In a region with more than 350 days of sunshine a year, it’s not surprising that many of Arizona’s artistic attractions are also outdoor experiences. Tucson, the state’s second-largest metro area, is home to galleries, gardens and other spots where you can enjoy the sun with a heaping dose of local culture. Here’s how:
Late Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia lived and worked on this 10-acre site in the foothills of north Tucson, creating more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and other works. The property now includes his former home and gardens, as well as a gallery that shows a large selection of the prolific DeGrazia’s artistic output, ranging from his earliest creations to his final pieces. Also on the site is the Mission in the Sun, an adobe church that DeGrazia and several friends constructed in 1952. It’s now a National Historic Landmark. Wander the gallery and grounds on your own or call ahead to book a 90-minute tour, where you’ll learn even more about the artist’s life and work.
Located 16 miles west of downtown, this popular outdoor attraction is part botanical garden, part natural history museum and part art gallery. As you stroll the two miles of walking paths, you’ll wend past towering saguaro cactus and more than 1,200 other types of Sonoran desert plants. Enter the hummingbird aviary, and the petite birds will flit around you, or check out the cat canyon, where bobcats, porcupines and foxes prowl (or snooze) among the rocks. Docents lead morning bird walks and interpretive tours; you might see guides with snakes wrapped around their arms as they introduce visitors to local reptiles. The museum’s Ironwood Gallery exhibits art of the hanging variety that focuses on the natural environment.
If you’re interested in native art, history and culture, visit this small private museum, located near the town of Dragoon, an hour’s drive east of Tucson. Amateur archeologist William Shirley Fulton and his wife, Rose Hayden Fulton, established the Amerind Foundation after settling on this Texas Canyon land in the 1930s. The foundation funded archeological and ethnological research throughout the Southwest and Mexico, and the Fultons began creating what is now the Amerind Museum. Today, in Spanish Colonial-style buildings designed by Tucson architect Merritt Starkweather, the museum houses a significant collection of objects showcasing Native American cultures, from South America to Alaska; next door, the Fulton-Hayden Memorial Art Gallery exhibits Western-themed art. While the galleries themselves are indoors, you’ll want to explore the walking paths behind the museum, with their backdrop of striking granite boulders. The grounds, where Rose once raised horses, also make an excellent setting for a picnic. Note: The museum will be closed through August for renovations.
A hummingbird garden, an oasis of desert palms and a large collection of cacti are just a few of the natural attractions in this lovely botanical garden on the city’s north side. Extending over 49 acres, Tohono Chul is a sculpture park, too, with artworks arranged along the walking paths. Duck indoors to the park’s gallery, where the rotating exhibits showcase Southwestern culture and terrain (the travel-inspired “Hit the Road” collection runs through August 3), or follow the nature trails through the desert landscape. Choose from a variety of tours that each focus on a different aspect of the garden environment, highlighting wildflowers, birds, reptiles, edible plants or the art.
Traditional Western music is alive and well at this unique performance center set in the woods of Ramsey Canyon. Arizona’s official state “balladeer,” the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Dolan Ellis, established the Arizona Folklore Preserve to help protect and perform songs and stories of the Western states. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, the preserve hosts a “cowboy concert,” featuring traditional and contemporary Western musicians, from harmonica virtuoso Gary Allegretto to the Ronstadt Generations (with Linda Ronstadt’s brother Michael and his two sons). Ellis himself continues to perform once a month as well. The Arizona Folklore Preserve is 80 miles south of Tucson, outside the town of Sierra Vista. Before or after the concert, make time to follow the forested trails of the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve just up the road, especially if you’re a birder. With more varieties of hummingbirds than anywhere else in the country, the canyon is known as America’s hummingbird capital.
Photos Courtesy of Visit Tucson and Rhonda Spencer