To call it a mere parade wouldn't be doing it justice. The long-running Day of the Dead event, which has been held every year since 1990, brings together the fringe crowd from throughout the state for a creative and chaotic cornucopia that's equal parts Burning Man, Halloween, and Mardi Gras all rolled into one.
If you're willing to make the drive, we've got plenty of info on attending the event, as well as tips on outfits to wear, where to stay, and what to do while in Tucson.etails: More than 20,000 participants stroll along a two-mile route decorated with Dia de los Muertos altars through Fourth Avenue while adorned in festive costumes. Since the festival is celebrating Día de los Muertos, skulls, skeletons, and Chicano-inspired outfits are de rigueur (including the requisite Day of the Dead face-paint). Others wear elaborate and ultra-colorful ensembles (such as Greek goddesses, dragons, or techno-samurai) or just cutout masks of their recently deceased friends and family members.
Meanwhile, stilt-walkers and performance artists tromp around alongside mobile art installations. Many folks also carry photos, hand-written memories, and signs commemorating their those who are dearly departed.
Getting There: Hop on Interstate-10 and drive south on a two-hour trek to Tuscon. Take exit 257 onto Speedway Boulevard and head east to Fourth Avenue. Finding parking can sometimes be a hassle, but Trinity Presbyterian Church adjacent to the lineup area offers plenty of spaces to stash your ride.
Where to Stay: Rooms at the iconic and vintage Hotel Congress are available, although rates start at around $100. If you're a seeking some less-expensive options nearby, check out the Best Western Royal Sun ($70 per night) or the kitschy Quality Inn Flamingo ($65 per night).
Other Art Events: If you get down to Tucson a bit earlier in the daytime, a few Day of the Dead exhibitions are being offered by museums and galleries. The historic Tohono Chul Park will be showcasing its annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition of altars, paintings, quilts, and other works created in honor of the holiday. Hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $8. The Tucson Museum of Art will also display a number of artsy ofretas and other offerings. Hours are from noon-5 p.m. Admission is $8.
The Grand Finale: Considered to be just as epic as the procession itself is the performance art extravaganza capping off the event at the Mercado San Agustín public market at the end of the two-mile route. Tucson's Flam Chen pulls out all the stops every year for the finale, staging a performance featuring fire-dancers and flame-wielding daredevils creating an inferno of light and color while aerialists twirling and spinning in midair and are held aloft by a crane.
Experimental and burlesque dance groups, puppet troupes, and musicians also take to the stage and add to the funky aura of the event, which climaxes with the burning of altars and Day of the Dead prayers from parade participants in a giant cauldron.
Afterwards: If the various dives, college bars and drinking establishments of either Fourth Avenue or Congress Street don't interest you, a variety of nightlife events will take place following the procession.
Tucson's renowned Calexico music group will hold its annual "Dance of the Dead" celebration at the Rialto Theatre while New Orleans musician The Voodoo Organist will perform at the official after-party at Club Congress.
The All Souls Procession 2011 takes place on Sunday in Tucson. Lineup is at 5 p.m. at Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard. The parade begins at 6 p.m. Participation is free. Click here for more info.