Arizona's cool caves

Swap AC for subterranean temps at Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Tim Vanderpool

To reach Colossal Cave from Tucson, take E. Broadway Blvd. east to Old Spanish Trail, then go south 17 miles. 520/647-7275.

Cranking up the artificial cool is one way to escape the heat this month. But for those sick of seeking refuge at the movies or the mall, there's Tucson's Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where it's always a balmy 70°.

It worked for the Hohokam and Sobaipuri Indians ― and frontier outlaws ― who used to summer inside the dark, twisty, and indeed colossal sanctuary.

Wander among impressive calcite formations erupting from the ground and hanging from the ceiling. Then venture out into the light, where there's a historical museum, wildlife-filled homestead, and nearby national park to explore. (Best by car ― windows up, and that AC on.)

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

What: Easy 45-minute guided tours 80 feet deep into the earth. Aboveground, there's an educational museum lined with cave-dweller paraphernalia like arrowheads and Hohokam pots, plus oral histories at a button's touch, shady picnic grounds, and a working ranch, where desert tortoises roam and butterflies flutter among flowering shrubs. When: Open daily through mid-Sep. How much: $5 per car, $8.50 extra per person for cave tours. Where: 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, east of Tucson.

Saguaro National Monument Rincon Mountain District

What: Eight-mile Cactus Forest Drive winds along saguaro-studded bluffs with views of the 7,049-foot Tanque Verde Peak. (Allow 45 minutes.) A midpoint pull-off provides a fab photo opp ― and there are 150 miles of trails for hiking through the Sonoran Desert and into the Rincon Mountains. When: Open daily. How much: $10 per car. Where: 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, 10 miles north of Colossal Cave; 520/733-5153.

 

Baggin's Gourmet Sandwiches

What: Made-to-order sandwiches perfect for picnics. Try the Sundown ― turkey with cranberries and herb stuffing ― and grab a couple of Choc-a-holic brownies too. When: Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat. How much: $. Where: 5056 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson; 520/327-8718.

El Charro Café

What: Killer carne seca paired with even better icy-cold margaritas to end the day. When: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sun. How much: $$. Where: 6310 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson; 520/745-1922.