Look up, look down, look all around: Three Day Trips from Marana, AZ that are sure to turn heads

There’s a reason Marana is the Gateway to Southern Arizona.

There’s no better home base from which to explore all the attractions this beautiful land has to offer. From high in the sky to deep underground to right at the surface, there are incredible sights to see all around Marana.  Our idyllic oasis in the desert is full of wonders, and fortunately, they’re just a short day trip away.

Look up: Kitt Peak Observatory

Astronomy is a big industry in Arizona.  Like, really big.  Like, $1 billion big.  We love gazing up at the stars so much, we’ve passed a “dark skies” law that ensures city lights don’t obscure our beautiful night skies.  Practically every summit around Southern Arizona has a telescope perched at the top, but for one of the best experiences, you can’t miss Kitt Peak.

A winding road southwest of Marana slowly climbs up the slopes of the Quinlan Mountains.  As you inch upwards, you’ll pass through biome after biome.  Watch closely as the arid desert transforms into a thick pine forest when you cross Southern Arizona’s unique “reverse tree line.”  Along the road are plenty of pull-outs from which you can admire the stunning view.  Spread out before you is the expansive Sonoran Desert, studded with its plentiful mountain ranges. 

At the top, you’re in for a treat.  Kitt Peak is home to the largest array of optical and radio telescopes in the world.  All year long, the Kitt Peak National Observatory offers highly engaging tours and educational programming.  They offer beginner classes for those just starting to learn about the wonders of the sky, as well as a “Dark Sky Discovery Program” for more advanced stargazers.  For those seeking even more, they offer an overnight telescope observing program that gives you the chance to contemplate the heavens all night long.  There’s no better place in the world to explore outer space than Kitt Peak.  The only way to get a better view is to book a seat on the space shuttle. If you manage that, can you save a seat for me, too?

Look Down: Colossal Cave

After you’ve spent a night staring for hours up at the Andromeda Galaxy and the Crab Nebula, your neck needs a break.  This time, head southeast of Marana to Colossal Cave Mountain Park. This karst cavern has provided shelter for all kinds of visitors over the years, from the ancient Hohokam people to cattle thieves fleeing the sheriffs.  When you descend into its depths, you’ll immediately notice one of the most attractive features of this desert hideout: no matter how hot it is outside, it’s always a cool 70°F underground, no AC required.

For 363 days a year (they’re closed Thanksgiving and Christmas), Colossal Cave tour guides lead groups of curious visitors deep into these fascinating recesses of the earth.  In chamber after chamber, stalactites and stalagmites create extraordinary formations that defy logic. Like fingers rising from the floor or hanging from the ceiling, these structures represent the slow accumulation of mineral deposits over millions of years. Forget ancient times—this place is prehistoric!

Look All Around: Mission San Xavier del Bac

Between the subterranean world and the skies up above, there’s a lot going on right here at the surface.  One of the most fascinating destinations for a day trip out of Marana is Mission San Xavier del Bac.  This relic of Arizona’s history portrays in the most fascinating of ways the confluence of cultures that have shaped this land. 

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino founded a mission on this site in 1692 to preach to the local Native Americans. The structure that stands to this day, however, was built almost a century later by the Franciscan order supported by Spain, who at the time claimed ownership of this area. 

The European missionaries who established and managed this mission directed their message to the local Tohono O’odham people. Over many years, the O’odham’s religion gradually mixed with the Catholic beliefs of the mission’s founders. Today, murals are preserved on the walls of San Xavier depicting a Creation story which melds together the traditions of both groups into a captivating composite. 

When you first arrive at San Xavier, take a few moments to contemplate this highly unique structure.  Its soaring edifice represents the oldest remaining European structure in Arizona, and its architecture will make you think you’ve somehow transported to a quiet hamlet in southern Spain.  Only the saguaros climbing up the surrounding mountains beg to differ.

When you’re planning your day trips from Marana, the sky is no limit.  From the farthest reaches of the universe to the deepest depths underground, and everything in between, Marana offers its visitors a wealth of day trip options. Explore the pre-history of Southern Arizona in Colossal Cave, or discover the more recent past at Mission San Xavier del Bac.  Discover unending possibilities when you Discover Marana.

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Kitt Peak National Observatory

Kitt Peak National Observatory

Perched on a beautiful 6,875 mountaintop, Kitt Peak's collection of astronomical telescopes are used every night to make important…