South-central Arizona is rugged and wild, with a rich history that includes soaring Sky Island mountain ranges and Spanish missions. It’s also home to Green Valley. Who books a weekend getaway in a retirement community 30 miles south of fun and festive Tucson? Smart people with a penchant for bright, clear skies and a craving for a wide range of things to see and do, that’s who.
The tab: $255 a night, including taxes, fees and breakfast buffet; $15-$25 a person for lunch, with tip and non-alcoholic beverage; and $9.50 for adults (anyone over 13) for the missile tour.
Green Valley stays are best had the condo-hotel way. A one-bedroom unit at the Wyndham Canoa Ranch Resort (5775 S. Camino del Sol;  382-0450) included a full kitchen and, at 1,200 square feet, plenty of room to spread out. Evenings are well spent on an east-facing veranda, taking in the sunset on the Santa Rita Mountains and the trunk-and-tusk geologic formation known as Elephant Head.
Firefly Restaurant (3001 E. Frontage Road, Amado;  398-3028), a few miles south of Green Valley, is one of the best outdoor dining spaces south of the Tucson foothills. The food is American and reflects our melting-pot democracy: poulet crepes and a gyro platter, grass-fed tenderloin and blue-crab cakes, pierogis and miso salmon. It’s varied and not at all discordant. If it’s not too hot, sit outside and take in the garden, desert and mountains.
The Titan Missile Museum (1580 W. Duval Mine Road, Sahuarita;  625-7736) is an eerie and enthralling reminder of the Cold War. There’s a real, though deactivated, 10-story-tall ballistic missile — once topped with the equivalent of 9 million tons of TNT — in that concrete tube in the ground. The one-hour tour goes underground and includes the nuke-hardened control room where a four-person crew worked in isolation. Longer, more exploratory tours are offered too.
The lesson learned
I’m AARP-eligible but refuse to admit to it, certain I’m still 19 and just in need of some warranty work. Green Valley might be mostly age-restricted enclaves, but it’s no Sun City circa 1976. The takeaway is that Green Valley is attractive for its setting and outdoor bounty: hiking riparian-rich Madera Canyon and the piney slopes of Mt. Wrightson, playing golf — San Ignacio and Canoa Ranch are standout canyon-and-cactus plays — and bicycling the freeway frontage route to Tubac. As a bonus, as you head south from Tucson through the Santa Cruz River Valley, the weather gets a bit cooler.