And the Tucson adventure continues. Temperatures this weekend were in the high 70s. Full sunshine was a welcome break from the gray and cloudy winter skies of Minnesota. My husband David and I are exploring the area with our favorite snowbirds — John and Vicki.
We’re on the serendipity path and one interesting stop was at a neighborhood church steeped in Spanish Missionary tradition. The neoclassical/Spanish colonial design of this church campus was inviting especially for the curious.
Vicki may know a bargain but I know church pancake breakfasts and this was an exceptional one … blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs with chorizo, ham or cheese; pork sausage and bacon plus all the accoutrements — for $5. Obviously, with the price of eggs, this was not a fundraiser.
On our way to downtown Tucson, we made a stop at the La Encantada shopping mall for a Fine Arts Festival. This exhibit of local artists and craftsmen was held in the open-air atrium surrounded by beautiful lush greenery and gardens. There were a number of art shows throughout Tucson this weekend. Too many to choose from but this one was on the way.
It was tempting to stop at some of the pop-up exhibits but we stayed focused on exploring downtown. We parked near the historic Congress Hotel which is in the heart of downtown Tucson.
Hotel Congress was built in 1918 and is known for being the site of the capture of gangster/bank robber John Dillinger in 1934. It is a cultural landmark that anchors the downtown area.
As we walked through the hotel it was easy to imagine yesteryear in this classically renovated and updated building. There is a story in every detail as well as in its history.
Onto the streets! Downtown Tucson is filled with countless wall murals, paintings and works of art. There’s something around every corner.
Black Lives Matter Afro: This wall mural is found outdoors on Hotel Congress. Camila Ibarra wanted to make a statement about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. She completed the mural in two days using her own painting supplies. Hotel Congress provided her with a wall space. She was inspired by a picture of a powerful-looking woman she saw on the internet, but she added her own interpretation.
Jack and Bill: Just around the corner from the Congress Hotel is a mythical “jackalope” (a rabbit with antlers) and its rider, basketball legend and sportscaster Bill Walton. The artist, Tucsonan Ignacio Garcia, says the piece is meant to have a youthful quality and hopes it will impart joy to those who see it.
It imparted great joy for us — David, who is a distant relative of Bill Whalton, has followed his career since before his Boston Celtic days which lead to an MVP award and induction into the Hall of Fame. It was a nice surprise to stumble into this mural.
The Empowered Woman: Another downtown mural by Ignacio Garcia represents female empowerment and the increase in female leaders throughout Tucson. The mural represents strength, leadership, and the beauty of boldness.
Tucson Portrait Project: As we walked through the Fourth Avenue underpass that leads to the historic downtown area, we noticed mosaic panels of black and white mugshot-type photo tiles.
The 4 x 4-inch tiles feature 6,000 black-and-white photographs — a cross section of Tucsonans. Local designers spent six months snapping shots of people at various community events.
The portraits represent a cross section of the City of Tucson in 2010 and will become a historic landmark over the coming decades.
Tranquil Lady: This artwork puts you at ease — that was the intention behind Ignacio Garcia’s mural. The calming colors and woman’s relaxed facial expression are meant to evoke feelings of tranquility and breathing easy.
The Fourth Avenue District: Affectionately known to locals as “Fourth”, this historic district with a hippie vibe offers an array of local artisans and boutiques with curated selections of vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture, artwork, antiques, handcrafted and imported wares, hard-to-find books and anything else you might want to go digging for.
This area has a flavor of its own with cafes, restaurants, thrift shops, bookstores, tattoo parlors and more.
Corbett Brewing — a few blocks off Fourth Avenue is a little gem of a micro-brewery. Josh, the friendly brewmaster was behind the bar during our visit. We discovered that he lived in a little town in northern Minnesota called Pequot Lakes. He’s planning to expand with pizza ovens being installed in the adjoining space. Definitely worth a return visit.
Moai Tiki Head: The stoic Easter Island-ish sculpture has become a fixture at the Polynesian-themed watering hole called, “The Hut”. Standing over 42-ft high, it is believed to be the largest Moai Tiki Head in North America.
Zeppelin & Clue Mural: Featured on the Rialto Theater building, this artwork pays homage to two events — an American tribute to Led Zeppelin and the Rialto’s 9th annual fundraising gala which is themed after the Clue game.
Prince Mural: Being from Minneapolis, this one hits home for me. Located on the side of the Rialto Theatre it honors Prince, who died in 2016.
We looped back to our starting point which led us into the Thunder Canyon Brewery for more artwork and creativity.
Thunder Canyon Brewery — ‘a venue for artists who think like artists’. The word ‘artist’ is all encompassing. The brick walls displayed an assortment of painting by locals, the stage featured a variety of musicians and the Canyon also attracts video game enthusiasts.
What I found most intriguing in this creative venue, was the number of young adults engaged in video games on really old devices. I saw several combination screen and VCR units that looked like what we used on road trips 20 years ago.
One observer told me that the original games were designed during the heyday of these old units and the quality and timing was far superior on the older units than games modified to be used on newer technology. Apparently, these techies meet here routinely to compete bringing their old technology devices with them.
We headed out to the next adventure which was on our ‘must try’ list — the Korean hot dog.
Korean-Style Corn Dogs: these dogs usually have a rice flour batter as opposed to cornmeal batter used in the US. They can be filled with cheese, sausages or other proteins. And finally, Korean street corn dogs are often seen with creative toppings such as fried potatoes, dry ramen noodles or even a sugar coating that plays against the savory and salty filling.
Potato dog is coated with cubed potatoes, Spicy dog is rolled in Hot Cheetos and covered with spicy sauce and Two Hands dog has their signature seasoning covered with ranch dressing.
We checked this one off the bucket list. The final consensus was in favor of the Potato dog but not sure if it can compete with the Sonoran hot dog.
Our festival of artwork did not end in downtown Tucson. Just a short walk from our accommodations is a small gallery with an interesting history and an Arizona vibe.
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun started as a small construction project in the early 1950s and developed into a 10-acre National Historic District designed and built by acclaimed Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia.
Mission in the Sun sits next to the gallery and was the first building constructed by DeGrazia on the gallery grounds. He built it in honor of Padre Kino and dedicated it to Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Our get-away to Tucson is winding down and it’s almost time to go back to reality. From warm weather, sunny skies, the foothills and cactus …
… to snow, snow and more snow. I’m looking forward to another adventure in Tucson next year.
Mural information and factual details taken from: Visit Tucson, Tucson Topia, Longview News-Journal, Library of Congress, Trip Advisor, Pima County Public Library, Smithsonian, Roadside America, Arizona Daily Star and Route 66 News.