As they enter the massive brick building, visitors pass the Watercarrier, a curved bronze statue that lends a first glimpse at a staggering collection of ancient and modern Native American works. Established in 1893, the Arizona State Museum celebrates and records Southwest Indian cultural history with more than 3 million objects, including a collection electrified with more than 25,000 pieces of woven basketry, more than 300,000 catalogued archaeological artifacts, 500,000 photographic negatives and original prints, 90,000 volumes of rare titles, 6,000 maps, 1,500 feet of archival documents, and more than 1,000 sound recordings. The collection forays out onto the museum floor in exhibitions such as Ancient Architecture of the Southwest, where striking photographs frame some of the crumbling archaeological ruins of 1,000-year-old cliff dwellings set against a rugged desert landscape while tastefully photoshopping out the ancient satellite dishes. The Pottery Project spans 2,000 years of Native ceramics with more than 20,000 whole pieces and a lab for hands-on pottery testing. Using artifacts, life-size dioramas, and film, Paths of Life explores the history and contemporary lifeways of ten Native cultures, including those of the Yaqui, O?odham, Apache, Navajo, and Hopi.
Museum staff further engage visitors in events that range from talks with museum curators and Native artisans to learning expeditions, which invite guests to tag along with museum and university archaeologists to survey nearby sites, immersing them in the scientific dig experience nearly as effectively as watching Indiana Jones with your nose to the screen. Educational outreach for public-school and university students immerses them in camps and workshops. At the Native Goods museum store, visitors browse a stock of books alongside basketry, jewelry, carvings, and textiles crafted by artists from Yaqui, Hopi, and other nations.
Nearly a half century ago, horticulturist Harrison G. Yocum opened his backyard to the public, displaying a bounteous collection of cacti and palms. After a few relocations, expansions, and the establishment of a nonprofit charter, Tucson Botanical Gardens now spreads 17 distinct plots across more than 5 acres. A delicate rumble hearkens the arrival of the Garden Railway miniature train, which winds through gardens uniquely dedicated to birds, butterflies, wildflowers, and traditional Native American crops. Admission—which is free for garden members and children younger than 3—grants passage to five different tours, and groups of 10 or more can arrange self-guided or docent-led tours at a discounted rate. If visitors awaken their appetites by savoring aromas from the onsite herb garden or by staring at clouds shaped like canned goods, they can dig in at the Gardens' Café, where sun spills through a slatted gazebo onto iron tables loaded with roast-beef baguettes and mexican tortilla soup.
Elemental Artistry's performers play with fire for a living. Blending the fluidity of dance with a theatrical sense of spectacle, the troupe—which includes an NBTA gold-medalist baton twirler—whirls flaming props into fiery vortexes, dazzling spectators at events ranging from the Tucson Celtic Festival to the sweet sixteens of local volcano gods.
In addition to more than 150 performances since 2007—some of which have earned print and television attention in the Arizona Daily Star and on KOLD News—troupe members teach their craft in workshops and classes that lead students of all ages through movements, such as poi spinning, staff and baton twirling, and hula hooping, using unlit props, at least to start. The art form's constant movement and careful coordination can help to tone muscles, awaken ambidexterity, heighten kinesthetic awareness, and occasionally open interdimensional doorways. Elemental Artistry's dance architects can also develop flame-free spectacles using props ablaze with LED lights.
There’s little left in Tucson to suggest that back in the mid-19th-century the city served as the Southwest’s hub for highway robbers. But it's a fact that the area hosted a string of stagecoach holdups and served as the starting point for Wyatt Earp’s infamous vendetta ride. At the Arizona History Museum, relics stand testament to this harrowed past, including an original Concord stagecoach, not unlike those whose occupants were forced to surrender their valuables to roadside brigands. The museum doesn’t only explore infamy, though; it illuminates all the forces that took part in Tucson’s transition from Paleo-Indian hunting ground to Spanish colonial outpost to the commercial center it is today. Exhibits cover this vast span of time creatively, including a full-size replica of an underground mine that provides a glimpse into early-20th-century working conditions, hands-on exhibits that recall the day-to-day lives of Native Americans, and archaeology displays that detail the surrounding environment's history over the past 4,000 years.
Over the years, the University of Arizona’s athletic teams have been linked together by one phrase: “bear down.” Now the official battle cry of the Wildcats, those were the dying words of an iconic student-athlete, John “Button” Salmon, who died in 1926 after a fatal car accident. Since then, the phrase has stood behind countless milestone moments, such as when Lute Olson, in 1983, became the 11th head coach of the Wildcats men’s basketball team, setting off a string of 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances—including a national title in 1997. Several other national titles belong to Arizona outside of the hardwood, including four from the men’s baseball team and eight from the women’s softball program. Every fall inside Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats football team rouses up to 56,000 fans with hard-hitting Pac-12 showdowns, by far the most popular event on campus behind the linguistics department’s weekly phonetics bee.
As the sun rises and illuminates the jagged Sonoran Desert with rose-colored light, colorful hot-air balloons rise into the sky right along with it. This scene occurs seven days a week from September to May during Tucson Balloon Rides' one-hour sunrise floats. Soaring with the morning's easy wind currents, FAA-certified pilot Kevin Wilbur ferries passengers for 10 to 15 miles at altitudes between 500 and 4,000 feet over the cacti forests of Saguaro National Park West and the shrub-covered flatlands of Avra Valley. While gliding over the Tucson Mountains, he also points out important sites as well as deer, foxes, and coyotes. After a gentle touchdown, Captain Kevin and guests enjoy a champagne toast and brunch. If the voyage inspires anyone to become a hot-air-balloon pilot or a cloud, he can also help them earn their private or commercial pilot license with his training program.