Staying Cool & Touring Pima County, Arizona
Golfing, Caves, Museums, Missions & Missiles
Story & Photos by: Ed & Fran Stone
Pima County, Arizona has outstanding attractions for visitors to enjoy and learn about missions, missiles, desert life and many other entertaining and educational aspects. Tucson is the second largest city in the State of Arizona. The city is located in Pima County covering some 9,189 square miles and a population close to 1 million. The county is named after the Pima Native Americans who are indigenous to this area. The area typifies the Old West and conjures up images of cowboys from old western movies. This is where many of those movies were made back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
Recently, GoGolfandTravel.com toured the area and found a couple of great golf courses and several attractions we thought our readers would enjoy. We’ve also produced a short YouTube video to better illustrate this article at the end of this story.
As an overview, we found it very interesting that Pima County contains parts of the Tohono O'odham Nation, as well as all of the San Xavier Indian Reservation, the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Ironwood Forest National Monument and Saguaro National Park. This Southwestern portion of Arizona is steeped in history, rich culture and interesting attractions that appeal to most any taste.
Casino Del Sol Resort
Our accommodations were at the Casino Del Sol Resort some 13 miles from downtown Tucson and 10 miles from the Tucson International Airport. This 215 luxurious room property opened in 2013. The casino opened in 1994 and offers some of the most spacious gaming areas outside of Las Vegas. The hotel has deservedly earned the Forbes Four Star Award as well as AAA’s Four Diamond Award. This beautifully designed resort has everything you could possibly want, including an 18-hole golf course (more about Sewailo Golf Club later), Hiapsi Spa and Fitness Center, Prema Lobby Lounge, Festa International Buffet, PY Steakhouse, Ume Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar. For conferences, Casino Del Sol Resort offers more than 65,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor function space to accommodate up to 2,000 guests. The outdoor pool offers the Oasis Pool Bar. We might add that the staff and service was impeccable.
Casino Del Sol Resort
5655 W. Valencia Road, Tucson, AZ 85757
For our golfer addicts, there are two courses in Pima County we had time and opportunity to play. Crooked Tree and Sewailo, both very different but most enjoyable and challenging.
Crooked Tree Golf Course
Crooked Tree Golf Course at Arthur Pack Park opened in 1977 and is an outstanding 18-hole championship desert course. The course was designed by Dave Bennett and Lee Trevino and features beautifully created holes with mountain and desert vistas. Offering a complete practice facility including putting greens, chipping green and driving range, Crooked Tree also has a full service restaurant, outdoor patio and banquet facilities. The 7,000-plus yard course compromises a little of everything from rolling greens to cacti in the rough. There are three ponds for irrigation and allowing six holes to come into play either across or near the water. Crooked Tree provides a magnificent backdrop during any season offering a rare and spectacular view of all four of Tucson’s majestic mountain ranges. Crooked Tree has been the home of the Pima County Amateur championship for 30 years, co-hosted the Southern Arizona Open with Tucson National and was the PGA Tour’s Tucson Open qualifying course for twelve years. You would think water hazards would not come into play in this part of the country. Well, at least five of the 18 holes have water that can or does come into play. There are three water basins on the course used for irrigation. The layout allows for excellent use of these small lakes, making the course much more enjoyable and challenging. Crooked Tree has a 71.8 rating, and 130 slope making it a pleasure to play by the intermediate and scratch golfer. The Tucson area enjoys a wealth of other golf courses worth checking out when you visit.
Crooked Tree Golf Course
9101 N. Thornydale Rd., Tucson, AZ 85742
Sewailo Golf Club at Casino Del Sol Resort
Early 2012, Tucson’s Pascua Yaqui Tribe announced the newest amenity to the Casino Del Sol Resort…Sewailo Golf Club. This has become one of Tucson’s most popular resort golf courses featuring an 18-hole championship layout. Opening in December 2013, it is called “Sewailo,” meaning “flower world” in the Yaqui language. Unique…because it is the only golf course in the World designed by a Native American, PGA tour professional, Notah Begay III.
Begay was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and graduated from the Albuquerque Academy. He attended Stanford University where he was a three-time All-American and a teammate of Tiger Woods. He was a member of Stanford's 1994 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship team and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in 1995 from Stanford University. After graduation, Begay turned professional in 1995. He has been a player on the PGA Tour, a commentator on NBC television and The Golf Channel. Begay is a full-blooded Native American; he is one-half Navajo, one-quarter San Felipe and one-quarter Isleta.
