Tucson sunsets

Monsoon sunset over the cactus forest of the Saguaro National Park West, Wednesday, August 10, 2016, Tucson, Ariz.  

We are writing this story for us and for you. 

Because we could all use a reminder that there are still small, lovely summer things we can look forward to. 

We don't say this to minimize the hard things — there is good reason for our grief and disappointment. So much has happened, is still happening. 

But still, there is much to love about Tucson — even when we are looking at triple-digit forecasts that occasionally say "smoke." 

Of course all the (now) usual things apply to any away-from-home outing: Wear a mask, keep your distance and stay home if sick. Also, as Arizona faces a surge in COVID-19 cases, you might want to consider mentally filing a few of these ideas for later in the summer and enjoy some of the closer-to-home options now. Check with individual organizations for updated information, as things change quickly. 

So, with July on the way, we'll raise a watermelon Eegee's to bright sides and summer days. Here are a few things we're looking forward to. 

Monsoons

Monsoon season officially started June 15. Also known as chubasco, the summer rains bring much-needed moisture and cooler evenings. Not to mention lightning, heavy rain, high winds, flash flooding, hail and dangerous driving conditions. Still, we look forward to those cloudy afternoons and it-just-rained smell. The smell, by the way, comes from the creosote bush. 

For more monsoon facts, check out this story about Arizona's monsoon

Watermelon Eegee's

July in Tucson is synonymous with watermelon Eegee's slushes — so synonymous, in fact, that just about every year, Eegee's teases us on social media with an early release of the flavor. Also, if you need some inspiration to transform your average Eegee's into a happy-hour-worthy cocktail, we have some recipes for you

Summer reading

We launched our third year of #ThisIsTucson's Summer Reading Challenge for Grown-Ups in May. The list has 18 Arizona-inspired books, with both fiction and nonfiction titles. Many of these books were written by a local author, set in Arizona or deal with regional topics. Plus, the book list itself is adorable and worth printing so you can get the satisfaction of physically checking off the titles your read. If 18 books is just not enough, peruse our lists of local reads from 2019 and 2018

The Pima County Library also created 10 book lists inspired by our 2020 Summer Reading Challenge, just in case you're on a hold list for books from the challenge. Visit thisistucson.com/readingchallenge for that list and our other summer reading lists. 

Although you can't currently browse library shelves right now, you can pick up holds curbside at most branches. The library is a great resource for book lists, especially if you're looking to add more books by Black authors to your to-be-read list. We just interviewed Tenecia Phillips, a Sahuarita Library librarian and the chair of Kindred, a team that has been buying books, hosting programs and creating book lists that support and celebrate the Black community since 2017. It's a great resource for diversifying your bookshelf. Visit library.pima.gov/kindred for more information. 

Lake trips

Patagonia Lake State Park is a refreshing getaway from the dry landscape of Southern Arizona.

For a desert state, Arizona has its share of lakes. Patagonia Lake is probably one of the better-known lakes for Tucsonans to visit at just a 90-minute drive away. You can do all the things here, including boating, swimming, fishing and more. The state park is currently open but may fill up quickly to day-use visitors, so plan on going early and on an off-day (ie: probably not Fourth of July weekend). State park rangers are monitoring crowd size and limiting capacity to allow physical distancing as necessary. Masks are required when visiting restrooms, ranger stations, stores and other buildings and outside if you can't maintain 6-foot physical distance. Masks are not required while swimming, at your own campsite or in a boat. Restrooms are currently closed, but portable toilets are available throughout the park. Check azstateparks.com/patagonia-lake for capacity and park information. 

For other lake options, check out this story about nearby lakes, or visit azstateparks.com for more information about nearby lakes such as Roper Lake State Park in Safford.

Drive-in movies

This is the summer of drive-ins. From the socially-distanced safety of your own car, you can watch favorite blockbusters from years past on big screens in several locations around the Tucson area. Tip: Buy your tickets in advance if possible. Also, check with event organizers directly, as information can change. 

Every week, El Toro Flicks in Oro Valley and Tucson posts the coming lineup of movies on Facebook (there are separate Facebook pages for the Tucson and Oro Valley locations). In the last week, those included "The Breakfast Club," "Jurassic Park," "The Goonies" and more.

El Toro Flicks Tucson screens downtown at 198 S. Granada Ave. and El Toro Flicks Oro Valley screens at 12155 N. Oracle Road. The cost starts at $20.90 per vehicle. Visit the El Toro Flicks website for updated movie schedules. 

Other area drive-in options with upcoming shows include the Cactus Carpool Cinema at 4450 S. Houghton Road for $20 and up per vehicle, and a movie series by Sahuarita Parks and Recreation at 1905 N. Old Nogales Hwy. Admission is free, but it's first come, first served.

Visit the Cactus Carpool Cinema and the Sahuarita parks and recreation website for more information. 

New restaurants

The spicy chicken sandwich, $5.25, at Toss has crunchy chicken breast with pickles, housemade mayo and a buttered bun. 

Earlier this week, #ThisIsTucson's Andi Berlin told us all about Toss, a new restaurant that does ramen and fried chicken sandwiches with a Japanese twist. 

We don't know about you, but one of the things we love about Tucson is our city's delicious food scene, and ramen + chicken sandwiches sounds like one of the most unexpected but best combos of comfort food we could hope for right now. Or is that just me? 

Order takeout from Toss Fried Chicken and Ramen at 1655 S. Alvernon Way

Andi also wrote about how Prep and Pastry plans to turn its newish sandwich spot August Rhodes Market at 3073 N. Campbell Ave. into a full-scale bakery in about three weeks. We're talking English muffins, Japanese milk breads and the pandemic's favorite carb: Sourdough bread.

The store will also sell breadmaking kits.

Prickly pear season

Late summer, around mid-August, brings with it the ripening of prickly pear fruit, or tuna in Spanish. These pinkish/purplish fruits produce syrups, juices, jellies, candies and more. 

To harvest prickly pear, get permission from the owner of private property before you do so. Removing or disturbing any plant is not allowed in Saguaro National Park. And, as a general rule, it's best to check with the appropriate government entity before you go harvesting on public land to make sure it's legal.

Also watch out for snakes. And, obviously, the spines on the pads and glochids (more spines) on the fruit. Wear gloves and bring long tongs to harvest the fruit. For more information about harvesting or preparing prickly pear, check out this story. 

Or, if that sounds like too much work, order prickly pear syrup or jelly from Native Seeds / Search or Cheri's Desert Harvest

And then treat yourself to a prickly pair margarita. 

Apple picking

Apple Annie's Orchard in Willcox opens for the season in July. The produce farm opens on July 1 and the orchards open a bit later in July. Head down to pick sweet corn and summer squash and then apples and pears starting around August. 

Unfortunately, frost ruined the majority of the peach crop this year, the farm said in a Facebook post. Typical 2020. 

There are lots of you-pick and pre-picked produce options at Apple Annie's, from tomatoes to peppers to apples. Just be aware that the veggies and orchards are actually at two separate locations. 

For vegetables, you'll want the farm at 6405 W. Williams Road in Willcox. For fruit, head over to 2081 W. Hardy Road in Willcox.  

As always, as things change, visit appleannies.com for updated information before you go. 

Sunsets

Sunset sky seen from Saguaro Park East, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, Tucson, Ariz.

This is a forever bright side to living in Tucson. We have some of the best sunsets around, what with vibrant colors streaking the sky and silhouettes of mountains and cacti — even a streetlight can look attractive silhouetted by an Arizona sunset. If there's nothing else to look forward to, wait for dusk, go outside and lift your eyes. Tomorrow is a new day. 


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