Tucson is our winter trip half-way point and we tend to stop here longer and slow down. We just love how easy it is to be active here. Once again this year, we took a rock climbing gym membership at Rocks and Ropes (which includes the Bloc too, a bouldering gym), where we go about 3 times a week to climb and shower. We alternate a climbing day with a biking day since there are so many bike trails nearby. It's a pretty good routine. We try to go climb outside at Mount Lemmon on the weekends when possible (it's about an hour drive from the BLM where we camp). What's a BLM you might wonder? It's a public land where we can camp for free. In Tucson, the Snyder Hill BLM is located only 20 minutes from downtown Tucson (unlike most other BLMs in the US that are far from big cities and where the 14 day limit stay in enforced). The Snyder Hill BLM has a bit of a Slab City vibe. There are some semi-permanent residents, some big rigs that stay only a few days and pretty much everything in between. Let's just say it seems to attract what we call in the Yukon, the colorful 5 %... You can often hear someone playing drum or strumming his guitar in the distance. If you're lucky like us, a circus couple sets up nearby with an aerial silk contraption and you can watch them practice this beautiful skill... Then, there's John, who's been our neighbor for a few weeks that pretend he worked on a set with Al Pacino and went to a party with Johnny Depp... There's Sid with his 16 years old dog who comes by when JF is working on a bike to chat... and chat some more (and his wife that keeps bringing us odd things for the girls). There's the man who sleeps in a tent and leaves every morning with a dress suit for work. And there was the crazy lady on the hill, who spent her days sitting cross-legged on top of Snyder Hill, watching over us and yelling ugly things to passerby's... until she lost it and started knocking on all the rigs' doors asking people to give her her dog back... too many Rainbows will do that to you...
Tucson feels like a second home (or maybe more like a fifth home...) and here are a few of our favorite digs and some practical info if you end up in this neck of the desert...
EAT : The best taco place in town is a little hole in the wall called Pico De Gallo; 3 incredible fish tacos (with homemade corn tortilla) for under $6. Yes, please. Only 8 minute from the rock gym!
Another place that should not be missed is Tucson Tamales (2 locations); 2 Santa Fe tamales (or Chipotle beef, our favorites!) with 2 sides of your choice (don't miss their mexican slaw) for under $8! You can also buy their tamales frozen to warm up at home!
For a unique experience (and a very cheap meal), go to Govinda Natural Food at the local Ashram. All you can eat vegetarian buffet (Tuesday is Indian Night, Wednesday and Thursday are vegan nights) with homemade papadum, delicious salad with sprouts and homecooked food ($11 for adults, $5 for kids (10-12 yo), $4 for 7-9 yo and $3 for 4-6 yo). And you can eat outside in their beautiful enclosed yard.
GROCERY : McGary's Discount Grocery (a few blocks from the Ashram) has awesome deals on expired/dented food items. Think 8 Luna Bars for $1, Kettle Chips bags for $1, Natural Krave Jerky bags for $1, cereal boxes at 3 for $5, Back to Nature nut mixes, cookies, crackers, etc for a fraction of the price, natural lotions and shampoos... even natural dog treats and recycled toilet paper at ridiculous prices. As long as you don't mind the loud Christian music blasting through the store and the near-paranoiac attitude of the store owner about having things stolen and children running down the aisles you'll love this place as much as we do.
Another great way to save money on food in Tucson is through The Club 3000 (Market on the Move). Every week you can get 60 lbs of fruits for $10 on Wednesday from 9 am to 1 pm (sometimes it's every day of the week). The content varies every week (citrus, peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggs, etc.). The best place to be kept informed is their Facebook page.
For a dirt cheap grocery store, we love Food City (a few locations in Tucson). Good ripe fruits for cheap directly from Mexico, dairies and eggs for very cheap, and great homemade nachos, taco shells and tortillas.
For good quality natural food at a decent price, we love Sprouts (a few locations in town). Great coffee and home brand products.
LAUNDRY : For the full hole-in-the-wall laudromat experience, go to Superior Cleaner (10 min from the BLM, just by Food City!). The cheapest in town (bonus soap operas in Spanish blasting on the TVs). They even provide free Wifi.
If you rather pay more and have a clean brick-wall and lime green wall laudromat with the UofA hipsters, go to Wildcat Laudry.
DUMP AND FILL : Free at the Giant gas station on the corner of Valencia and Kolb, but it's pretty far from the BLM. We go to Western Way RV Resort (10 min from BLM) for $10.
RECYCLING : There is a big recycling station at the entrance of John F. Kennedy Park, right behind the Mission Public Library (free wifi) at the corner of Ajo Way and Mission.