The Dirty T, a Connection To The Earth

Let’s just get it out of the way: Yes, there are some people who call Tucson “The Dirty T.” It shows up as a hashtag, as the call-out for a Phoenix-to-Tucson road-trip and occasionally as a mild bit of mockery from fans and alumni of one of the state’s other (excellent) universities.

But here’s the thing: Tucson is a little dirty, although possibly not the way you’re thinking. It’s part of our heritage, starting with the earth turned into the adobe buildings in the Barrio Viejo. Tucson is more grit than gloss, more substance than sheen. If you want to call that “dirty,” so be it.

Yes, we have incredible resorts, luxurious spas and fine dining experiences we’re proud of, but an essential part of Tucson is what’s off-the-beaten path: the taquerias and Sonoran hot dog joints open way too late, the dimly-lit bars serving the best cocktails you’ve ever tasted, dancing under the stars on the Hotel Congress patio or on Playground’s rooftop bar, the unexpected experiences that start sometime after sunset and end – well, let’s just leave out when some of those nights end.

That’s one way to find out about “The Dirty T,” but the other (and not likely what college kids are referring to with their hashtags) is a connection to the earth that will surprise you. Tucson has been the home of farming (right at the base of A Mountain) for over 4,000 years (consecutively), the longest such run in North America. And we’re still making food, from start-up farms just south of town like Top Knot and Sleeping Frog to the San Xavier Co-Op Farm, where you can buy dried cholla buds harvested by Tohono O’odham tribespeople in the Sonoran desert and dried under the sun. The dirt – and our long-standing relationship with it – is why Tucson was selected as America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy. We have great restaurants – lots of cities do – but ours have an extra connection to the land itself.

Tucson’s a place where you might have to brush the dirt off your shoes before entering your hotel, but that’s a small price to pay for the great hike you took complete with spectacular views. You might get acquainted with the desert soil on an epic mountain bike ride such as 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, but if you hit the trails without getting dirty, you’d be doing it wrong.

If you want the polished and produced, maybe Tucson isn’t the right place for you and that’s ok. Tucson isn’t a city that’s looking for the approval of the masses. Tucson is about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, our unique borderlands culture and a lot of uniqueness along with a touch of the unexpected. If you’re looking for the authentic, the tangible, the resonant, “The Dirty T” is ready and waiting.