An Hour to Kill Downtown? You Don’t Have to Stare at Facebook
October 1, 2015
by Brad Poole
You have an errand to run Downtown, and you wind up with an hour to kill.
Don’t despair, you won’t have to stare at your phone trying to find an hour’s worth of cat videos and political memes to post on Facebook. There are lots of things to do downtown with a free hour – and one just might lead to everlasting bliss.
That turquoise stripe of paint you’ve seen snaking through Downtown Tucson is there for a reason – it’s a tour.
The 2.5 mile walk sponsored by the Presidio San Augustin de Tucson takes you past a series of Downtown highlights, including the start at Presido Park, a recreation of the original walled Spanish fort that stood downtown more than two centuries ago.
The tour (pick up a brochure that Presidio Park) includes swings past the Tucson Children’s Museum, which started life as a Carnegie Library; a statue commemorating Mexican revolution hero and erstwhile Arizona outlaw Pancho Villa; the beautiful historic Pima County courthouse (which will soon house museums); and Old Town Artisans, a collection of galleries, shops and restaurants at the site of the presidio blacksmith shop.
The tour takes more than two hours at a leisurely pace, but it can be done in parts. For more information, see TucsonPresidio.com.
Pray (or admire architecture)
You could always use your free hour to take a step toward salvation – and check out one of Tucson’s most beloved historic treasures.
St. Augustine’s Cathedral, a Catholic church built barely a decade after Mexico ceded Arizona to the United States, is a two-block stroll south of Congress at 192 S. Stone Avenue.
The brick cathedral with its hallmark dual towers and was completed in 1868, the same year the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson was established. If you look closely, you can find saguaro cactuses and yucca in the ornate cast stone that fronts the building, which was renovated in the late 1960s.
St. Augustine holds mass weekdays at 7 a.m. and noon, and several times Sunday morning in English and Spanish, one with mariachi. The doors are open all day for quiet reflection under the protection of a 600-year-old Spanish crucifix. Confession is Saturday afternoon.
For more information see the cathedral website.
Train station and Wild West shootout site
Tucson’s historic train station offers several glimpses of history, including a grisly moment in Arizona lore in which Wyatt Earp gunned down a man he suspected of killing his brother.
Few know the gunfight at the OK Corral didn’t end in Tombstone in October 1881. It stretched on for months afterward in a series of revenge killings that left more than a dozen men dead, including Frank Stilwell.
Stilwell was a southern Arizona businessman, outlaw and deputy for Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, whose gang of associates famously shot it out with Earp’s gang in Tombstone. In March 1882, five months after the shootout, Earp’s brother, Morgan, was shot and killed in what was assumed to be a revenge killing.
Two days later Wyatt, a deputy U.S. Marshall who was convinced Stilwell pulled the trigger on his brother, saw the twice-acquitted gunslinger in Tucson. Earp chased him down the tracks near the Tucson station, killing him with a shotgun.
Earp, Doc Holiday and two other men were charged with murder in Pima County, a charge Earp evaded by moving to Colorado. Late in life he admitted the killing, offering a hand-drawn sketch explaining what happened. The killing is marked by a plaque and statue of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday on the platform at the train station.
The station also houses the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, a small affair that offers a variety of exhibits related to Arizona’s transportation history. The museum is home to a restored steam locomotive, which is available for tours on request during museum hours.
The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. And Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
While you’re there step inside the lobby of the restored station, which is a stop for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle routes (three Tucson stops weekly in each direction). The city bought the station, formerly owned by Union Pacific, and restored it in 2004 to its 1941 condition.
The station and museum are at 400 N. Toole Avenue, across the street from Hotel Congress.
Arizona Historical Society Downtown
One of four Historical Society museums in Tucson, this downtown branch offers exhibits on a scale you can easily see in an hour.
The museum offers depictions of early Tucson life, including recreations of police and fire stations and a 19th century barber shop, and sponsors an online exhibit featuring John Dillinger, who was famously captured in Tucson after escaping from an Indiana jail in 1933.
The museum, which encourages generous donations, is open Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, see ArizonaHistoricalSociety.org.
Go to court
Tucson is home to a towering centerpiece of American society, and it’s free and open to the public every day, as long as you’re willing to walk through a metal detector and maybe submit to a pat down. Sometimes it’s history in the making.
Hundreds of federal trials happen every year in the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse at 405 W. Congress, and they are all open to the public. It’s surprisingly interesting and informative to watch lawyers, witnesses and defendants, sometimes with their lives on the line, navigate our justice system, a real life Law & Order.
The DeConcini courthouse is a key center of immigration justice where thousands of immigration cases have been heard, some with national implications. Charges of abuse by Border Patrol agents and allegations of wrongdoing by members of Congress have played out here.
You can check the docket here. If you’re ambitious, stop in the clerk’s office on the ground floor. There are computer terminals where you can read court filings. You might be surprised how fascinating it is.
Everybody jump around
If you want to burn some energy for an hour, stop by Get Air Tucson, a trampoline mecca at 330 S. Toole Avenue.
For $11, you get an hour to explore thousands of square feet of trampolines, some set up as basketball and dodge ball courts, some angled for varied vaulting and some padded and scaled for kids (under 46 inches; they get an hour for $6).
On Monday groups of four get in for $5 each, and there are other specials. You’ll have to sign a waiver for injury liability, but … trampolines. Bounce responsibly.
Get Air is open Mon.-Thur., noon-10 p.m.; Fri., noon-11 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Get more information here.