When we left California and landed outside of Tucson, Arizona in the Gilbert Ray Campground is was a huge relief. California had been very busy for us, traffic, money and traffic… constantly. The Tucson area is so special. The fields of saguaro cactus make it a must-see location. Our week included a visit to Old Tucson, Saguaro National Park, the Tucson Botanical Garden, visiting friends and a tour of the Kartchner Caverns. We stayed at Gilbert Ray and also on the army base in Sierra Vista (our friends are in the military.)
The Gilbert Ray Campground is a first-come, first-serve county owned park. They have sites for all sizes of RV’s. The sites are electric only. You have a 7 day limit, $20/night fee for RV’s. We stayed in early December and there were tons of open spots. We had met our friends four.for.the.road and they had picked a spot for us ahead of time. It was perfect! We fit our 30 foot Airstream and our truck no problem. If we had parked better we could have gotten a bigger unit in, the space was wide and long in the A loop. There were several “big-rigs” there. Water is available and they have 2 dump stations and bathrooms (but no showers.) Make sure to follow the sites directions when coming into the park because several roads around that area are not RV friendly. I will warn you that everything is trying to kill you in the park. Just kidding, of course, but there are lots of plants with needle points. Our dogs had several evenings of us holding them down and pulling cactus plant material out of their paws. There were lots of dogs in the park so I am assuming that everyone else’s animals were just better at not walking into needle plants. The view more than makes up for the dangers. There is also a trail in the park but we didn’t explore it. We loved watching the sun-set every evening.
Old Tucson is a movie set turned theme-park. They have shows throughout the day, several restaurants and rides for little kids. The comedy shows were the best. My husband even got recruited to embarrass himself in one of them. They have a carousal, a train, little cars for kids and adults to drive, horse back riding (free for little ones), gold mining and a scary “adventure” (we didn’t do it because we had toddlers with us but we heard some other guests talking about it and they loved it.) The hosts (Westworld reference) are very nice. What I mean to say is that the staff is great and welcoming. I highly recommend adding this to your itinerary and dress for the theme! We had a blast with our “western type” clothing. They had lots of unique gifts to buy in the gift shop, we finished some Christmas shopping. You can easily spend your whole day there, they were open from 10-5 the day we visited. They were only open Friday-Sunday during mid-December when we were there. They do still film movies on location so check the website for the schedule. This park would appeal to all ages!
Saguaro National Park, the west side, is located very close to the Gilbert Ray campground, like less than 10 minutes drive. We visited the visitors center and took an educational walk about Kangaroo Rats. The ranger was very nice and accommodating to our toddlers. The visitor’s center has a little museum and of course we did the Junior Ranger Program. They have a great little store with more gift-type items. Every Wednesday they have toddler-parent walks (west side) and every Friday on the east side. We didn’t know about them but in the future we will try to make those! We ended up leaving our Centennial Book there by accident and the nice rangers mailed it for us!
When we were in Tucson the Tucson Botanical Gardens were having their annual Christmas celebration. We went in the evening for hot chocolate, Christmas lights and the model train they had set-up. We ended up having dinner from one of the venders and really enjoyed our evening. Even if you aren’t there during Christmas time they have events all year. They are also open during normal hours for you to explore the gardens. Children 3 and under are free. We did bring a stroller because it was late for our two children, it worked but I would recommend carriers.
Kartchner Caverns was our last big event, we spent the rest of the time just visiting our friends. Since we have a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old we couldn’t do the Big Room tour but instead did the Rotunda/Throne room tour. Adults were $23/each and children were $5/each. We were told the tour is handicap accessible but since no one in our group was you would have to double check that. The good: the caverns are beautiful! They are amazing and you see some really good examples of cave formations. The tour guide was knowledgable and they were prompt. Now, let me just tell you they are very strict with their visitor rules. There are no bags or cameras, or phones aloud in the caverns. They worry greatly about fibers from clothing getting into the caverns, you walk through a misting system to cut down on this. Our guide was very rude about our 3 yr old’s shirt touching a concrete curb; clearly installed by man. He was trying to see the really old bat poop on the cavern floor. Instead of just calmly pointing it out she overreacted and basically yelled at him. Meanwhile, she would lean on the railing while talking and her pant leg frequently grazed the same concrete curbing. The volunteer in our group was super nice and told G (the 3 yr old) what a great job he was doing. It is very hard for small people to not touch anything for an hour (and he didn’t.) We wore the 1 yr old. The tour is good for kids if they are good listeners. If you have a wild child I would maybe skip it for now. Also, a super nice father in our group said the day before his 3 yr old was supposed to take the tour with him but got scared because of the dark entrance. So, it really depends on your child. Overall, our kids were fantastic. I got 2 cave kisses (where the water from the cave drips on you.) The end is the best, yes its a light show like a lot of caves around the world but man is the main formation huge and special. I am sure the Big Room tour is equally as great. If you don’t have littles maybe do both (they are kind of pricey.) Also, for you RV families there is a campground on site but we didn’t check it out. It looked nice from a distance but we didn’t look at the actual spot sizes.
The campground we stayed in at Sierra Vista is on the Army Base (Apache Flats RV) and only available if you are associated with the military somehow. I am not exactly sure on the rules but I do know our friend made the reservation and checked us in. The park was mostly full of retired military. If you do have an “in” it is super nice! Great laundry, concrete pads, etc.