Creating a winter wonderland feel in the desert

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Zoolights at Reid Park Zoo. (Courtesy of Rue Forlong)

Looking out the window and seeing Southern Arizona blue skies, palm trees and nothing but brown dirt on the ground may not exactly remind you of winter and the holidays. But head over to Reid Park Zoo or drive up to Mount Lemmon and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different dimension.

Here are some events and destinations that will get you ready for the holidays and winter.

Mount Lemmon

A sure way to get into the spirit is to visit Mount Lemmon. Less than an hour's drive from the University of Arizona campus, pine trees and chilly temperatures are sure to be found. You may even get lucky and see some snow on the ground. 

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Make sure to stop by the Cookie Cabin at 12781 N. Sabino Canyon Parkway, and get one of their world-famous made-from-scratch colossal cookies or a pizza and a coffee. You can also ride the chairlift at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley and take in the sights from above. 

Winterhaven 

A Tucson local favorite is walking through the Winterhaven Festival of Lights. For those unfamiliar, it is a neighborhood with houses covered in Christmas lights and decorations that is open to the public.

This year is the 73rd annual festival. It is an extremely popular local favorite. From Dec. 10-26, you can visit the neighborhood from 6-10 p.m. 

If you prefer not to walk, you can also reserve a hayride, party bike or trolley tour through the neighborhood. 

Snowfall at La Encantada

In the foothills on the east side of Tucson, La Encantada Shopping Center puts on its own winter magic complete with “snow.” 

OK, it’s not real snow, but Thursdays through Saturdays now through Dec. 23 you can see snow machines cover the mall. Twice a night, at 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., the shopping center creates an enchanted scene by coating the courtyard in a layer of faux snow. 

Admission to “Enchanted Snowfall,” which also features Santa Claus, is free. 

Tucson Holiday Ice

The ice skating rink is back again this year for the desert dwellers to live out their Rockefeller Center dreams without the headache of traveling. 

Head to 260 S. Church Ave. through Jan. 8 to ice skate outdoors with your family and friends. Tickets for a 90-minute session are available in person or online for $20 for adults and $14 for children under 12. 

The Nutcracker

A tradition for many families is going to see the Nutcracker ballet. Here in Tucson, there are four opportunities for you to be captured by the rat king and follow along on Clara’s adventures.

Ballet Tucson will partner with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for performances Dec. 22-24 at Linda Ronstadt Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets can be purchased online and start at $35.

ZooLights at Reid Park Zoo

Another local family favorite is visiting the Reid Park Zoo. During this time of year, the entire zoo is filled with lights, some making pictures of animals or characters. There’s live entertainment on some nights.

ZooLights will be here through Dec. 23, with encore nights Dec. 26-30. 

Tickets are available online for $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children. Children under the age of two are free.  


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


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