This dramatic desert preserve just north of Tuscon is a nature lover's dream
Tuscon's in-the-know nature lovers eagerly awaited the 2001 opening of Oracle State Park Center for Environmental Education, a quiet, 4,000-acre preserve in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Now everyone else is catching on about Oracle's oak-dappled trails, stunning views, and the historic Kannally Ranch House. Traipse through the cool desert park, home to javelina and Cooper's hawks. Tour the Mediterranean-style house, then picnic on its broad veranda, with views of the mountains and San Pedro River Valley. Later, pull over in the sleepy, eclectic town of Oracle to explore its shops and galleries.
Oracle State Park Center for Environmental Education is 35 miles north of Tucson, in the northern foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. From Tucson, head north on State 77/Oracle Rd. to the Oracle exit (milepost 100). Take the road through town and turn right on Mt. Lemmon Rd.; follow signs into the park.
Nature Trail Loop. Stroll among golden junipers, soon-to-be-flowering marigolds, and views of the rugged Galiuro Mountains. Of Oracle's 15 miles of trails, this 1.2-mile loop is a favorite. INFO: $6 per vehicle; 3820 Wildlife Dr., Oracle; www.azstateparks.com; 520/896-2425.
Kannally Ranch House. The Kannallys were known for hosting great parties, and their four-level 1930s home was built to accommodate. The family donated the property in the 1970s as a wildlife preserve. If you've got a thing for birds, reserve a spot on a guided walk with birding expert Jerry Orr. Bring the binocs for the roughly 2-hour tour. INFO: Kannally House guided tours 10 a.m., 2 p.m. Sat-Sun; guided bird-watching walks 8 a.m. Sun (free with park entrance, but call ahead for reservations); www.azstateparks.com; 520/896-2425.
The Station. A lively local hangout, with lattes and organic produce. INFO: 1395 W. American Ave., Oracle; 520/896-9005.
September Ceramic Studio & Gallery. Dramatic raku ceramics. INFO: Hours vary (call ahead), closed Sat-Sun; 1470 W. American Ave., Oracle; 520/896-9558.
Paradise Bakery & Café. Eat in or pick up a picnic lunch. Panini are ready by 7 a.m. INFO: $; 7109 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson; 520/ 219-5003.
Metropolitan Grill. Stop by on the way home for a microbrew or grilled salmon. INFO: $$; 7892 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson; 520/531-1212.