If you're moving to Southern Arizona, you might be a little bummed out. I'll admit that when I first laid eyes on my new home, I was quite depressed at the lack of greenery. But after two years at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, I found a new appreciation for the region, in no small part thanks to the many nearby attractions.
There's one small caveat, though. Arizona is BIG. Everything is so annoyingly far apart, so you'll definitely need to do a lot of driving to see all of these sights I've listed below. But I guarantee that exploring Arizona's natural beauty and historic marvels will fill your time in the Grand Canyon state with memories to last a lifetime.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Southern Arizona, whether you are stationed at Fort Huachuca, Davis Monthan AFB, or Yuma Proving Ground. I've also included hyperlinks for the official websites for each attraction to better assist your planning.
Disclaimer: I was only stationed at Fort Huachuca, so these locations may be slightly farther from Tucson of Yuma. Nevertheless, they are still worth the trip!
This eccentric mining town boasts a bustling art scene along with its many historical sites. Dive into local history at the Copper Queen Mine Tour or the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, or check out one of the many small art galleries in town. You can also brave the famous Bisbee 1000: sets of staircases all around town that are decorated with amazing murals and artwork. Once a year the Bisbee 1000 challenge is held, where people come from all over to run the stairs, but you can actually try any part of the 1000 at any time.
There's nothing quite like the sight and sound of 20,000 sandhill cranes flying together above a scenic wetland in Southern Arizona. In the winter, these beautiful birds migrate to the area to feed and roost, offering visitors a chance to experience nature up close from October to March. Whitewater Draw provides a great place to picnic, observe wildlife, or go on a walk. If you are a nature and animal lover, this is the spot for you!
This highly educational (and highly scary) facility offers a unique glimpse into our military's not-so-distant past. Tour one of America's many Cold War era missile silos, learn about how they were maintained, and get a peek of the enormous Titan Missile. If you're like me, you can then whip out big words like "mutually assured destruction" whenever you want to scare people or impress them with your knowledge of weapons of mass destruction!
Since Spain's arrival in the New World in the 15th century, what is now the Southwestern US has been a product of the convergence of Spanish and Native American cultures. This is perfectly represented in the small but historic Tumacacori National Historical Park, which is home to the ruins of an 18th-century Franciscan mission. Here, Spanish missionaries and priests attempted to westernize and convert members of several Native American tribes, resulting in many conflicts and leaving lasting cultural impacts.
Ok, this one's kind of a gimme. Everyone knows ABOUT Tombstone; the famous OK Corral shootout was immortalized in the movie that bears the same name as the town. But to actually BE in "the town too tough to die"...well, it's actually pretty much just like what you would imagine it to be. There's a main street with a bunch of wild west style shops and restaurants, museums about the history, and of course, there's always people walking around dressed like cowboys. Plus, several festivals and special events throughout the year offer exciting parades and reenactments.
If you're up for a nice hike, Coronado is the place for you! Not only are there numerous trails through the mountains (including one where you can see over the Mexican border) but you can also climb down into the creepy Coronado Cave and explore! If you want the TRUE experience of being inside a cave (without the guides, paved walkways, and stairs) but also don't want the TRUE experience of being inside a cave (with the super hard to climb rocks and swarms of bats) then this will be perfect for you. Plus, there's a nice visitor center with small displays on Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition into the present-day Southwestern U.S. for all the history buffs.
Another amazing NPS-run natural wonder, the Chiricahua Mountains house some magnificent rock formations and hiking trails. The entire range is the largest mountain range in the Arizona "Sky Islands," and certainly does not disappoint when it comes to natural marvels. Definitely a must-see for outdoor adventure enthusiasts!
One of the things that stood out to me here was the delicious Caesar Salad at the museum restaurant. Apart from that, though, the museum houses 400 historic aircraft displayed in six massive hangars, plus outdoor exhibitions. From dinky little prop planes to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, there's a vehicle for everyone! Plus, there are tons of history displays that put the aircraft in context. And did I mention the Caesar Salad?
The ASDM impressed my family so much that we bought an annual membership! Their website describes the museum as a "fusion" of zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, and aquarium, which I can personally say is quite true. It's a very cool experience to walk through an actual desert habitat and see coyotes, javelinas (kind of like wild boars), and roadrunners in their natural habitats on the "desert loop trail" (bring water!). Plus, there are mountain lions, bobcats, bighorn sheep, bears, and so many other animals housed in scenic enclosures. You can also learn about Arizona's beautiful gems and minerals in the indoor portion. Overall, the museum is beautifully designed, with the plants, animals, and displays coming together to create a grand experience. You'll probably need a couple of visits to see everything.
This beautiful limestone cave boasts wide-open walkways surrounded by towering stalagmites and bats, all perfectly preserved thanks to the extensive safety measures taken by Caverns staff. The massive "Kublai Khan" formation also has an accompanying light show when you reach the end of the tour, which is kind of cool. Plus, there is an awesome visitor center with videos and displays regarding the cave's discovery and natural history. The only downsides about this site are 1. it's expensive, and 2. they don't let you take pictures.
Despite its rugged first impression, Arizona is home to so much history and natural beauty that can be found if you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. Its cultural heritage stemming from Mexican, Spanish, Native American, and the Wild West create a unique blend of tradition that shapes the very character of the region. If you're moving to Southern Arizona or live there currently, I hope you are able to visit some of these places and truly experience the Grand Canyon State firsthand.