I've been to Arizona a handful of times - Phoenix, Flagstaff, Sedona - with a trip or two to the Grand Canyon in the books. But over Labor Day weekend this year, I took my first trip to Tucson, and discovered that this little desert college town is not to be overlooked when visiting Arizona.
Tucson doles out the fun before you can even get there. On the drive from Phoenix to Tucson, yours truly saw a sign for The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Farm and promptly pointed and shouted the words on the sign like a proud five-year-old. My friend (who was driving) sensed my obvious excitement and asked if I wanted to go. I played it off like I was too cool to stop at what was an obvious roadside tourist trap, but when she asked, "Are you sure?" I gave in. We pulled off the highway, paid our $7 for "critter feed" and made our way to the animals.
The best surprise of all - there weren't just ostriches! I had the pleasure of hand-feeding adorable donkeys, deer, goats, ducks, parakeets and sheep. I did NOT hand feed the ostriches because they are SCARY. They come at your with their open mouths and their big eyes and their vacuum-tuble-like necks and it's easy to get a little freaked. Not to mention that they're essentially just large, feathered modern-day dinosaurs. For fear of losing a finger, they got their food through a little PVC pipe in the fence into a trough in their pen.
So...then we actually got to Tucson! I was staying with my friends in grad student housing on the University of Arizona campus. The best part of my weekend could have been that I felt like I was in college all over again. We went out to the campus bars that night where a margarita was $5 and a beer was $3, and that giant fishbowl margarita with a full beer upside down in it cost the same as what a regular, normal-sized cocktail would in LA. It was incredible. U of A was awesome and their bar scene was top-notch (I'm certified to rate bar scenes, I went to Ohio U).
What surprised me the most about Tucson was Mount Lemmon. I had always thought of Tucson as Phoenix's little sister, a desert city with dust and cacti for miles. But just an hour away from the university campus sits the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Mount Lemmon. At just over 9 thousand feet, the foliage at the mountain's peak is far different than the arid desert below. As we wound up the mountain road we watched the saguaros disappear entirely only to be replaced by giant evergreens and colorful forest flowers.
We hopped out for a brief hike at the top of the mountain to enjoy the mild temperatures and the mountaintop views. I kept thinking about the odd fact that as I stood on top of a mountain covered in greenery, everything I looked down upon below was desert. I was standing on a giant desert oasis.
Eventually, we came down from the mountain - but not before stopping at the Cookie Cabin - where we stopped for a lunch pizza by the slice and cookies the size of your head. It was a dream come true.
Between the Cookie Cabin, Mount Lemmon, the bar scene and the surprise Ostrich Farm, I was so pleasantly surprised at what Tucson had to offer. I came expecting to spend the weekend as a college student again, exploring a new town and its nightlife, but I left with so much more! I was surprised with luscious greenery, ostriches, cheap drinks, and the blessing of a dodged hangover. That's a win-win-win in my book.