Intro to Southeastern Arizona Travel

History, Nature & Wide-Open Spaces Greet Visitors to the Desert

A visitor’s guide to Southeastern Arizona, celebrating the region’s fascinating folklore, Native American history, geological wonders, and desert life.

Arizona may officially be the Grand Canyon State, but that national park in the northwest corner of the state is by no means the only reason to visit in search of the Wild West. In fact, many of the most familiar images of the American Southwest—towering cacti, cowboys and ranchers, and Spanish-American heritage—are found in Arizona’s southeastern region.

Southeastern Arizona is a study in nature’s contrasts. This desert habitat receives only a few inches of rain per year but nonetheless explodes with succulent plants and colorful wildflowers in spring. Desert grasslands seem barren, only to reveal flocks of birds and herds of antelope. Many assume the Arizona desert to be a hot, unbearably dry place, but its high elevation—up to 7,000 feet—and mountainous sky islands cool the land. Two natural sites—Saguaro National Park, in Tucson, and Texas Canyon, 65 miles to the southeast in Cochise County, offer a look at Southeastern Arizona’s contrasting scenery.

In and Around Tucson

Tucson, the region’s largest city with more than a half-million people, is the gateway to southeastern Arizona (encompassed primarily by Cochise County). The city is flanked by the east and west portions of Saguaro National Park and the iconic, towering cacti can be seen everywhere—even planted in traffic islands and golf courses. Visitors can expect an extremely dry climate which results in dazzling sunshine and comfortable temperatures year-round at the region’s high desert elevation. Even in winter, daytime temps rarely dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, though at night, the desert loses the sun’s warmth quickly and temperatures can drop 30 degrees. In the mountain ranges scattered throughout Cochise County, known as “sky islands,” weather is wetter and cooler but still quite arid during the year.

Interstate 10 is the main east-west highway in southeastern Arizona, which runs through Tucson east toward the towns of Vail, Benson, and Willcox. Scenic U.S. 82 begins in Vail and heads south through canyons and wildlife preserves to Nogales, on the border with Mexico. Smaller U.S. 191 departs Interstate 10 between Benson and Willcox and goes south through scruffy desert grasslands dotted with yuccas, mesquite trees, and creosote bushes, terminating at Douglas, the border town adjacent to Agua Prieta, Mexico.


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