Educational Tour

A new kids' book details Arizona's mini-vacation hotspots

Summer vacation may already be over for some area kids. But for those who have not yet returned to classes, if Mom and Dad hurry, there's still vacation time left to take advantage of some of the awesomeness found in this volume. And if the little darlings have already traded in their tennies and tees for backpacks and books, there are always weekends or teacher-planning days to work in a trip to one of these mini-vacation hotspots.

Awesome Places for Curious Kids features 20 Arizona family-adventure destinations that merit about five pages of detail each. With so many awe-inspiring places to visit throughout the state, it's surprising that Tucson and Southern Arizona capture editorial coverage with eight of the 20 sites. The authors, Diane Liggett and James Mack, are Arizona residents who share a strong interest in what they call "authentic destinations" that involve the preservation of natural and cultural resources. That means you and the kids can learn something at each one of these stops. Liggett is a scientist and Mack a wildlife biologist; they have a combined 40 years of experience in natural and cultural history education.

"Arizona is a rich and interesting state," they write, "offering explorers a variety of interests from history to wildlife watching. Each destination has a tale to tell and a memory to make. The most important ingredient for a successful family adventure is imagination, and many families continue to return to these newly discovered destinations to recapture the spirit and warmth of those memories."

In addition to some standard highlights like Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks, Sunset and Meteor craters, and the White Mountains, the authors write enthusiastically about goodies in our own backyard--Kitt Peak, Kartchner Caverns, Tumacacori, the Chiricahua National Monument, Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Pima Air and Space Museum and Bisbee's Queen Mine--all within short driving distances from the Old Pueblo.

Each destination is covered in a variety of ways, including Travel Log directions, Discovery Zone descriptions, and a Back-in-Time-Line thumbnail sketch of the human history of each site. For instance: If you visit the town of Bisbee and its Queen Mine, you'll learn that a century ago, miners could go days and weeks without ever seeing sunlight, because they worked through endless cycles of drilling, blasting and hauling ore cars full of rock to the surface--all for the princely sum of $3.50 a day. For a bit more than their day's wages, you can suit up to enter the mine in a rain slicker (average temperature 47 degrees, with prevailing conditions usually damp) and hard hat with a battery-powered miner's lamp. You'll board the single-file Trolley Motor rail line that takes you 1,500 feet into the mine on narrow rails--a far cry from the early days when mules pulled ore cars through dim candlelight, hoping to avoid the occasional accidental dynamite explosion.

If you like underground adventures (and humidity up to 99 percent), Kartchner Caverns State Park beckons, 50 miles east of Tucson on the way to Sierra Vista. For thousands of years, surface water has dissolved limestone into deposits of calcite layers, slowly carving out a limestone labyrinth now known around the world. The 60-foot-tall Throne Room holds contemporary cave explorers spellbound. An exhibit displays evidence of prehistoric cave life, such as the remains of an 86,000-year-old Shasta ground sloth, uncovered by paleontologists.

If you prefer above-ground adventure under blue skies, Kitt Peak National Observatory offers 22 optical telescopes, more than any other place in the world. This is a beloved hot-weather venue, because the higher elevation temperatures are often 20 degrees cooler than Tucson lowlands. Or try the Pima Air and Space Museum, which celebrates more than a century of history since the first flight at Kitty Hawk by exhibiting some 250 examples of the most important aircraft. The oldest airplane in the collection is a 1929 biplane. One of the newer models is a Boeing B-52A that climbs to 45,000 feet above the Earth before releasing its companion X-15 rocket plane, which continues to an altitude of 217,000 feet.

Chiricahua National Monument and Saguaro National Park will amaze the senses and calm the soul with examples of Northern Sonoran desert flora and fauna. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, with ground-level and underground viewing stations, offers views of many of our local critters, from bighorn sheep to mountain lions.

Note to Mom and Dad: This book is a handy reference guide for parents who like to combine fun with learning for their kids.

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