Blue Star Voices: Tohono Chul
Located in northwest Tucson, Arizona, Tohono Chul offers an immaculate desert oasis complete with tranquil seating, curated desert plants along meandering trails, and a quaint yet unpretentious bistro. It’s location on Oracle Road (only five miles from I-10) make it a convenient option for those stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB and Fort Huachuca. Wide, handicapped-accessible trails with whimsical sculptures and labeled plants mean you can bring your young and young-at-heart. Though the vibe caters more toward the adult gardener or burgeoning artist, families will find plenty to entertain the young ones including a search for metal animal sculptures hidden among the plants, geocaching, interactive, educational trails, and even a children’s garden. Perhaps best of all: Blue Star Museum status means active duty military members and families enjoy free admission from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
Our first visit left me thinking I had no idea the desert could be so beautiful. We discovered Tohono Chul in June when the Sonoran Desert is extra brown and the sun piercingly hot. The gardens served as a respite from both with all-important shady spots along the trails and beautiful blooms. Though it’s possible to walk three to five miles within the park trails and gardens, trails are all under one mile in length with water fountains located near the main building. Also a nice touch: blooms are precisely labeled and an onsite greenhouse allows you to take home a bit of desert beauty. Docent-style greenhouse attendees enthusiastically help you pick out the right plant for your location and skill set from their selection. If you’re looking for a plant that will survive and even thrive in the local climate, skip the home improvement stores and come here for expertise.
On your visit, I strongly recommend breaking up the outside time with a stop in the onsite garden bistro. The bistro serves surprisingly inventive dishes with an emphasis on seasonal and organic ingredients. While the garden setting couldn’t be lovelier, the menu will please just about everyone in your group. Light fare like soups, salads, and sandwiches are supplemented with heartier tacos, pastas, and melts. On hot days, the Mini Oasis sorbet is not to be missed.
Tohono Chul's website should answer just about any question, and includes a “What’s Bloomin” photo section so you can be confident about what you will see on your visit. Remember for this and all outdoor desert activities: bring plenty of water, sunscreen, light, loose sun-protective clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat!
Meredith Galloway is an educator who administers an online portion of an Arizona charter school from her current home near Fort Hood, Texas. She has been married to her active duty Army pilot for three years, during which time she’s called four different states home. Currently, Meredith is also pursuing her credential as an accredited financial counselor through the FIRNA military spouse fellowship. Her other passions include volunteering in the community, gardening, and coffee, lots of coffee.