Are you looking for things to do in or near Tucson, Arizona off the beaten path? While there are several things to do in Tucson like spend a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, there are other places near Tucson off the beaten path that are also worth experiencing, like Kitt Peak National Observatory and Biosphere 2.
Tucson Off the Beaten Path
From studying the stars and solar system at Kitt Peak National Observatory to studying the ecosystem at Biosphere 2, there’s plenty of new things to learn by visiting both places. I recently purchased Groupons for Kitt Peak National Observatory and Biosphere 2 and my family and I enjoyed our visits to both places for different reasons.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Kitt Peak National Observatory is located approximately 1 – 1/2 hours away from Tucson. It contains the most telescopes in the world, although telescopes are now being constructed in Chile and Hawaii. I must admit that I had never been to Kitt Peak National Observatory prior to this visit. It was something I had considered, but the distance seemed to be a deterrent. However, as the saying goes, better late than never. Kitt Peak is extremely interesting, especially if you are a fan of astronomy. Our Groupon included a guided tour of three of the many telescopes on site. The timing of our visit worked out – we were able to take the last guided tour of Kitt Peak’s solar telescope. Our guide (aka docent) told us that a new solar telescope is being set up in Hawaii.
The docents are extremely knowledgeable. One of the docents explained to us that there are several telescopes on site with different functions. We were even able to see one up close. She also pointed out to us someone from NASA who is at Kitt Peak, studying the moon’s foundation. And for those who are interested in astronomy, she told us that there are free viewings on Friday and Saturday nights at a store in Tucson called Starizona.
I do think that the guided tours are geared more for older children. While my son is interested in the the solar system, he started getting antsy during the tours. So we ended up walking around on our own. I also recommend taking your lunch or at least snacks to tide you over for lunch since Kitt Peak is isolated. You’ll also want to wear comfortable walking shoes – there’s a lot of walking involved.
Biosphere 2 is tucked away in the desert, located north of Tucson. It’s primarily known as the place where 8 scientists lived for 2 years (and the inspiration for the movie Biodome with Pauly Shore!). But there’s more to it. The purpose of Biosphere 2 is to scientifically examine how different ecosystems, like a rainforest, an ocean, and a savanna, can exist.
Like Kitt Peak National Observatory, there are different tours available. The Family Tour is geared towards children ages 12 and younger and lasts approximately 1 hour. My son liked that it’s interactive. For example, he was able to hold a hermit crab during the tour and he was also able to make a sunprint. It is all very fascinating and well worth the visit if you’ve never been. Also, admission is free for children 5 years old and younger.
Experiments are still ongoing at Biosphere 2. For example, scientists are limiting the water in the rainforest ecosystem to see how the rainforest reacts in that situation, because of the concerns of global warming and the recent trends they are seeing in the rainforests of the world.
Biosphere 2 really is a unique place to visit, but prepared for a lot of uphill walking. I wasn’t sure if my son would enjoy it, but I was pleasantly surprised!