Ty Butler worked closely with Begay in designing and routing the Sewailo course. Butler is from a small Kansas town. Upon earning a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Kansas State University in 1990, Ty joined the firm Robert Trent Jones II. During his 20 years at RTJ II, his skills and experience as a golf course architect were refined working on projects around the globe. His designs are thoughtful and respectful of the natural environment combining the highest standards of strategy, playability and aesthetics to create truly memorable golf courses. A few of his courses include: Kaluhyat Course at Turning Stone Casino Resort in Venora, New York, Sunday River Golf Club in Newry, Maine, Sequoyah National Golf Club in Whittier, North Carolina and Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, North Carolina…there are many others.
Spencer Cody, Sewailo’s PGA Head Golf Professional describes this beautiful layout. “Sewailo is blessed with large lakes, flowing streams, waterfalls and plush landscaping blending with the desert environment creating a wonderful ‘oasis’ effect. The course transitions through both desert terrain and the oasis environment, while taking full advantage of the surrounding mountain views to create an exciting and unique golfing experience. The course winds seamlessly through gently rolling terrain, with a mix of wonderfully strategic holes combining a full range of shot values and aesthetics. The course is designed to be challenging, memorable and enjoyable for players of all levels.”
“Sewailo, in conjunction with the recently opened Casino Del Sol Resort, is a unique opportunity to showcase the beauty and tradition of the Pascua Yaqui community,” said golf course designer Notah Begay III. “I’m delighted to see this project come to fruition and confident the golf course will serve the Pascua Yaqui community for generations to come.”
The par 72 course stretches from 7,283 from the tips to 5,209 for the forward tees. Sewailo has 9 sets of tees…five for the men and four for the women. The longest is Onyx (M-73.5/138) and the shortest is Copper (L-69.6/123). This truly is one of the most open, challenging and beautifully landscaped golf courses you’ll find in Arizona. It makes playing in the desert a pleasure.
Sewailo Golf Club
5655 W. Valencia Road, Tucson, AZ 85757
Our attractions tour took us to the newest of underground discoveries, Kartchner Caverns in Benson, Arizona, about 45 minutes southeast of Tucson. Kartchner was discovered in November 1974, by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. The land was owned by the Kartchner Family, thus the name of this stunning limestone cave boasting world-class features. The Arizona State Parks purchased the land and opened the first section of the cave in November 1999 and the second portion in November 2003. The “live” cave is home to a wide variety of unique minerals and formations. Visitors have a choice of two different cave tours as well as exploring the visitor center and exhibits. The fast food-type restaurant is called the Bat Cave Café. You can also enjoy hiking trails, a garden and a very nice campground. Since this cave is still developing, extra precaution is taken to the point that visitors cannot take photos inside the caverns, in part to protect the growing formations, which can be harmed by the flash thus causing algae growth. Visitors are not allowed to touch anything while touring the cave.
2980 Arizona 90, Benson, AZ 85602 Phone: 520- 586-4100
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Colossal Cave Mountain Park is a beautiful 2,400-acre desert park. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and showcases the crystal-filled Colossal Cave and historic La Posta Quemada Ranch. You can spend a full day at this wonderful wonder of Arizona…tour the cave, browse the museums, sluice for gemstones, hike, picnic, take a real Western trail ride, or try an Adventure Tour! Colossal Cave is dormant allowing photos to be taken inside and you are encourage to touch certain areas within the attraction. Colossal Cave has been known by man since at least 900 A.D. when the Hohokam Indians began using it for shelter, storage and as a shrine. Artifacts indicate that it had other Indian occupation over the years. It became known by Anglos in 1879, apparently was used by train robbers in 1887, went through years of exploration by just many and finally protected in the early 20th century. The first tours were taken in 1923 and involved ropes and lanterns (women were advised to wear bloomers for the tours). In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the current tour route, opening passageways, creating bridges, hand-laying flagstone walkways and installing handrails—all of which are still in use today.
