Creeks fall from the snowy peaks through intricate canyons that constitute flowering, paradisical enclaves for hummingbirds and butterflies and bats. The finest resorts, and better golf courses, are scattered in foothills along the northern edges of Tucson, at the heart of an oasis culture that reminds me of the Andalusian coast of southern Spain (without the ocean).
There's a lot of Old West gunfighter history connected to southern Arizona, aspects of which are pure Hollywood baloney. It's said that the longest shot that hit anybody in the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone was twelve feet, with a shotgun. It is not a story you hear in Tombstone. Tourists aren't interested in hearing the six-gun legends demythologized. The territory was settled (the native people say conquered) by the military, and by miners and cowhands. A great many hearts, and heads, were broken in the process.
Tucson was a trading center, a desert borderland town, partway Chicano, hard-handed and dusty. Culture and amenities eventually came to the city with the University of Arizona, and with well-to-do citizens from the East and the deep North, seeking refuge from winter. Elegant places to stay soon flourished. The Arizona Inn, built during the Depression, is a lovely hideout -- people breakfast by the pool, then play bridge in the shade once the table has been cleared.
The resorts became self-defined enclaves, each with its own character. Going to them can be like crossing into another country, where it's easy to live according to the natural paces of the body and escape the machines and electronic devices that so often run our lives.
What I like to do is obey the child I used to be, get up with the birds and charge through thirty-six holes, or sleep until noon, have a massage and idle through an afternoon with a book by Jim Harrison (who winters south of Tucson) or Leslie Marmon Silko, the great Native American writer who lives in the hills west of town. Or test my politics with Desert Solitaire, a brilliant look at dryland verities by that old Tucson iconoclast Edward Abbey.
Or turn naturalist, and undertake the study of hummingbirds. (The hummingbird enclosure at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is as alive as anywhere I've been -- dozens of tiny birds negotiating the swift business of their lives.) Or with Gary Paul Nabhan's The Desert Smells Like Rain as a guide, take interest in the night-feeding habits of the bats and moths that pollinate the cactus. Mary Oliver has written, "There is only one question: how to love this world?"
Or take a full-swing lesson every morning, and carry your new moves to a different course every afternoon. Or pick a favorite venue and play it over and over until you understand its particular intricacies (which to me is more pleasurable than rattling around on one strange course after another). You are likely to be occasionally surrounded by cacti. Learn to name them -- the great-armed, ancient saguaro; the cholla, one type called "jumping" because it seems to reach out and grab you (to be absolutely avoided); the red-flowering ocotillo. Makes the lost ball, mandatory drop and penalty a little easier to accept if you can name the beauties nearby. Type A behavior seldom pays off in confrontations with the real-time desert.