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Best Weekend Adventure

Best Weekend Adventure

Mount Lemmon

READERS' PICK: Just a two-hour drive (more or less) from Tucson's city center, this favorite peak of the Santa Catalinas awaits. There's something for all manner of outdoor enthusiast: a harrowing but rewarding climb for road cyclists; scenic pullouts for out-of-town shutterbugs; and myriad trails for day-hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers and rock climbers. We may harbor mixed views of the recently widened Mount Lemmon Highway, but there's no disputing that it's more convenient than ever to take advantage of this pine-top haven from the heat of the increasingly congested Tucson basin (for a nominal fee). Perennial water in the driest summer, wildflowers in spring, blazing yellow autumns and snowy winters make Mount Lemmon a weekend adventure for all seasons. Just don't feed the bears. Take Tanque Verde Road east to Catalina Highway (approximately one mile east of Bear Canyon Road).

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: The historic mining town of Bisbee was home to more than 60,000 during its heyday in the late 19th century--a diverse population of Mexican, Welsh, Serbian and Russian miners, to name just a few.

These days, Bisbee's mostly thought of as a latter-day hippie and artist town full of crumbling Old World charm tempered by the ghostly influence of its Wild West boomtown past. Tucked away in a narrow canyon of the Mule Mountains, temperatures usually stay 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert. Must-see attractions include the Lavender Pit Mine, the narrow, café- and gallery-lined streets of Old Bisbee, and the historic and renovated Copper Queen Hotel. The string of saloons along Brewery Gulch also draw a lot of visitors. But for the real Bisbee experience, tour the Queen mine: Decked out in yellow slickers and miners' helmets, tourists take a rickety ride on a mine cart right into the side of a mountain to witness what mining was really (sort of) like for one-time practitioners of this dangerous trade. Bisbee hosts a variety of festivals, bike races and artists' gatherings throughout the year. Call the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce (1-520-432-5421) for current information.

A REAL SCREAM: Sandhill cranes have been around for millions of years; the Willcox Playa, a seasonally dry lake bed some 60 miles east of Tucson on I-10, has existed for only a few thousand years in its present form. The cranes dig the place, no matter how recent its pedigree. Every January thousands and thousands of them stop in on their way north to their breeding grounds in the northern Rockies and Alaska. Canadian geese, snow geese, and other waterfowl join their riotous celebration, which the local chamber of commerce has branded Wings Over Willcox. It's well worth a sunrise visit to see these magnificent birds in flight.

A REAL SCREAM: A few years back, the refuge administration experienced a moment of confusion about the true purpose of wildlife refuges and developed some 100 primitive campsites along miles of back roads throughout the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. Refuge Headquarters has a map showing the approximate location of each one. They're set in a variety of habitats, from grassland to riparian forest, and offer privacy and quiet. If you find it too private and quiet, it's a short hop into Arivaca where the refuge has two luscious nature trails rumored to be a bird-watcher's paradise.

Case History

1998 Winner: Mount Lemmon
1996 Winner: Mount Lemmon
1995 Winner: Bisbee

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