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Tucson Botanical Gardens is a major tourist attraction in the city that's not meant just for plant lovers. Apart from a rich collection of cacti and desert wildflowers, the gardens offer an educational walk around the history of the native Tohono O'odham Indians and the efforts of local scientists to preserve native seeds. Don't miss the wonderful Nuestro Jardin, the traditional Mexican-American neighborhood garden, or the shaded restaurant patio.
The locals commonly refer to this high elevation peak, located just west of downtown, as "A" Mountain because since 1915, University of Arizona students have whitewashed the letter "A" on its eastern slope. Its history, however, goes much further back: it was at the foot of this mountain that the earliest traces of human settlements in the Tucson area were found. The top of the mountain offers one of the best panoramic views of the Tucson basin, as well as a few BBQ grills.
Starting at the intersection of Campbell and River Road, this park along the Rillito River is essentially a scenic trail suitable for walkers, joggers, and bikers. You will find the riverbed dry most of the year, so you'll be able to actually walk in the river; but beware of flash floods, especially during the summer monsoon months. The trail offers several pleasant stops with benches, trees, playgrounds and drinking fountains.
Of all the natural attractions in and around Tucson, Sabino Canyon is certainly the most popular. This large chasm in the Santa Catalina Mountains is where ancient Hohokam people built irrigation dams while mammoths roamed the ground. Access is free, but there is a charge for parking. Highlights are swimming (conditions allowing) in clear pools after a six-mile (ten kilometer) hike to Seven Falls and summer evening shuttle rides (paid for by pre-paid reservations). Sabino tram and bear shuttles rides are available.
Pima Canyon rivals Sabino Canyon in grandeur, and it just never gets as crowded. From the parking lot at the end of Magee Road, the trail takes you into a pristine high-desert canyon that seems to be hundreds of miles from any urban area. You're likely to see most of the birds common to the Sonoran Desert such as cardinals, rock wrens and band verdins, but the real treat for any hiker is to watch the silhouette of a golden eagle soaring above the cliffs; if you're really lucky, you might even spot some Bighorn Sheep high on the rocks above you. You can turn around anytime, or decide to continue the strenuous hike all the way up to Mt. Lemmon.
Located about 12 miles north of the city on Arizona Highway 77 (Oracle Road), this park affords the best views of the canyons and domes of the Catalina Mountains. A multitude of birds, snakes and lizards inhabit the lower regions, while deer and bighorn sheep roam the high country. The park offers an interpretive trail of an ancient Hohokam village. Picnicking and camping facilities are also available on a first-come-first-served basis.
At 9,159 feet (2,792 m), Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The mountain is part of the Coronado National Forest, where giant Saguaro cacti tower and a variety of desert vegetation blooms year around. The mountain is also home to the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which is used by the University of Arizona. Crowned by the dainty town of Summerhaven, this mighty mountain is traversed by a tapestry of windblown roads as well as the serpentine Catalina Highway. A hiking and camping wonderland, Mount Lemmon proudly watches over the enchanting desert landscape that unfolds along its lap. The Seven Cataracts and Windy Pointe Vista are some of the best vantage points on Mount Lemmon, offering incredible panoramas of Tucson.