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Exploring Arizona’s Outdoor Wonderland

Article and Photos by Ann Nelson

 

After putting my dog Murphy to sleep,I headed out to Tucson with my good friend D.J. and my other dog Megan. Our destination was the welcoming outdoor sanctuary at Lowe’s Ventana Canyon Resort. This nature-inspired setting, positioned on 100 acres and nestled in the foothills of The Catalina Mountains, proved to be the perfect place to begin healing.

The scenery is simply magnificent and has the look and feel of an awe-inspiring state park. We pinched ourselves repeatedly during our stay, as we hiked around the nature trails, visited the butterfly garden and watched the watercolor sunsets from our private balcony.

The resort, recognized from the beginning for its design and preservation of the desert surroundings, was named “the first environmentally-conceived resort in North America” by Architectural Digest. The half- mile long paved Window Walk Trail, leading to an 80-foot natural waterfall, was constructed in collaboration with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A 1,500-square-foot butterfly garden was created around 20 types of plants and attracts more than 60 species of butterflies. The garden is certified by the National Butterfly Association as a national butterfly garden and a monarch flyway.

An 800-square-foot tortoise exhibit, certified by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Muse-um, is now part of the Tortoise Adoption Program that benefits the welfare of captive and wild tortoises and turtles. When this land was developed, none of the 3,500 saguaro cacti were destroyed and all the riparian habitats were kept intact. The property is home to over 130 species of birds and thousands of plants. It comes as no surprise that Lowe’s Ventana Canyon Resort was recently awarded one of the “Top 9 Hotels for Nature Lovers” by Sunset Magazine.

Soon after settling in, D.J. and I headed over to Lakeside Spa to reward ourselves after a long drive. The spa, inspired by the energy of the mountains, the desert and sparkling waters of the lake is now recognized as a “Top 100 Resort Spa in the U.S. “by Conde Naste Traveler Magazine. Treatments are infused with restorative Native American rituals, native plants and healing aromatic oils. Personalized exercise and bodywork classes are also offered. In case you’re looking for golf or tennis, two signature 18-hole golf courses and lighted tennis courts are a stone’s throw away from the spa.

The resort’s upscale signature restaurant, The Flying V Bar & Grill, is the perfect place to sit, relax and take in the view of the sun setting over the 18th hole of the golf course. Much of the intriguing cuisine has a Southwestern flair and is created with ingredients from local farms and the chef’s herb garden. Guacamole sommerliers make a table-side guacamole that is simply the best! 

After a good night’s sleep, we spent the morning hiking and discovering the splendor of nearby Sabino Canyon. Miles of trails are designed for hiking, horseback riding and bicycling. The canyon is home to a rich mosaic of various habitats for plants and animals. White-tailed deer, bobcats, tiny elf owls and gila woodpeckers all live among the rugged and varied slopes of the canyon. Saguaro cactus is interwoven into the desert scrub and grasslands. This is the perfect place to relax, take a few deep breaths and surrender into the quiet beauty of the canyon.

We stopped for lunch at El Charro. The restaurant is not only a Tucson institution, but is America’s oldest Mexican restaurant continuously operated by the same family since 1922. The same fabulous, original recipes are still used today.

We planned an afternoon city tour with Reisen Arizona Day Tours. Michael Foltz picked us up at Lowe’s in the early afternoon and showed us around Tucson. The highly-rated company offers over a dozen tours, including Mission Tours, Arizona Winery Tours and Ghost Tours. During our tour, we explored the Presidio section of downtown, dating back to 1775, the historic mansions of Snob Hollow, Ft. Bowie and Mission San Xavier del Bac, dating back to the late 18th century. All tours may be customized and generally include a meal.

Visiting The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum was on the top of our “to-do” list. This 21-acre botanical garden, zoo and living-history museum is home to over 2,600 different types of plants and 300 animal species. Three miles of trails wind through exhibits and breath-taking natural areas at the foot of Picket Post Mountain. We visited a Hummingbird aviary, a 200-gallon tank aquarium, and reptile exhibits. This place is truly mesmerizing.

A few weeks before our trip to Tucson, D. J and I watched a Netflix video titled “More Than Honey”. We were so impressed with Fred Terry, an organic bee-keeper featured in the video that we decided to visit him in nearby Oracle before leaving Arizona. Fred was well versed with the plight of the honey bees and pollination problems. According to Fred, people need to be aware that we are drenching our fields with agro-chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and dozens of other poisons. The effects from using these chemicals are showing up in our food chain and devastating the honey bee population. The situation is serious and troubling.

While in Oracle, we stayed at The Triangle L Ranch B & B. The fifty-acre ranch, owned by an artist, dates back to the 1880’s. Four guest houses dot the hillsides and are set among century-old oak trees and expansive stone walls. The B & B is home to abundant wildlife, an art gallery and desert sculpture park. The ranchland comes alive at night, with endless streams of stars shining in the unobstructed sky. Lighted pathways, perfect for exploring in the darkness, are surrounded by nature and art. The ranch is host to the annual event GLOW, now attracting over 3,000 people to celebrate The Harvest Moon.

IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION

Lowes Ventana Canyon Resort: (520) 299-2020 or www.loweshotels.com

Triangle L Ranch: (520) 623-6732 or www.trianglelranch.com

Reisen Arizona Tours: (520) 319-8130 or www.reisenarizona.com

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: (520) 883-2702 or www.desertmuseum.org

Fred Terry, organic bee-keeper: (520) 896-9432.

 

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego.