Nestled in a valley of the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is 2,584 feet above sea level and cradled by significant mountain ranges on all four sides. To the north are the Santa Catalina Mountains, whose foothills are considered some of the areas prime real estate, with fabulous views of the city and surrounding area. To the south are the Santa Rita and Sierrita Mountains; to the east are the Rincon Mountains containing Saguaro National Park East; and to the west are the Tucson Mountains containing Saguaro National Park West.
The combination of desert and mountains makes the area a haven for outdoor activities ranging from hiking and bicycling, to rock climbing, golf and even skiing.
One misconception about the desert southwest is that the area is a dry, bleak environment. Yet the Sonoran Desert contains more than 2,500 species of plants, including 68 species of cacti which bloom brightly between March and May. Many of these plants have been used in one form or another as food by the areas original Native American inhabitants. Today there are seasons when whole ceremonies are centered around harvesting the edible fruits of cacti, such as the protected saguaro (whose white, night-blooming blossom is the Arizona State Flower). The area is also a major "fly-way" for migrating birds, making it a bird-watching haven.
Geographically, Tucsons streets are laid out in a north-south and east-west grid pattern, making getting around easy even for newcomers. The downtown area - containing all government offices - is consolidated enough to cover the whole area on foot. But the Tucson area as a whole, is typical of the southwest in that it is spread out with distinct business centers in several locations.
Tucson is well known for its dry, sunny weather dating back to the turn of the century when the area included a number of tuberculosis clinics drawing patients from the East Coast.
With over 300 sunny days a year and over 138 days when temperatures peak above 90 degrees, one would think this desert city would be a miserable place to live. But with the extremely low relative humidity, even days above 100 degrees tend to be comfortable. Like most desert regions, the temperature differences between night and day can actually be as much as 40 degrees. And the one-hour, 35-mile drive up to the 9,100-foot peak of Mount Lemmon yields another 30-degree difference even in the dead of summer. In the winter, Mount Lemmons Ski Valley becomes the United States southern most ski area.
While the area has seasons, summer usually lasts five months and fall and winter are practically indistinguishable. The two seasons which newcomers have to become most adjusted to are the "monsoon" seasons in summer and winter. July 4th is the traditional start of the month-long summer rainy season and the winter rainy season comes in January. Its during this time that humidity becomes uncomfortable and thunderstorms can light-up the sky unexpectedly day or night. During this time of the year, a favorite pasttime is to trek to one of the areas usually dry riverbeds and watch the turbulent water rush by.
Wettest month - July 2.42 inches
Driest month - May 0.14 inches
Annual total 12.00 inches
Number of days over 90°F = 138. Number of days below 32°F = 19. History of hurricanes, tornadoes: None.
Average total snow, sleet and hail annually: 0.6 inches. Tucson lies in the zone receiving more sunshine than any other section in the United States.
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