NEW YORK (Money magazine) -
It may be worth postponing Valentine's Day for a visit to the Sonoran southwest.
|Where to stay†||Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort†|
|Where to eat†||Cafe Poca Cosa†|
|Don't miss†||The wildflowers†|
Beneath every square mile of ground lie billions of seeds, waiting, sometimes for years, for just the right conditions to germinate. Then, beginning in March, they explode: Mexican poppies, lupine, owl clover. Desert browns and beiges give way to gold, violet and pink. After an especially rainy fall, they can cover the landscape like a luminescent carpet, stretching for miles.
For the best walk on the wildflower side, take a hike to Picacho Peak State Park, 40 miles up the road toward Phoenix. For a road show, head west on Highway 86 to the Tohono O'odham Reservation.
If you can't visit on short notice (since it's impossible to time the flowers), more reliable blooms -- cacti and ocotillo in red, prickly pear and brittlebush in yellow -- appear in April. That's also when the wildflowers blossom in the cooler grasslands southeast of Tucson toward Tombstone. (Check for wildflower updates at desertmuseum.org.)
Because the skies over southern Arizona are among North America's clearest, several observatories scan the heavens from here. From Highway 86, make an evening detour south to the Kitt Peak National Observatory. After a brief tutorial and a light dinner, visitors stargaze to their hearts' content with two state-of-the-art telescopes capable of peering into other galaxies ($36 per person, reserve in advance; 520-318-8726;www.noao.edu/outreach/nop).
SUNSET SITING Gates Pass, at Tucson Mountain Park, 15 minutes west of town, is the place to see the sun disappear behind the vast desert -- or rise over the city in the morning.
SLEEP, EAT The luxurious Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, in Tucson's northern suburban foothills, is more resort than ranch, but guests can hike or ride horseback through 36 acres of desert (doubles from $155; 800-728-6514; haciendadelsol.com).
Downtown, Cafe Poca Cosa serves Mexican cuisine as you've never tasted it before. Order the Plato Poca Cosa ($20), and chef-owner Suzana Davila will choose three entrees for you to sample. Trust her judgment (dinner for two, about $46; 520-622-6400).