Bisbee is pretty much just around the corner). I was expecting Bisbee to be a ghost town on a Tuesday night in February but it was actually rather packed with plenty of people.

My son and I shared a pizza, a salad, and a bread pudding ($55) We couldn’t finish it all so we took leftovers with us since our room has a mini fridge and a microwave.

~ End of Day 1 ~
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 10:19 PM
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Wow, what a full start for your trip. Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 02:10 AM
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It sounds like you are off to a great start. I will travel vicariously with you.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 06:44 AM
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I always enjoy reading your reports YK. Can't wait for more. You missed some cold days here back east....
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 09:04 AM
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Glad you enjoyed the Casa Grande. Looking forward to more!
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 07:02 PM
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Prebooking
Before I continue, I thought I’d mention entrance tickets that I had booked in advance. They range from months prior, to 1 week prior, to a day or 2 prior, depending on popularity

> 1 month in advance:
Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin West in-depth guided tour
Kartchner Caverns

1 week in advance:
Mt Lemmon Observatory SkyNights program
Queen Mine tour in Bisbee

1-2 days in advance:
Grandstand tickets for Tucson rodeo parade
Sabino Canyon electric tram
Tucson Rodeo

Apart from the rodeo itself, all the other attractions were sold out so we wouldn’t be able to get walk-up tickets. The first 2 are the most popular ones, the rest I checked availability once a week to ensue there were still plenty tickets left. I didn’t want to pay for tickets way up front in case we had to cancel our trip, as well as to keep our itinerary flexible. The latter was key because I ended up switching around our itinerary a lot.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 07:46 PM
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Day 2

Day 2 (Wednesday)
We have tickets for 9am Copper Queen Mine Tour, which I bought a week prior. For breakfast, we simply heated up last night’s leftover in the microwave, along with some k cup coffee provided, we were good to go. The mine tour is an easy 5-min walk from the hotel and we were asked to arrive 30 minutes early in order to check-in and sign a waiver form. The building has displays inside as well.

They had some technical issues that morning so our tour was delayed by over 15 minutes. Once we got going though, it was great. We each had to put on a hard hat, and given a flash light. Then you ride the “train” inside the mine. There are 2 stops, we learned about how minerals were mined in the late 1880s, and in the 1970s when the mine was finally closed. We learned about the miners, and the mules, and the electric carts. It was all extremely interesting and fascinating.

Originally I had planned for us to stop at the Bisbee historical museum, but given the mine tour was delayed, we had to skip the museum. We went back to our hotel room, got our luggage and checked out. We left Bisbee around 11am and drove to Tombstone.

At Tombstone, we headed straight to the O.K. Corral complex. Their gunfight and historama times were completely different than what was posted online. We got tickets for the 12 noon gunfight re-enactment, and found out the next historama is at 1pm. Some may say this is a total tourist trap but we are tourists anyway. Since neither of us knows much about the gun fight and Wyatt Earp et al, the re-enactment actually provided us with the backstory.

(I had thought about watching the movie Tombstone before the trip with my son, but it is rated R so we didn’t)

there is a lot of other displays in the complex to keep one entertained until it’s time for the 1pm historama. That was a bit boring and outdated… it was probably made in the 1980s. By the time it was done it was 1:30pm and we were starving! I suggested going to Longhorn Restaurant. My son wanted their pulled pork sandwich. Not knowing how big the serving is and how much he would eat, I got a bowl of soup myself. He really enjoyed the sandwich and ate almost all of it. Luckily my soup was a good size.

after lunch, we stopped in the Tombstone Epitaph office where we picked up a copy of the paper documenting the gunfight (included in the OK corral ticket). Inside the office there was old printing press, and also several information panel about Clum, the guy who ran the paper back in the 1880s. He lived quite an interesting life! We also walked down the unpaved Main Street which is closed to vehicular traffic. The town put in a good effort in keeping the buildings unaltered so the street looks like an Old West movie set.

we finally left Tombstone after 3 and arrived at our Airbnb in Tucson around 4:30pm. We then headed over to the grocery store Sprouts to get food supplies, Dinner that night was a kale and apple salad, and creamy potato soup.

