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Tucson is stellar!

For otherworldly views, groups can visit some of the observatories that ring the city. The clear night sky, aided by a city ordinance limiting artificial light, and the resources of the University of Arizona have made the area a center of stellar, solar and planetary research.

“Kitt Peak Observatory has one of the largest telescopes in the world; a lot of research goes on there,” said Wood. “There also is an observatory through the university up on Mount Lemmon — the SkyCenter — and on campus there are three different telescopes.”

Other observatories in the area that are open to visitors include Spencer’s Observatory, the Smithsonian Institution’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, the Mount Graham International Observatory and Discovery Park’s Governor Aker Observatory.

The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, under the university’s football stadium, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the making of giant telescope mirrors, including constructing the molds, casting and polishing.

“It is a really interesting tour,” said Wood. “They are grinding mirrors for telescopes used all over the world. Visitors can do a day of astronomy.”

From the 21st century, groups can go back to Tucson’s 18th-century beginnings at Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Built between 1783 and 1797, the mission is still an active parish administered by the Franciscans.

Known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” the striking building is a graceful blend of Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican Renaissance styles.

Architecture also plays a role in telling the city’s history in its historic downtown area.

“The downtown area is a must-see to really understand the history of Tucson,” said Wood. “The architecture ranges from adobe mud, which was the original, to bricks brought in by the railroad to wood. You can actually walk around our original presidio, or fort.

“Old Town Artisans is in an original stable of the presidio. It now has a wonderful outdoor-indoor cafe as well as local artisans. A half-stride down are the remains of parts of the walls of the presidio.”

Another era in Tucson’s history, the Wild West, is featured in Old Tucson Studio, where Western movies have been filmed since the 1930s.

“It started out as a movie set but is now a full-blown town people can poke around in,” said Wood. “There are trail rides, a wonderful can-can show and cowboys shootouts.

“Western buffs can visit movie-filming sites where some of their favorite Westerns were filmed.”

Tucson’s sunny location has also helped make it a center for spas and resorts, including two destinations spas: Canyon Ranch and Miraval Arizona.

“We really are the authentic Southwest,” said Wood.