Travel Guide: 12 Things to Do in Tucson, Arizona

Hey guys! I know it has been awhile since I posted a Travel Guide but I am so psyched to share some of the details from my first trip out west! I hope this inspires you to head out into the desert and do a little adventuring of your own. Instead of the usual, Day One, Day Two rhetoric, I am going to just list off a bunch of the fun stuff we got to do while we were visiting the Tucson and Phoenix areas in hopes that you’ll check a few of these places off your bucket list!

#1 SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK WEST: GO SEE THE PETROGLYPHS

We headed to the Tucson Mountain District (WEST) side of Saguaro National Park in Tucson for a glimpse at some of the oldest petroglyphs in America’s history. Left there over 800 years ago by the Hohokam people, this distinctive rock art can be found at the top of the Signal Hill hiking trail off of the Bajada Loop Drive. Be prepared to take a few dirt roads to get here but the picnic area below makes for a wonderful afternoon exploring over 200 prehistoric Native American relics.

#2 ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM

We made a short pit stop here and man am I glad we did. The museum is set up in a way that you can take your time in each different section without feeling overwhelmed. We got to see a lot of animals, everything from Big Horn Sheep to Bobcats to Otters as well as explore a small aquarium full of snakes, scorpions and fish. At just $22 per person, admission is a steal for all that this museum encompasses. Head here for information on Natural History, plant and wildlife or to just a take a walk through the Desert Cactus Loop!

#3 OLD TUCSON STUDIOS: A Glimpse into the Wild, Wild West

This place was just fun! This family friendly park serves as an amusement for all ages and a studio for many Hollywood flicks, including classic Westerns such as Tombstone, Three Amigos and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Head here for a glimpse at old saloons, cowboy shootouts, stagecoach rides and try your luck panning for gold! At $20 for admission, this is a great place to kill a few hours and pick up a sweet souvenir!

#4 GATES PASS: The Only Place to Watch the Sun Go Down

You want to see a typical Arizona sunset? Too bad, nothing is typical here. Everything is indescribably beautiful from this vantage point and the added bonus, each night there’s a different view on display! This easy 5-10 minute hike was well worth the drive up the mountain. Everyone said that we had to stop here and now I’m telling you, you WILL regret it if you don’t catch a glimpse of a sunset from Gates Pass.

#5 COLOSSAL CAVE MOUNTAIN PARK: A Creepy 7 Story Climb Towards the Center of the Earth

My longtime bestie Laura, found this place and I am so happy she did because the Colossal Cave Mountain Park was the perfect afternoon adventure. We beat the heat and stepped back in time by journeying into this massive cave system. We did the Classic Cave Tour ($18/per person) which offered an extensive look into the first inhabitants, the Hohokam people, and the generations that helped make this park accessible to the public as well as an informative lesson on the rock formations found within the cave system. Though we arrived during the wrong time of year, these caves are usually full of bats and can easily be seen if you are on the hunt for some winged night creatures.

#6 MISSION SAN XAVIER DEL BAC: The White Dove of the Desert

Easily one of my favorite things we did on this trip. Founded as a Catholic Mission in 1692, Mission San Xavier del Bac has served this community for hundreds of years. The Church construction was completed in 1797 and the inside of this establishment still maintains original murals and statutes. We wandered the grounds in awe of the raw beauty of this place. I even purchased a candle from the gift shop to light on the alter and you are welcome to as well! If you have any religious background, this is a beautiful place to stop and affirm your faith. This place has made it through political adjustments, earthquakes and even lightning strikes and still retains the purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its’ parishioners.

#7 SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK EAST: the Rincon Mountain District

At just $15 per vehicle, you NEED to enter this part of the park! We opted for the Jeep Wrangler rental and we road top down through this 8 mile Cactus Forest Drive over the Tanque Verde Ridge, but more on that later.  We were in awe of the Saguaros. These massive giants can grow up to 22 feet tall and live to be almost 250 years old. We hiked around the desert admiring the flora and fauna and spent a majority of the afternoon just taking picture after picture of the environment.

#8 CACTUS FOREST DRIVE: Take a Picture Next to a Giant 

If you do nothing else while in Tucson, DO THIS! Take the drive and take a million photos  of you and your friends next to the tallest cacti ever. I only included two pictures because  the reel goes on and on. We had too much fun just walking around admiring the lush landscape. For more information on this mesmerizing place, head to www.saguaronationalpark.com.

#9 TANQUE VERDE RANCH: A Room with a View + Horses + Massage Therapists 🙂

With a 150 years under their belt, you can see why this place gets voted Best of the Best year after year. When researching for our 30th Birthday Getaway in the Arizona desert, I was on the hunt for an adventure and this place provided it all. Tanque Verde is a Dude Ranch set smack dub next to Saguaro National Park East. In fact, most of the riding trails lead straight out your backdoor and into the immense landscape surrounding the property. This place had everything we were looking for, all-inclusive southwestern cuisine in a fine-dining atmosphere, horseback riding experiences and the Sonoran Spa, the perfect place to get a massage and relax in the pool after a long hike or ride through the park. I loved it so much that I have every intention on bringing my husband back here sometime! Just look at the sunsets I managed to capture right outside our Cabin door.

#10 CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST

I wish I had more to tell you about this place but the truth is, the drive was a little too much for us. We began our journey in Tucson with every intention of heading to the Mount Lemmon Sky Center and Observatory and Biosphere II (think classic Pauly Shore movie gone right). Both backed by the University of Arizona and tucked away at the peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains, each place had so much potential for a great day or evening. But, the drive up the mountain proved to be a little sickening. My companion and I made it about 30 minutes up before we decided to turn back around. The switchback roads and deafening heights were just a tad too rich for our blood. But, we do have every intention on giving this a go next time we are in this neck of the woods.

#11 TRAIL DUST TOWN: A Step Back in Time 

Plan B: Head to a replicated Wild West town and wander the abandoned streets before opening hours. We literally had this whole place to ourselves and it was great. If you manage to come during open hours, try taking a spin on one of the amusement rides, head to the saloon for a pint of ale or try your luck at the Ravenhearse Classic Haunt!! For a more educational tour, head to the Museum of the Horse Soldier to learn more about the history of the men, women and horses in the United States Military. This place is family friendly so plan on seeing lots of kiddos running around.

#12 SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS: Outdoor Playground near Phoenix

On our way back to Phoenix for our flight home, we arranged a pitstop for a glimpse at the famed Superstition Mountains. Encircling the Tonto National Forest, these beauties provide a border for the suburb of Mesa, Arizona. For an introduction to the hiking in this area, head to the Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction. We researched this place a bunch and found out that you can kayak here in certain areas, Butcher Jones Recreation Site on Saguaro Lake to be exact, but unfortunately for us, it was the wrong time of year. We watched the sunset against the red rocks and talked about all our favorite parts of this trip before heading to the airport.

Hands down, one of my favorite trips of all time. Not only did I get the chance to have 4 uninterrupted days of solitude with my best friend since kindergarten, but we both got to explore an amazingly beautiful part of the United States. The Southwest provided the ultimate get away for two girls who wanted to shut off their phones, kick up a little dust and explore a new place. I hope this article helps you in planning your next adventure and as usual, email me if you have any questions about our trip (therustienailhead@gmail.com).

Pictured Above;    Left: Us in 2018      Right: Us in 50 Years

 

Harper’s 2nd Birthday Shoot

This sweet boy is 2 and I cannot believe it. It feels like just yesterday that his Momma was breaking the baby news and now, he is a walking, talking Energizer Bunny! What an amazing adventure it has been watching this crazy little guy grow up. His momma and I are quite the comrades so I have had the pleasure of witnessing Harper in all his stages. As a baby, Tiff & I would have our girl’s nights while Harp Dog would crawl around on my kitchen floor with his cow printed blanket and my sweet puppy dog, Reyna. And when he started walking, we would head to the park and practice his milk drunken stumble. Now, he just runs circles around me all the while yelling, “Nina, come on.”

Harper is no stranger to having me shove the camera in his face. I have shot his First Birthday, Halloween, Easter & Christmas photos and now his 2nd Birthday. He’s getting quite good at being the ham, a quality I am sure that he gets from his Momma. This go around would be no different. We headed to downtown Keller to check out a Dr Pepper mural and decided it was the perfect backdrop for this little dude’s shoot. Tiff, bring the  supergenius that she is, made sure to bring a bribe. We had a plan. For every giggle, Harp Dog gets an M&M. Once we got him all hopped up on sugar, the smiles came pouring out. He was singing and dancing in front of the wall. Twirling and laughing at the “big trucks” that kept flying by. He was having a ball, to say the least.

We wrapped up at the wall and headed towards a huge open field so we could play a little tag and watch the sunset. When we let him run wild, boy did he. This guy was posing behind trees playing peek a boo and waving a stick around like he was Harry Potter. It was hilarious listening to him try and yell “expelliarmus”. This boy has a way of keeping me in stitches. As the sun went down, Tiff softly sang a few lullabies in his ear to calm him down for the ride home. It worked like a charm. Shortly after dark, we made our way back to the car and called it a night. Sometimes, this job doesn’t even feel like work. Shoots like this are a grateful reminder of how joyful work can be.

For information on how to book your Holiday Mini Session in Dallas Fort Worth or the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, shoot me an email at therustienailhead@gmail.com or get all the details from our DFW Holiday Mini Session Blog or the Laurel Highlands Holiday Mini Session Blog! I would love to meet you and help make your vision come to life this Holiday Season!

Blog Spotlight: Carolyn Anderson Photography

Hey guys! As you all may know, we here at The Rustie Nail have adopted the mantra of The Rising Tide Society when it comes to community over competition. The idea is that we embrace other creatives in an effort to build of network of like minded creativepreneurs. It’s a concept that has pushed me into building such amazing relationships with creatives both here in Dallas-Fort Worth and back home in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Each and every individual I have met has taught me so many little tips and tricks on how to build this brand and I am so grateful. As a thank you, I have  the opportunity to shine a light on what some of my new friends have been up to.

In our last Top 5 Blog, we highlighted some of the state parks in the area that double as recreation areas and portrait session backdrops. You may have noticed the ridiculously beautiful landscape shots that we featured in that Blog. My new friend, Carolyn Anderson, a self-taught photographer out of New Alexandria, PA, was gracious enough to provide all of those awe-inspiring photos. Today, we’re gonna shine a light on Carolyn, her journey in photography and what’s next on the horizon!

Where do I even begin? I found Carolyn through social media. Her photos kept popping up on my Newsfeed and I couldn’t help but fall in love with all her images. Every one of her photos highlights some of the favorite places to have spent my time as a child growing up in the wilderness of PA. She has this brilliant talent of capturing the color quality of her subjects. Honestly, her photos kind of give me the feels. I grew up in her neck of the woods and find myself seeing so many familiar places in her galleries.

Carolyn is a mom to 2 gorgeous young ladies and a wife to her highschool sweetheart, Dan. She was born and raised in New Alexandria, PA. She specializes in landscape photography but admits having done it all, from proms to weddings for friends and family who have asked. She’s an outdoorsy gal who began taking photos in 2006. By 2007, she had purchased her first DSLR, a Canon Rebel. After years of practice, Carolyn held her first solo Photography Exhibition on Nov. 7th, 2015 at the New Growth Gallery in her hometown. To date, she is a member of the New Alexandria Art Alliance and has had photos accepted into the West Penn Trail Juried Art Show and the Westmoreland Art Nationals. She’s been featured in the Latrobe Bulletin and in a heavily-followed Facebook page entitled “Only In Pennsylvania“. Though she considers photography more of a hobby, she is totally open to the idea of expanding into a profession. Now wouldn’t you all love to see that? I know I would.

For more information on how to purchase Carolyn’s art, head to her Etsy shop. To check out what she has going on in the everyday, head to her Facebook page or to chat with Carolyn just shoot her an email. I loved having the chance to get to know this sweet gal over the last couple of weeks and look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with her in the future. Keep the good work Carolyn! We love your work and can’t wait to see more!

To learn about the other creatives we have featured on our blog or to nominate someone to be featured, shoot us an email at therustienailhead@gmail.com or check out our last Blog Spotlight: Whitney Bowman Photography. 

Rescue Session: Raina & Pumpkin

Words will never be able to explain how thankful I am for my time in Broken Bow, OK. What started out as a Christmas gift for our expectant brother and sister in law turned into a girls getaway for me and my ride or die floral fashionista, Tiffany of Wanderlust Floral Designs. From the start, the plan was to kayak, eat some Grateful Head Pizza and head to the Girls Gone Wine. But, the truth is Tiff and I have been itching for the opportunity to set up a styled shoot with some real live models and boy did we luck out.

After putting a few feelers out at a some of the local businesses, we heard back from a young girl named Raina. She was interested in having a few photos taken of her and her rescue pup, Pumpkin. Coincidentally, my puppy dog is name Reyna. From the start, I had this feeling we were on the same page when it came to styling the shoot. I let her know we would have an elaborate 30 foot floral garland and we proceeded to coordinate the details.

Beaver’s Bend State Park in Broken Bow, OK played the backdrop for this beautifully crafted session. After a few walks around the Mountain Fork River Beach and the shores of Lakeview Lodge, we managed to stumble across an area marked Overlook Circle. After a short hike down a semi-steep hill, we managed to come across a rock beach in a cove that was surrounded with cypress trees and an amazing view of the lake. To top it all off, we ended the portrait session as the sun set over the Ouachita Mountains, providing some amazing silhouette shots.

Raina was adorable, Pumpkin was even sweeter and these two were totally made for each other. Raina had a heart for rescue and adores having her pup tag along for all of life’s adventures. I am so happy that she set up the time to let me document their bond. My favorite part about this shoot was how vocal Raina was about her vision. Raina made it clear from the beginning, she wanted dramatic poses, a few smiles and some candids with her pup. She even managed to bring Pumpkin a bandana that matched her delicate baby blue romper. This chick was kind and patient with the beauty to boot. It was an absolute joy to meet her and Pumpkin. I’m continuously surprised by the kindness of the people I get to meet during my travels and look forward to the chance to work with Raina and her sweety in the future!

 To book your Custom Photo Session, email therustienailhead@gmail.com with any and all inquiries. We would love to meet you for coffee or a beer and discuss what your vision is for your one-of-a-kind shoot!