5 Best Photo Opportunities in Tucson

by Charles Redner, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Nov 10th 2010 04:08 PM

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Photo Opportunities Tucson

Lee Van Grack

Tucson is Arizona's second largest city with a population of over one million, including some 50,000 students who attend the University of Arizona. A part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853-54, the "Old Pueblo" has the look and feel of a modern city surrounded by the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert and draped in charms of its Native American and Mexican heritages. From the tip of Mt. Lemmon to the top of Kitt Peak National Observatory and everywhere in between, there are plenty of photo opportunities Tucson offers for everyone.


1. The Romantic Photo: The Santa Catalina Mountains at Sunset


Scenic, bustling Tucson is surrounded by mountains, and the Santa Catalina, Ricon, Santa Rita, Tucson and Tortolita ranges are visible from almost any location for 360 degrees.

Like vampires, lovers emerge from hiding at sunset to view the 9,100-foot Catalina Mountains along Pusch Ridge. The ridge is located on Oracle Road (State Highway 77) and is visible for almost 20 miles heading north from the intersection of Ina and Skyline Roads, a major east/west thoroughfare. Beautiful views are all around, and along the 20-mile stretch there are numerous excellent photo opportunities Tucson offers. For close-up photos of the family, move off the highway into the Catalina State Park, just six miles north of the intersection of Oracle and Ina Roads.

Catalina State Park
11570 North Oracle Road
Tucson, AZ 85737
520-628-5798
Office hours: 8AM-5PM daily
Park is open 24 hours
Admission is $7 per vehicle and $3 for bicycles and motorcycles


2. Quirky Spot: Titan Missile Museum


Driving 25 miles south of the city on Interstate 10, you'll find the Titan Missile Museum. Take the Green Valley exit off the I-10 and head south on I-19 to get to this quirky, fascinating museum. Duval Mine Road, and the museum will be on your left. The fun begins when someone is seated in the launch chair. The docent will instruct the person to turn the key and press the red button. When the claxon squawks and bells ring, the designated family photographer can snap away as the "launch commander" is momentarily startled, believing that they have just fired a nuclear missile.

Titan Missile Museum
1580 West Duval Mine Road
Sahuarita, AZ 85629
520-625-7736
Hours: 9AM-4:30PM daily (tours on first-come, first-served basis)
Admission: Adults, $8.50; Seniors 62+, $7.50; Children 7-12, $5.00


3. Family Fun Spots: Old Tucson Studios and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum


Old Tucson Studios and the Desert Museum are located 12 miles west of downtown Tucson, off of Interstate 10. Exit the Interstate at Speedway and head west on Gates Pass Road to the first stop sign.

Old Tucson Studios

Turn left into Old Tucson Studios, where you'll find many Old West attractions including where John Wayne frequently "shot 'em up." A spot that no photographer can resist is the stand-up, open coffin in front of the sheriff's office. Place the family member of your choosing in it and shoot away. Remember, the "dead" are best photographed unsmiling and eyes closed.

Old Tucson Studios
2021 North Kinney Road
Tucson, AZ 85746
520-883-0100
Hours: 10AM-4PM Mon-Fri (weather permitting), Tues and Wed are tour-only days
Admission: Adults, $16.95; children 4-11, $10.95 for full admission; Tues and Wed are $8.75 for adults and $5 for children 4-11. Kids under 3 are free every day.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

A right turn out of Old Tucson Studios and a few miles of road brings you to the entrance of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Walk fifteen feet from the ticket window for a panoramic view of the entire complex – perhaps one of my most favorite photo opportunities in Tucson. Photograph the javelinas (native wild pig-like animals) strolling along the path, go eyeball-to-eyeball with the prairie dogs or photograph the bighorn sheep in their natural habitat. The museum boasts over 300 animal species, 1,200 plants, a hummingbird habitat and a walk-in aviary, plus all the natural wonders of the desert. Some 500,000 annual visitors make this place one of the most popular attractions in all of southern Arizona and one of the best places for travel photography in Tucson.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
2021 North Kinney Road
Tucson, AZ 85743
Hours: 8:30AM-5PM (Oct-Feb), 7:30AM-5PM (Mar-May), 7AM-2:30PM (Sun-Fri from Jun-Aug), 7AM-10PM (Sat from Jun-Aug), 7:30AM-5PM (Sep). No admission 45 minutes before park closes.
Admission: Adults are $9.50 from Jun-Aug and $13 from Sep-May; children 6-12 are $2.25 from Jun-Aug and $4.25 from Sep-May; kids under 6 are free.


4. The Scenic Spot: Sabino Canyon Recreational Area


Another great spot for travel photography in Tucson, Sabino Canyon, is located where Skyline Road dead ends in the east. It is a photographer's paradise, where the desert meets water. The flora, fauna and natural beauty of Sabino Canyon must cover refrigerator doors all over the world. It is a place for both hardy and not-so-hardy nature lovers. A paved road leads up from 2,800 to 3,300 feet, which can be hiked or traversed seated on a tram. Trails also lead a few more miles into the canyon from the tram's numerous stops. The canyon is scenic Tucson at its finest.

Sabino Canyon Recreational Area
5900 North Sabino Canyon Road
Tucson, AZ 85750
520-388-8300
Hours: Office is open 9AM-4PM daily, and park is open 24 hours a day. Shuttle runs weekdays every hour on the hour and weekends every half hour.
Admission: A day pass to the park is $5


5. Classic Spot: Mission San Xavier del Bac


The Mission of San Xavier del Bac was founded as a Catholic mission in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Construction on the current church, known as the "White Dove of the Desert," began in 1756. The mission is considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, and has been named a National Historic Landmark.

Visible from Interstate 19, nine miles south of Tucson, the Mission is a working Catholic church. Attending Mass at the Mission takes one back hundreds of years. Most parishioners are Native Americans of the Tohono O'odham nation, but services are open to all visitors.

In addition to using the most breathtaking, scenic structure in all of Tucson for a backdrop, visitors are allowed to take photographs of interior paintings of saints and Catholic symbols.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
1950 West San Xavier Road
Tucson, AZ 85746
520-294-2624
Hours: 8:30AM-5PM daily (except when the church is reserved for weddings or special services); museum at Mission is open 8:30AM-4:30PM
No fees for admission, but donations are accepted.


Charles Redner is the author of Down But Never Out, a biography of middleweight boxing champion Joey Giardello and his son Carman, born with Down syndrome. Read his blog on Red Room.

If you are interested in contributing to AOL Travel, join our network of writers and check out travel assignments on Seed.com.

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