Best Of Tucson®

Best Recreation Area in Southern Arizona

Mount Lemmon

READERS' PICK: When Coronado brought his group of Spanish explorers to Southern Arizona nearly 500 years ago, they were in search of gold. Local residents do the same each summer, seeking relief from the triple-digit temperatures on the valley floor. Mount Lemmon used to be one answer--head for the high country and beat the heat. This year the Lemmon got squeezed and it's not a case of life giving you lemons and you making lemonade. This has been the summer Tucsonans largely did without the respite usually provided by the Catalina Mountain coolness. For now, find another spot to recreate in. Or join the kids in splashing in a backyard wading pool.

B-SIDE: Our favorite overnight trip in Southern Arizona is to the much-ignored Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The two-and-a-half-hour drive through the Tohono O'odham Nation is as beautiful as any in Arizona. Organ pipes are the spectacularly large cactus that inhabit this 516-square-mile preserve. It is best seen in summer thunderstorms and spring wildflower season. Two graded dirt roads of 21 and 53 miles are suitable for car travel, but one might be more comfortable renting an appropriate sturdy vehicle in Tucson. A campground is available as well as backcountry hiking permits. This is a good place to bring some music and fall asleep listening to Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony or Holst's The Planets. If camping is not your style, stay at the comfortable Guest House Inn in nearby Ajo.

B-SIDE: Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main. Here's the drill: To reach Patagonia Lake State Park, drive I-19 south toward Nogales and turn left, or take I-10 to Exit 281 and go south on Highway 83 before turning right. Either path will take you to Southern Arizona's largest watering hole, the 265-acre lake contained within a 600-acre state park. There's a fee required to get through the gate, more money needed if you want to camp in newly renovated sites. If you want to shell out more bucks, fishing licenses are available and there are boats to rent. A walk over the popular arched bridge or a splash in the roped-off swimming area are free. Wildlife watchers will spot a lot of birds and deer that come to the shoreline to drink. No fee for these, either.

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