When we picked Tucson on a map, we didn’t know what we might find. We just wanted to go somewhere new that wasn’t too expensive. Before our trip, I told a few coworkers where we were going and their response was invariably, “Why?” Early in our visit, passing one residential street after another landscaped with pebbles, only pebbles, I scribbled a note to myself, “I’m beginning to see why I received so many raised eyebrows in response to my vacation destination.”

It was easy to jump to that conclusion. We drove downtown. It was about a block long. We drove through the “historical district.” Again, a couple of blocks long. “What’s the industry here?” we wondered. The parks we visited had acres of cacti and dry land. Lots of questions come to mind about the region’s future in sustaining a human population.

If we had made such a hasty judgment about Tucson, we would have missed out on its charms, and experiencing so much that Tucson has to offer. As I quickly learned, there was much more to Tucson than first meets the eye. For one, we met the nicest and warmest people. On our tour at Fred Whipple, we met Jim, volunteer at the Tucson History Museum. He spent at least half an hour filling us in on Arizona’s history. Four “C”s marked Arizona’s settlement: cotton, citrus, copper, and climate. Water intensive crops like cotton and citrus replaced the traditional crops grown by native Americans like squash and beans. Next cattle were shipped to the area from Texas, considerably changing the landscape, destroying native brush and allowing cactus to take over. All that and more we learned from Jim, a wealth of knowledge. We could have listened to him for the rest of the day.

At the Tohono Chul museum, we met another gregarious docent. He hithered from my parts, D.C., and I liked him even though he wasn’t much of an Orioles fan. He talked to us for at least twenty minutes. Even at the drugstore, I spent twenty minutes talking with the cashier. Only one man at the entrance to Pima Space Museum was rude. Everyone else we met was extraordinarily warm and friendly. In a community of retirees, there seems to be a culture of slowing down and appreciating life. Instead of always rushing off to do the next thing, these are people who know how to enjoy the moment and connect with others. So many people we met left me wanting more, to spend more time with them, to get to know them better, to learn from them, to listen to more of their knowledge and wisdom.

Tucson was one of the most interesting vacations we’ve had. The visits to the observatories rank among my favorite sight-seeing ever. The University of Arizona, which graduates many of the nation’s astronomers, is heavily involved in the space program and is tied to the observatories. We were lucky enough to be there the night the Phoenix Lander, completely a U of AZ project, successfully touched down on Mars. Even though we weren’t at the U of AZ the night the Phoenix landed, we still felt excited to be in Tucson on such a momentous occasion.

Beyond sight-seeing, Tucson has much to offer as a city of considerable intellectual capital, both from the retirees, and the U of AZ. While I joked about reaching a CSP threshold, in reality, there was so much more to see in Tucson than we had time for. And even the heat, it’s true, is tempered by a breeze.

It was an unexpectedly fun vacation and I unhesitatingly recommend Tucson as a tourist destination. Just make sure you have water, sunscreen, and a hat.