~ End of Day 2 ~
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 03:28 PM
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Day 1 & 2 photos


Casa Grande Ruins

The mighty saguaro

Riding the train into Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee

Allen Street in Tombstone
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 07:07 PM
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Day 3

I forgot to mention our expenses on Day 2: Queen mine tour ($21); OK Corral ($20); groceries ($65)
All prices are for 2; most places have youth discounts, a few don't.

Day 3 (Thursday) — Yeehaw!

Today is the Tucson Rodeo Parade. I was going back and forth whether we would attend the parade and the Rodeo itself. In the end, we did both, because it's something we don't ever get to see in the Northeast. The Rodeo parade is in its 99th year and is the longest non-motorized parade in the country. All the floats, and carts and surreys and carriages are drawn by horses. I bought Grandstand tickets ($25) ahead of time, so that we can get seats and a decent view. Even though the parade starts at 9am, street closures begin at 8am, so we left our Airbnb by 7:15am, thinking we have plenty of time to get there (it was a 20-min drive). We ended up getting close to where we needed to be at 8am and there was lots of cars and street closures, so I ended up parking in a strip mall 2 long blocks away and walked over. When we arrived at the Grandstand, I overheard the staff turning others away who didn't have advanced tickets as it was sold out. Having said that, there was still plenty of room for people to line up along the streets nearby.

There was entertainment (music and dancing) before the parade started. The grandstand is also near the emcees with speakers so we could hear their commentary, describing each participants as they come through. I don't think I've ever seen so many horses in one setting ever! The parade went on for 90 minutes; towards the end we were getting tired of it but we also could tell it was winding up so we stayed till the end.

Also on our agenda that day is the Tucson Rodeo, but it doesn't start until 12noon (the kids rodeo) or 2pm (the pros), so we had some time to kill. I decided we would head to San Xavier del Bac mission which is only a short drive away. We got there just before 11am. They actually have a guided tour at 11:15am but I know my son would not be interested at all so we mostly just walked in, took some photos and left.

Then we had a dilemma. We could go to Titan Missile Museum (20 minutes away) but it is visited by guided tours only. I couldn't tell if there are still tickets left for 12 noon tour; the next one is not until 1pm. My son said we should still go; if 12 noon tour is full we can get lunch and return for 1pm tour.

We got to Titan Missile Museum at around 11:40am. My heart sank when I was told the 12n tour was no longer available. But the staff member (who is the 12 n guide) took pity on us, and since there were just 2 of us, he squeezed us onto the tour. The tour is really cool, being able to see the actual site, and the control room. The guide took pains to explain the chain of command should the US ever had to fire the missile, and the actual steps required to fire them. He then asked for 2 volunteers and he picked my son to be the deputy commander. Aren't we the luckiest that day?! He and the "commander" got to do the simulation and turn the keys to fire the missile. Afterwards we were led to the silo to view the shell of the missile itself. The tour lasted just under 1 hour, afterwards we drove back to the Tucson Rodeo, where I had bought tickets only the night before for the second cheapest-priced bleachers ($65).

Since we haven't eaten yet, we ate some overpriced foods at the stands ($27) before we went into our seats. The Rodeo has a strict policy of what you bags can bring in, and I managed to borrow a clear x-body handbag from a friend here specifically for the Rodeo. Many people were turned around at the gate being told they needed to leave their bags in the car.

Our seats were in section F, which I was pleasantly surprised by its location and its views. I thought they were significantly better than sections E&G ($2 cheaper), but just as good as the grandstand sections (A,B,C, which are $2-$7 more). It was 2pm by then which marked the start of the Pro rodeo; we had completely missed the kids rodeo prior to that.

For someone who have never seen a rodeo (us), this was pretty wild! We were really blown away by the skills of all the competitors, as well as all the staff on horsebacks. It was all very entertaining and impressive at the same time. We stayed until the last event but left early, since we didn't want to be stuck in traffic getting out of the parking lot. On the way home we stopped at Sprouts market again to pick up sushi for dinner, as well as a couple of sandwiches for lunch the next day ($30).

