Marana is surrounded by the Tortolita Mountains; the Tucson Mountains; the Santa Catalina Mountains within Coronado National Forest; and Ironwood Forest National Monument; with its Silver Bell, Waterman, and Sawtooth mountain ranges in view. This geography creates dramatic lightning shows during monsoon season, from July to September. The best thing to do during this magical time of year is to find places to hunker down in and watch the magnificent sky show. Rainbows often follow the showers, so you may get a double dip of natural beauty.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Tucson-based photographer, Jack Dykinga, captured the image, above, of lightning in or near Marana, which National Geographic magazine featured as a favorite picture from around the world in its 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 a 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.
- Be careful in areas below mountains, such as the Catalina Mountains, that have had extensive recent wildfires. Heavy monsoon downpours can move earth and cause sudden mudslides in burned areas. Tip: The lightning shows over the Catalina Mountains are best viewed from afar.
- 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.
5 Great Places to Watch Lightning in Marana:
1. 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.
Get your visitor pass at the Visitor’s Center for $15.
2700 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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
5. Topgolf Marana rooftop patio bar looking toward Safford Peak – open until 11 pm or Midnight
4050 Costco Pl, Tucson, AZ 85741
Curious about what else there is to do in Marana in the summer? Check out our secrets of summer blog!
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/