Thanks for coming along on our whirlwind tour of Tucson. A month zooms by quickly these days, especially with as many interesting things to see and do as we found in Tucson. Which, of course, means that we didn’t make it everywhere we intended.
Three ‘must see’ places we had visited previously didn’t make it onto the 2022 itinerary – Saguaro National Park, Biosphere II and Tucson Botanical Garden – but all are wonderful. Click here for a 2019 blog post about those attractions.
Arizona History Museum
Bill has always been a history buff, but me not so much. I didn’t mind a quick walk-through of a museum now and again but couldn’t be bothered with reading the display boards. Not sure what changed, but now I relish the opportunity to learn about the past – people, places, events and artifacts. Most everything is brand new information to me, and the stories are jaw-dropping when viewed through the lens of my own life experiences + current times.
A word of thanks to the teams who put together these outstanding collections (all museums, not just this one). We appreciate all that you do in bringing amazing stories to life, and by doing so, helping people like me to broaden and enrich our lives.
The small Arizona History Museum had limited hours – only open Tuesdays through Saturdays between the hours of 10 and 2 – so we had to plan ahead. Once there, we thoroughly perused the exhibits in a couple of hours. We found three to be especially engaging.
The first examined the life and legacy of Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior and medicine man who led a resistance movement against the U.S. Army in the 1870s and 1880s. The photo below shows Geronimo (far right) and fellow warriors sometime during this time period.
Geronimo was captured in the late 1880s and lived the rest of his days (another twenty years) in captivity.
This thoughtful exhibit portrays Geronimo’s story from multiple angles, including the Apache perspective as conveyed to the curator by his descendants. Well done!
The second exhibit of particular interest was about Barry Goldwater, one of Arizona’s most famous native sons. Known outside the state primarily for his high profile in American politics, he served as a U.S. senator for 30 years and ran (unsuccessfully) as the Republican presidential candidate in 1964. While many embraced his ultra-conservative principles, others were alarmed.
This exhibit, however, wasn’t about politics. Rather, it highlighted Goldwater’s many other interests, activities and accomplishments, all of which was new and intriguing, at least for us.
Barry Goldwater was:
- An early river guide, serving as oarsman on one of the earliest commercial river trips through the Grand Canyon in 1940.
- A distinguished pilot for 55 years, flying for the U.S. Army Air Force during and after World War II, and flying for fun as a civilian whenever he got the chance.
- An aficionado of Hopi kachina dolls – his collection of 437 was donated to the Heard Museum in Phoenix in 1969.
In addition, he was an accomplished amateur photographer, primarily focusing on Western landscapes plus Hopi and Navajo people living in northern Arizona. Hundreds of his photos were featured in Arizona Highways over the years, and his work was displayed in over 250 exhibits across the U.S. and Europe.
In 1967, Mr. Goldwater captured the photo shown below in Monument Valley – “where a person can spend months traveling without doubling back and see something new every hour of the day.” Indeed!
Finally, Barry Goldwater was an avid ham radio operator, beginning in the 1920s and continuing through the mid-1990s. After his death, his home radio setup was donated to the Arizona History Museum, where staff members painstakingly and successfully matched, moved and reassembled all 450 pieces.
I found this part of the exhibit to be especially interesting, likely because my dad was a ham radio operator during my growing up years.
And finally, we found ourselves engrossed in a brand new exhibit at the museum:
The exhibit consisted of handmade quilts memorializing migrants who lost their lives trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico through what’s known as the Tucson sector – 262 border miles running from Yuma County in western Arizona eastward to the New Mexico state line. There were 20 quilts – one for each year beginning in 2000.
The numbers are staggering – nearly 3,500 recorded migrant deaths in the past 20 years. Most died from exposure in the unforgiving environment.
Jody Ipsen conceived the quilt project while hiking remote migrant trails and collecting items that had been left behind. She recruited volunteers to create quilts of their own design from the fabric of discarded blue jeans, bandanas, work shirts and embroidered cloths. Most quilts included names of those who died, with unidentified victims referred to as descondidos.