Last edited by yk; Feb 27th, 2024 at 07:09 PM.
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 12:44 AM
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After your usual very busy day, does food from Sprouts give you a quiet and relaxing dinner back at your lodging?
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 10:10 AM
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I always enjoy seeing what yk and her well-traveled son have been up to. Along for the rodeo
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 11:47 AM
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Following along and enjoying too. We were in Tucson a week before you. And you were right to avoid GC/Sedona if you didn't want to deal with snow. We drove through a storm to get to the GC and another bigger storm on our way to Sedona getting there just before the interstates and highways closed. It was beautiful though!
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 12:48 PM
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You had beautiful weather in Tucson,yk, before the rain storm arrived today. What was m-yk’s reaction to this trip? He is such a well traveled and lucky boy.
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 01:24 PM
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Enjoying your report! At the Titan Missile Museum, I volunteered my husband to “turn the key”. Growing up during that era, we found it fascinating.
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by dfrostnh
After your usual very busy day, does food from Sprouts give you a quiet and relaxing dinner back at your lodging?
Yes, esp since we got up really early that morning to go to the Rodeo Parade, it's nice to have a relaxing late afternoon/evening at home. Besides, we had to do laundry that evening at the apartment. I also was hoping to keep our meals to just one dining-out meal per day to save some money.

Originally Posted by HappyTrvlr
You had beautiful weather in Tucson,yk, before the rain storm arrived today. What was m-yk’s reaction to this trip? He is such a well traveled and lucky boy.
@ HappyTrvlr, I honestly thought it's sunny every day in Tucson! My son had a good time (and so did I!). There is such a wide variety of interesting things to see on this trip.

Originally Posted by MichelleY
Enjoying your report! At the Titan Missile Museum, I volunteered my husband to “turn the key”. Growing up during that era, we found it fascinating.
@ MichelleY, ha ha! On our tour there were quite a number of kids who all wanted to volunteer, so it was really pure luck that my son got picked!

Patty oh wow, i for sure wouldn't want to drive in the snow in unfamiliar places. No doubt it's beautiful. Hope you had a nice trip too

Last edited by yk; Feb 28th, 2024 at 05:11 PM.
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 06:51 PM
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Day 4

Day 4 (Friday) — from center of the Earth to out of this World!

When I first started looking through guidebooks on Tucson, one of the activities I noted is stargazing at one of the several observatories near Tucson. I didn't seriously consider them because of the driving distance (esp at night) and how late they end (my son's bedtime is 9pm!). However, 1 week before our trip, I brought this up with my son and he said he really wants to go. Moreover, his BFF's mom was trained as an astronomer and she had been to Mt Lemmon before and she said we should go.

So I looked up their website and booked our tickets for Sunday, which is our final night in Tucson, because of our schedule.

However, a few days later when I saw my astronomer friend, she gave me a link that shows how clear the skies are for Mt Lemmon (that astronomers use), and I noticed clouds were predicted for Sunday. I tried to switch our night to an earlier night in the week but they were all sold out. Now here comes my luck again! On Tuesday night when I rechecked their website, 2 tickets opened up for Friday (clear skies predicted) so i snapped them up immediately, and then asked for a cancellation for our Sunday tickets.

Hence, day 4 was another very long day for us. We got up early again (!!), packed our Sprouts sandwiches for lunch and drove 1 hour to Kartchner Caverns for a 9:45am tour ($36). We were advised to arrive 30 minutes early, which meant we were out by 8am.

[Side note: we could have visited Kartchner Caverns on Day 2 as we drove from Tombstone to Tucson, but we were being mindful not to wear the same clothes after visiting the copper mine that morning due to risk of transmitting white nose disease to the bats. Also, it would have been a very long day with very little time in Tombstone itself.]

There are 2 tours offered at Kartchner Caverns. I don't know which is "better" but I picked the Big Room tour mostly for the fact that Big Room is seasonal, whereas the Rotunda/Throne room tour is offered year-round. Big room tour is closed 6 months out of the year due to bats. I figured we should take advantage of visiting the seasonal tour. We got to the visitors center early enough to catch the 15-min movie before our tour. No belongings is allowed on the tour, no bags, no cellphones, no nothing. I had my boots sprayed with rubbing alcohol since I wore them on the mine tour. You get on an electric tram at the visitors center and take a 5-min ride up the hill to the cave entrance. We had an excellent guide for our tour.

