Okay, I’ve got you halfway through your dog-friendly visit to Tucson, with an introduction to the desert and our quirky — in that it has no river — river walk. This finishing lap adds a bit of local history. I know, dogs live in the moment, but they’ll like these forays into the past because they take place outdoors and, in one case, involve meat.
In my last post, I left you in the Trader Joe’s across the street from St. Philips Plaza — not a bad place to be stranded — buying picnic supplies for your visit to…
1pm … Catalina State Park. I might ordinarily recommend Saguaro National Park West to Tucson newbies; it’s a bit closer to my chosen dinner destination for this evening and a classic local attraction. However, even leashed dogs are not permitted on trails in the park, only on the paved roads shared with automobile traffic. So this gave me an opportunity to send you to a wonderful patch — well, 5493 acres — of pristine desert that’s off the beaten tourist path. Its lures include an ancient Hohokam ruin on an abandoned ranch compound. Read about the Romero Ruin interpretive trail and other state park activities here.
Moral bonus points: Arizona’s state park system is strapped for cash and only the most popular parks will continue to be funded. By coming here with your dog you’re helping to keep Catalina State Park open.
Alternatively, if it’s too warm for a midday walk and your pup is water- (and other dog-) oriented, head instead to Christopher Columbus Dog Park, Tucson’s first off-leash dog park and still its largest, with lots of shade ramadas and an agility course. It’s part of a larger park with a lake that is, theoretically, off limit to canines. Tell that to the many dogs you’ll see splashing around and shaking themselves off happily at the shore.
Another advantage to this option, especially for those who want to cut down on their driving: It’s directly en route to my dinner pick.
5:30pm Where better to chow down after a hike or romp in the dog park than a casual steak and rib house with outdoor tables? L’il Abner’s, on the site of a 19th-century Butterfield Express Stage Coach stop, fits the bill to a T-bone. Although the city has encroached on this once remote setting, when you’re sitting out under a canopy of stars, listening to live country or bluegrass music (weekends only), it’s still easy to imagine you’re in the Old West. Keep your dog close by you — that shouldn’t be difficult while you’re enjoying your steak — because the outdoor mesquite grill smells mighty enticing.
9am After you’ve had breakfast and checked out of your hotel, it’s time to go downtown to the Presidio Trail — an easy two-mile loop that’s sometimes called the Turquoise Trail because its 23 historic sights are linked to one another by a painted blue line (which looks, in spots, like it was applied by a drunk on a unicycle — but your dog won’t notice or care). At this writing, the link to the online printable version of the Presidio Trail isn’t working, but you can write ahead or drop in for a map at the Tucson Visitor Center, which is an excellent source of information of all kinds.
Plaques detail the sites, among them the Spanish Colonial-style Pima County Courthouse (1929) with its striking cerulean mosaic dome; El Tiradito, a folk-art shrine to a pair of star-crossed lovers; and the Hotel Congress, built in 1919 as a railroad hotel. In 1934, two members of John Dillinger’s gang holed up here until a fire forced them out. This led to the eventual capture of the famed outlaw — and to an annual celebration of Dillinger Days at the hotel.
The Hotel Congress is also home to the Cup Cafe, where you and your pup can sit out on the patio and get an omelet to order or, perhaps, eggs with biscuits and andouille sausage, fortifying you for your journey home. Yes, it’s time to head for the airport if your canine companion is small enough to travel in the cabin — and if that’s the case, check out the excellent DogJaunt.com for tips on the best carriers (airlines) and carriers (bags) — or for the freeway, in which case GoPetFriendly.com can help you plot out your route and find places to stay along the way.
Update: I just learned Loews Ventana Canyon Resort & Spa, my recommended lodging, is running a Pumped-Up Pet special, to help you get your pudgy pup — and you — back in shape. Love it!