Marana is surrounded by mountain ranges that help to create dramatic lightning during monsoon season, from July to September, and offer places to hunker down in and watch the magnificent sky show.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Tucson-based photographer, Jack Dykinga, captured the image, above, of lightning in or near Marana, which National Geographicmagazine featured as a favorite picture from around the world in the August 2017 issue.
Fred Wasmer, an award-winning nature-immersion and storm-chaser photographer, who took the image to the left, visits Southern Arizona from Florida to capture his incredible images, says that Southeast Arizona is “the prime territory” for photographing lightning and weather because there are more days of thunder.
Although Florida has plenty of lightning, Fred says that our area has “amazing scenery” with “beautiful mountains” that set the stage for stunning views.
You have narrow window of opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle or with your camera during the magical monsoon season in Arizona.
- Don’t drive through flowing washes. Not ever!
- Pay attention to emergency alerts. Microbursts can move through an area fast and leave a lot of rain.
- Lightning starts to strike ahead of a monsoon downpour.
Monsoons typically arrive beginning in the late afternoon after 3 pm (though this can greatly vary throughout the season) through evening. Watch the weather forecast and get to your viewing spot ahead of the storm and hunker down.
Lightning safety tip from photographer Fred Wasmer: If out in nature, watch lightning from a hard-top car (not a convertible). Being surrounded by a cage of metal, you're safe from lightning in a car. Don't watch from picnic/rain shelters, as those often aren't grounded and thus aren't safe. Or, just watch from afar. If you find a nice viewpoint with a bit of elevation, you can enjoy storms that are 50 miles away.
Where to catch lightning:
Saguaro National Park West (Tucson Mountain District)
Red Hills Visitor Center – open until 5 pm
Ask the rangers for their favorite lightning watching spots. Or try the easy Bajada Loop Drive, which is 6 miles total, not far from the Visitor Center. You can also take the Bajada Loop and continue onto Golden Gate Road. This will take you to Pictures Rocks Road and back to Marana. From Golden Gate Road, you can access Signal Hill, where the iconic solar spiral petroglyph is located.
Get your visitor pass at the Visitor’s Center for $15.
2700 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – open until 5pm (Mon-Sun); open until 10pm (Sat, until 9/1)
The Ocotillo Café is open for dinner 5pm-9pm through summer until 9/1.
2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens – open until 5pm
The Garden Bistro has its last seating at 3pm during the summer.
7366 N Paseo Del Norte, Tucson, AZ 85704
Cayton’s Burger Bistro at Dove Mountain Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain – open until 8:30 pm (Thur- Sat); until 4pm (Sun-Wed); closed Monday
15000 North Secret Springs Drive, Marana, AZ 85658
Topgolf Marana rooftop patio bar looking toward Safford Peak – open until 11 pm or Midnight
4050 Costco Pl, Tucson, AZ 85741
National Weather Service: https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning
Saguaro National Park West (Tucson Mountain District) map: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/upload/sentinel_fall10_tmd.pdf
Jack Dykinga, nature and weather photographer: https://www.dykinga.com/
Fred Wasmer, nature and weather photographer: http://fredwasmer.com/