I have photos of three:
Powerful and sad. Click here if you would like to see pictures of all 20 quilts and read more about the project.
This history museum was much smaller than those in other states such as Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon. Although we were disappointed in the quantity and breadth of exhibits, the quality was excellent. (In all fairness, the Arizona Historical Society sponsors three other history museums across the state that we haven’t visited yet, but they all seem relatively small.) Fingers crossed that the enterprise continues to expand – there are no doubt many compelling stories just waiting to be shared.
Arizona State Museum (ASM)
The modest name of this remarkable place doesn’t begin to convey who they are, their raison d’être or the expansive scope of their activities and accomplishments.
ASM was created in 1893 by the Arizona Territorial Legislature as a repository for the collection and protection of archaeological resources. Officially part of the University of Arizona, it’s the oldest and largest anthropology research facility in the American Southwest.
The museum overall possesses over three million catalogued items, but the vast majority are available only to researchers and the like. The public exhibits, though small, are exquisitely designed and packed with information.
I’ve included a few photos of the baskets on display. Not great photos, unfortunately – too much reflection from the glass display cases. But hopefully you can appreciate not only the beauty of the items themselves but also how well they are showcased.
By the numbers, the museum owns:
- 525,000 photos
- 300,000 archaeological artifacts
- 100,000 books and journals
- 40,000 ethnographic objects
- 35,000 baskets and fiber samples – some are 7,000 years old
- 20,000 ceramic vessels – some as old as 2,000 years
- 6,000 maps
- 4,000 vertebrate specimens representing 600 species
- 1,200 microfilm reels of Spanish colonial documents
- 1,000 sound recordings
- 250 one-of-a-kind movie films
This 1913 photo by John Wetherill caught my eye – Theodore Roosevelt and his son Quentin quenching their thirst while on an expedition to Rainbow Bridge in the backcountry of Utah.
It was tough to get decent photos, so I gave up and simply focused on the experience. But here are a few additional shots from the mask and pottery rooms.
ASM is very approachable, and you can see it all in 2-3 hours, unlike other fabulous museums where you’re exhausted at the end of the day and realize you’ve barely scratched the surface. A great way to spend a morning if you’re in the area.
By the time we opted to spend a month in Tucson this past winter, suitable vacation rentals (size + amenities + cost) were all booked. We had basically given up but decided to take one last peek, and it was our lucky day. A house in the Catalina Foothills had just become available on VRBO after the original renters needed to cancel. So we pondered it for about 30 seconds before hitting the “We’ll take it!” button.
Turned out great! The mid-1970s home could use a few updates, but it was spacious and everything worked as advertised. The best part, however, was the neighborhood. The low profile single-story homes on large lots blended seamlessly into the surrounding desert landscape.
It wasn’t uncommon to see bobcats passing through our yard, or a squadron of javelinas – we saw nine on one occasion. And the birds were amazing any time of day but were especially vocal in the mornings. We could identify a few – cardinals, blue jays, Gambel’s quail, roadrunners – but many others were unknown to us.
The neighborhood was perfect for taking daily walks – endless options for exploring with enough ups and downs to get a good workout. Here are a few photos:
I looked forward to this neighbor’s joke of the day taped to the back of a stop sign:
And there were, of course, the obligatory sunset photos capping off yet another perfect day.
Yeah, we loved it. Bill wanted to make an offer to purchase our rental house, even though it wasn’t for sale. We didn’t, but we’ll definitely be back!
Loving every tale. But the quilts and reason for memorializing breaks my heart.
Very intense. You could hear a pin drop in the room as visitors moved from one quilt to the next. Such an enormous tragedy.
So glad you got to see the quilt exhibit – wish we were able to see it in person but appreciate you sharing it with us!
Thanks for the heads up about it – not sure we would have tracked it down on our own.