An interesting side note about the two very different caves. Kartchner was formed about 20 thousand years ago by water seeping down from above causing acid-bearing minerals in the water to dissolve out the passageways. Colossal’s passages were formed 60-80 million years ago by the upwelling of hot sulfuric (acid-bearing) brine. Only about 10% of the world’s caves were formed in this way. In both Caves, the stalactites and stalagmites and other formations were created in the same way, by mineral-bearing water seeping down from above and depositing crystal.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Next on the attractions tour agenda was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum some 14 miles west of Tucson. A beautiful drive to reach this incredible place in the desert. The 21-acre museum has a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden. The museum was founded in 1952. The animal collection currently includes 230 native mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds including a multi-species hummingbird aviary. Here we found and experienced top quality interpretive displays of living animals and plants native to the Sonoran Desert region. They’ve recently added an aquarium that is first-class. We visited a delightful and most educational program called, “Live & (sort of) on the Loose” featuring Gila monsters and rattlesnakes of Arizona. There are numerous places to find relief from the heat, in case you are there during the summer season. Our lunch was taken in the Ocotillo Café and it was the best garden chicken salad ever served…delicious! This is a not to be missed attraction with two miles of walking paths, 16 individual gardens, 1,200 native plant species and 56,000 individual plants in all of Arizona.
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
2021 North Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743 Phone: 520-883-1380
Although we did not visit Old Tucson Studios due to the fact it operates on a seasonal schedule(October thru May), we wanted our readers to know we could see in the distance the Old Tucson Studios where many western movies were filmed. More information on shows, attractions, and special events is available at www.OldTucson.com or call (520) 883-0100.
San Xavier del Bac
San Xavier del Bac is one of those attraction gems you feel good about experiencing. This beautiful active Franciscan mission is located about 10 minutes from the Casino Del Sol Resort. The more than 200-year old mission is on the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation and has been labeled the “Sistine Chapel of North America.” The pristine exterior and intricate interior have undergone careful restoration and garnered national attention in recent years. San Xavier Mission is one of Southern Arizona’s most prominent and important historic landmarks. Along with the majestic saguaro, the Mission is one of the most recognized icons of the region, bringing tens of thousands of visitors annually from around the world. Truly a place you will want to include on any visit to this area.
San Xavier del Bac
1950 West San Xavier Road, Tucson, AZ 85746
Titan Missile Museum
The Cold War is recognized between 1947 and 1991. However, between 1963 and 1987, the Titan Missile Museum was one of America’s most top-secret places. This location was known as Titan II missile site 571-7. Today it is a first-class museum and National Historic Landmark. We took the one-hour guided tour and saw the 103-foot tall Titan II missile in the launch duct, visited the launch control center, experienced a simulated launch, and more!
The feeling one has in coming face-to-face with the largest land-based missile never deployed by the United States is awesome. This is the only site still in existence of the 54 Titan II sites that were “on alert” during the Cold War. As part of the one-hour guided tour, we saw both above ground and underground facilities. Topside we viewed the 103-foot missile from the top down standing directly on top of the launch duct. Then we descended 35 feet underground, making our way through heavy, yet easy-to-move blastdoors weighing 3 tons each. Arriving in the launch control center, we experienced a simulated launch of the missile. Lasting 58 seconds from key-turn to liftoff, the launch sequence is a chilling demonstration of the awesome responsibilities abided by the Titan II crew members. Later, we walked down the long cableway connecting the launch control center to the silo. In the silo, we had a close-up view of the missile from less than ten feet away.
Over two decades ago the States of Kansas, Arkansas and Arizona were littered with nuclear missiles ready to be deployed at a moment's notice. Fortunately, this never happened! In 1981, by order of President Ronald Reagan, all 54 of these missile silos were to be dismantled and abandoned by 1987. But what most people don't know is that one still remains in the desert south of Tucson. This is the only one not abandoned after it was hollowed out and still stands in tribute as a piece of history and as a museum.
Titan Missile Museum
1580 W. Duval Mine Rd., (I-19, exit 9 West)
Sahuarita, AZ 85629
Phone: 520- 625-7736
The vast amount of quality, entertaining, educational and enjoyable attractions and golf courses in Pima County is worth considering when planning your next vacation or long weekend getaway. These are just a few that we had time to experience. Let us encourage you to check out the Pima County Attractions website to discover all there is to see and do around the Tucson, Arizona area. We think you’ll be pleased.