Our next stop is a 45-min drive to Saguaro National Park East ($25 for a 7-day pass). It was 12:30pm when we arrived at the visitors center to pick up a map and the Junior Ranger booklet. Due to my mistake and misunderstanding, we wasted a good 45-min on our picnic lunch as we drove to the wrong picnic area. In retrospect we should have gone directly on the loop drive (1-way) and picnic at one of the stops. As a result of my mistake, we hardly had any time to hike. We stopped at Mica View but then we got on the wrong trail and wasted more time. We finished the loop drive and left Saguaro at around 2:45pm.

We were due at Mt Lemmon no later than 4:15pm. Google map indicated it's only a 1-hour drive, so we should have plenty of time, and we did. And it's a good thing we left ourselves some extra time because the drive up Mt Lemmon is quite pretty with lots of pull-outs for views! We stopped at 2, with one of them called the Windy Point where you can walk out to some big flat rocks for a fabulous view of the valley below. Finally we got up to the meeting point by the ski slope at 4pm. At >9000 ft, it's crazy to see there's snow up there and even a ski slope! The vegetation is completely different than the desert floor down below. We used the spare 10 minutes to put on extra layers in the car.

The Mt Lemmon SkyNights ($145) is run by the Mt Lemmon SkyCenter, part of University of Arizona. When you book, they repeatedly show warnings of cold temperatures and ask people to acknowledge that and bring warm clothing. We met our group and got transported up to the observatory in 2 minivans. Each tour has 28 people max.

Since the program starts 2 hours before sunset, it's still light when we arrived. We were given some overview of the various telescopes on top of the mountain, and they also let us look at a star that is bright enough to see in daylight hours. They also set up 2 solar telescopes for viewing the sun! After an hour or so, we were herded into the education center where we were distributed our dinner (sandwiches, included in the ticket price) while one of the 2 guides gave a lecture. Then we went back out, about 30minutes before sunset, and we each were handed a high-power binoculars. We then watched the sunset (did I mention we had completely clear skies that evening?) and were lucky enough to witness the green flash just before the sun disappeared behind the mountain!

Then we went back into the education center and had another short lecture as we waited for the skies to darken. Then we got back to the observatory, using both our binoculars and the 2 telescopes, to look at a number of entities in the sky. Given that it was full moon that night, the moon was extremely bright which made it hard to see objects that are dim. We saw pleiades, orion and its nebula, andromeda galaxy, a couple other constellations, jupiter and its moons, and finally at the full moon. Since there were 28 of us, it took a while for everyone to have a go at the 2 telescopes, so there's plenty of downtime sitting around in the cold. Luckily inside the observatory (open to outside), there is a warming room and I'd say half of our group spent most of their time in there. I had 5 layers on + hat/gloves/scarf and I was mostly okay but my fingers and toes were frozen. It was probably in the 30Fs at the mountain top. Sadly Saturn was below the horizon ... i'd love to see its rings. Overall, it was a very positive experience and my son loved it. We wrapped up around 9:30pm and got home around 10:45pm. I was a bit nervous about driving down the mountain on dark, curvy roads, but it was easier than I thought, esp since I was following a couple of cars. It probably would be more stressful if I were leading the way.

I definitely recommend this program and I can imagine why some people have gone more than once. I'd love to go back at a different time of year for different stars and constellations.

~ End of Day 4 ~
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 06:59 PM
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Day 3 & 4 photos


Start of the 99th Tucson rodeo parade

San Xavier del Bac mission

Looking down the Titan II missile in its silo

Vista point on Mt Lemmon

32-inch Schulman telescope (the largest telescope available to use for public)

Just after sunset

Details of moon via the Schulman telescope (you can see the craters, esp at the top)
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Old Feb 28th, 2024, 08:23 PM
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Kartchner Caverns are amazing. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary hill. Underground, spectacular!
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Old Feb 29th, 2024, 01:07 AM
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What luck to have Y-MK's bff's astronomer mom recommend the observatory and encourage him to look forward to it. Sounds like a terrific event. Hope you get to see Saturn's rings sometime.
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Old Feb 29th, 2024, 03:38 AM
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It sounds like a fantastic night and lucky you got to do it with clear skies.

in the future, if you get the America Beautiful pass for the National park properties you might save a little money and time when you plan on visiting three or four of them during the next year.

if your parents are along they can get the lifetime senior pass which lets everyone in the car in.
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