Tucson in Monsoon Season
August 10, 2022 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question, I'm going to Tucson to try to experience monsoon season, plus good food and nature. Looking for tips on finding rain (is that a thing?) and other Tucson recommendations.

I don't have any plans, just driving around for 3 days hoping to experience rain & petrichor in between tacos and some very light hiking (or just hanging out in nature).

Are there any clever ways to look at a weather map or the sky and predict where rain is going to fall? Other than heading toward the clouds...?

I've compiled a giant list of places to eat - anything I should add or prioritize? Mercado San Augustin/Seis, Five Points Market, The Little One, Rollies, Monsoon Chocolate, Cocteleria La Palma Mariscos, Barrio Charro, El Taco Rustico, Pizzeria Bianco, Boca Tacos, Tough Luck Club, Los Tacos Apson, Aqui Con El Nene, Baja Cafe, Tania's, St. Mary's. Emphasis on casual and takeout-friendly, please!

For nature or hiking, I'm looking at the Desert Museum and Tohono Chul. I have heard of driving to Gates Pass and Cactus Forest Drive. Maybe Mount Lemmon. Any easy hikes, hopefully near water, that I shouldn't miss?
posted by acidic to Travel & Transportation around Tucson, AZ (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Monsoon season in the Arizona desert is incredible! Generally the downpours happen in the afternoon and evenings, if you're lucky you may also get to witness a sandstorm (also called a "haboob"), hopefully safely inside a building and on a high floor.

Since you mentioned hiking: please be aware that flash floods kill hikers every year out there. You could be walking in a small canyon or along a wash, with blue skies overhead, and get hit by fast moving floodwaters that come out of nowhere generated by a storm event miles away.

So if you're going to hike, maybe aim for morning hikes and try to plot your hikes to go along higher ground so you can scramble to safety if a really big flood hits. A morning hike also has the benefit of not being so egregiously hot. While disappointing and contrary to your requested plan, you may also want to avoid trying to find streams to hike near as those can become dangerous quickly. Also: WATER. Bring far more water to drink than you think you need, plus electrolyte tablets, it goes fast in that heat.

Pima County (where Tucson is located) has a Be Flood Aware page that includes a link to a flood alerts messaging system sign-up link.

Again, monsoon season is incredible out there and sitting in the warm electrified air watching the purple skies explode with lightening or running through a downpour that breaks through the oppressive heat is an experience you won't soon forget! Just keep safety in mind because nature is powerful and deserts are death traps for the unprepared.
posted by JaneTheGood at 3:43 PM on August 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Saguaro National Park is a good option. There's a driving loop with scenic stops and a few hikes if you want to risk the heat/water.
posted by kingdead at 3:55 PM on August 10, 2022

There's no guarantee of rain but definitely expect humidity. I had a multi month work assignment in Tucson many years ago starting in August and I did no research on the place whatsoever but figured I knew what the weather would feel like since it was a desert. Imagine my surprise when the humidity was Boston-level oppressive when I stepped out of the airport. Hydrate if you're going to be out.

Try and find a hotel on a hill so you have a good view if you do have the luck to be there for a thunderstorm.

My favorite thing about monsoon season was watching the cacti get chubby. Especially those little round ones with a flower wreath on top that already look like little chubby girls? Cutest shit.
posted by potrzebie at 3:58 PM on August 10, 2022

It's raining everywhere right now. And more coming in the next week.

Storms on Mt Lemmon are great- make sure you have somewhere safe to be.

Maybe Sabino Canyon if you want to see water, or any of the other trails coming off of the Catalinas.

If you want to get a little out of town, Bisbee and the mountains around it are incredibly beautiful in August. Madera Canyon is also a fun place to visit although it can get crowded.
posted by xxx9038709992203 at 4:18 PM on August 10, 2022

Desert museum is great, a nice little hike there (1 m?). Saguaro National Park is split into 2 sides - check out one or both, for sure. West side has petroglyphs, both are beautiful - fields of Saguaro cacti are impressive! There's hikes in both but the heat may be oppressive mid day so go early or late. Mount Lemon is also amazing, but a totally different eco system so I'm not sure if they have monsoon effects? That's a fairly time-consuming day trip, fyi. Sunsets in Tucson can be spectacular so try and find a good place for them. Arizona sunrise and sunset skies often display "crepuscular rays" which can be magnificent. Have fun!
posted by j810c at 4:20 PM on August 10, 2022

Tucson has a nifty Bosnian restaurant! It was featured on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives a few years ago. We tried it when we were visiting Tucson pre pandemic and it was very tasty.
A quick internet search indicates they are temporarily closed, but maybe call?
Chef Alisah's Restaurant
posted by socrateaser at 4:34 PM on August 10, 2022

Please do try a Sonoran dog! My life was forever changed at stand in a grocery store parking lot.
posted by Juniper Toast at 5:23 PM on August 10, 2022

Monsoon rainfall tends to be localized and it's not uncommon for one part of town to get a sprinkling while another gets an inch or two. In general the higher elevations get more but you can't predict. Honestly, driving toward clouds is not a bad strategy! Or you could drive high into the foothills in the afternoon if rain looks likely, for example to the Finger Rock trailhead at the end of Alvernon Way. From there you'll have a view over the city that's excellent rain or no. As for petrichor, scent can travel a long way on the wind, so if there's rain anywhere close you may get it.
posted by Creosote at 7:39 PM on August 10, 2022

Maybe it's just because I've recently seen so much monsoon related damage and injury on my twitter timeline, but I would not be trying to hike near waterways during a desert monsoon. You'd also want to avoid trees, high ground and metal objects. If a storm approaches you want to stay in the car or in a building.

At any rate, do not stand watching rushing water unless there is bank protection. Do not wade or drive through washes with flowing water. If you hear thunder take cover. Get down off any mountaintops or exposed ridges. Remember that even if it is not raining over you, water flows downstream. Look out for dust storms that can signal an approaching front.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:06 PM on August 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions here and lots of important safety info. I miss the monsoon every year and the petrichor in Tucson.

It’s a little cheesy in terms of environs but I love Guadalajara Grill on Prince for the table side salsa and lobster enchiladas. We also eat at Beyond Bread at least once and bring a bag of their granola home.

Agree with Chef Alisah’s - great and unique.
posted by honeybee413 at 9:52 PM on August 10, 2022

Aqui Con El Nene is the only place in America you can buy and eat a papancha.

It's not the most remote or rural setting, but walking along "The Loop," the paved trail on both sides of the Rillito River, is pretty enjoyable when the river is rushing with roaring water. (But make sure the water is only in the river and not up on the trail.)

Catalina State Park has some good hikes, but watch out for monsoon season. I've seen sudden floodwaters rise and trap people on the other side of a river.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:32 PM on August 10, 2022

Bridal Wreath Falls is an easy-to-moderate hike on the east side of Saguaro National Park. It's around 3 miles out and 3 miles back with a gradual but definitely noticeable elevation gain on the way out. As the name implies, you'll get to a waterfall. It's not in a canyon, which is probably a good idea, although if you hike in the morning you're less likely to be out in a storm. If you go up Mt. Lemmon after a big storm on the mountain, there will likely be a bunch of small temporary waterfalls at various locations along the side of the road. Gates Pass would be a great place to watch the sunset after a stormy day.

There is not really any great way to predict exactly where the storms will show up. But you will likely be able to see the serious storms from the city and approach them that way.

You have a pretty good list of restaurants already. I'd add Zio Peppe, which has some tasty Mexican/Italian fusion, notably including a pizza topped with birria from El Taco Rustico.
posted by egregious theorem at 1:45 PM on August 11, 2022

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