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Christmas in Tucson – Pandemic Style

Last updated May 27, 2021 | Published on Feb 11, 2021

After relaxing for a month on South Padre Island, Daniel and I were ready for change. We missed the West Coast and planned to make our way to California. On our way to the Golden State, however, we decided to stop and spend Christmas in Tucson. I haven’t spent much time in Arizona before, except for a couple of trips to the Grand Canyon. I was looking forward to seeing some Saguaro cacti and wandering through desert landscapes.

And that, dear readers, is how Daniel and I ended up spending Christmas in Tucson, Arizona (and New Years, too). We rented a small but comfortable condo in East Tucson and settled in for the holidays.

Saguaro National Park

We chose Tucson as our base of operations because of its proximity to Saguaro National Park. Home to the nation’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections. The eastern section is located in the Rincon Mountain District to the east of Tucson, and the western section is on the opposite side of the city. Our condo was strategically located only a 10-minute drive from the park’s eastern entrance which was quite convenient.

I’ve never seen saguaro cacti before, so Daniel and I were thrilled to spend some time getting to know these magnificent plants. We visited both sections of the park and spent hours wandering among the cactus forests.

For more details about our experience, check out my Saguaro National Park Itinerary post.

Welcome to Saguaro National Park!

Beautiful desert landscape along the Mica View Trail

The view from Cactus Forest Drive in Saguaro National Park East

In which Unicorn discovers her inner cactus. Photo by Daniel.

Javelina Rocks in Saguaro National Park

Your Appa photo of the day

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Wanting to mix thing up a little, I looked for another natural area to explore. Nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has over 30 miles of hiking trails. Located on northeast the edge of the city limits, it’s a popular place to visit – especially now when many indoor activities remain closed. I only planned to visit the Recreation Area once, but came back a second time because I enjoyed it so much.

For more details about our experience, check out my Two Easy Sabino Canyon Trails near Tucson, Arizona post.

View of Sabino Canyon overlooking some day use shelters. The Sabino Dam is in the distance.

Hiking along Sabino Lake Trail #30

There was hardly any water in Sabino Lake during our visit. The area has been undergoing a significant drought for quite a while.

Hiking in Sabino Canyon. Photo by Daniel.

Selfie time!

San Xavier Mission

One afternoon, Daniel and I drove ten miles south of Tucson to the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. Our destination was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission founded by Catholic missionaries. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church was completed in 1797 and features baroque architecture.

We didn’t go inside of the Mission during our visit, although it is still in use as a church to this day. Just seeing it from the outside was impressive in and of itself.

San Xavier Mission

Another view of San Xavier Mission

Grotto Hill at San Xavier Mission. This area is closed to the public.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

The folks at San Xavier Mission would like to remind you to wear a mask during your visit

Be safe! Be holy!

Vista del Rio Archaeological Park

Daniel and I stumbled upon the Vista del Rio Archaeological Park (also called the Vista de Rio Cultural Resource Park) one afternoon when wandering around the neighborhood. Although not terribly large, the park provides a nice break from suburban sprawl.

Created through the efforts of neighborhood residents, the park preserves the remains of a Hohokam village that was occupied from A.D. 950 to 1150. During the time the site was occupied, the native Hohokam lived in semi-subterranean dwellings clustered into household groups. The site is one of the largest prehistoric sites in the eastern Tucson basin.

Vista del Rio Architectural Park (aka the Vista de Rio Cultural Resource Park)

The Vista del Rio Archaeological Park park preserves the remains of a Hohokam village, although there’s not much to see above ground

Santa Catalina Mountain range in the distance behind the park

Seasons greetings from Vista del Rio

Christmas in Tucson… plus a birthday!

This is our second year celebrating Christmas on the road. Last year we celebrated Christmas in Bucharest, Romania. Not being able to see family again this year was hard, although this time it was because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

So we made the best of it. We trimmed a fake plant in our condo with festive decorations and set up Zoom calls with our families.

I celebrated my birthday in Tucson this year too. It was a much quieter affair compared to last year’s madcap pub crawl in Istanbul. But still just as nice. I started the day with a solo hike and then ate way too much yummy gluten-free cake and played Animal Crossing: New Horizons on my Nintendo Switch.

We decorated this fake plant which made for a surprisingly great Christmas Tree. Photo by Daniel.

I went for a solo hike on my birthday at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

This gluten-free chocolate cake was *really* good.

We spent the rest of my birthday binge-watching the Hobbit movies while I played Animal Crossing New Horizons on my Nintendo Switch. Good times!

Tucson Mountain Park

Daniel and I drove through Tucson Mountain Park on our way to Saguaro National Park West. I would have loved to spend more time here as it has miles of hiking trails and incredible views.

We stopped to watch the sunset on our way back to our Condo in Tucson. Truly lovely.

Enjoying the views from Tucson Mountain Park

Daniel strikes a pose at Tucson Mountain Park

Climbing on rocks at Tucson Mountain Park. Photo by Daniel.

We returned to the park at dusk to watch the sunset.

Watching the sunset. Photo by Daniel.

Daniel watches the sunset.

Sunset at Tucson Mountain Park.

More Information and Resources

Planning your own trip to Tucson? Check out the following books for more inspiration:

Where are we now?

We are in Tucson! In this photo, we are watching the sunset from Tucson Mountain Park.

Dates: December 20-January 5, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Days 169-185
Location: Tucson, AZ
Total Trip Mileage: 10,360.1

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


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