It would really be a shame to visit Tucson and not at least spend a few hours in the true desert among the saguaros. With that perspective in mind, on Sunday morning we drove out to the western unit of Saguaro National Park, just west of the city and an easy 30-minute drive from the hotel. The road enters the park, and suddenly you are surrounded by cactus forest and undisturbed desert flora. Turning off the tarmac onto the gravel Golden Gate Road, we suddenly found ourselves all alone as we cruised through the park, stopping occasionally to check out particularly impressive saguaros, flowering prickly pear, and cholla. In this western section of the park, the mountains are lower than in the eastern section, but the trails are considered more scenic and varied, and within easy reach. Though the heat of the day was onsetting, we still hiked a few miles along the Bajada Wash and up to the Valley View Trail, where there’s a vantage point of the low mountains to the east and the desert valley to the west. We didn’t see any people (even on a weekend just outside of a major metro area), but we did see plenty or birds and lizards. The Sonoran Desert here is clearly an extremely harsh environment, but it’s surprisingly lush up close, with a huge variety of plants growing out of the hot, dry soil. After a mile or two, we were officially cooked, and looking forward to some poolside time to cool off and relax.
Our suite at the Westin was enormous, complete with a large living room, fireplace and dining table, refrigerator/bar, extra half-bath, a huge master bathroom (with tub, shower and walk-in closet), king bed, and a private patio with jacuzzi. It offered the perfect respite from the midday heat, and hastened our recovery from any and all active pursuits.
In addition to the standard resort amenities, the Westin also has an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa on property, just adjacent to the some outstanding tennis courts that beckoned me (to no avail). Sylvia and I headed over to sample the signature Red Door Massage, which their website described as incorporating “essences of rose oil, shea butter cream, facial acupressure and foot reflexology for head to toe balance and relaxation.” Our massage therapists were both excellent, working out all the kinks in just the right way – clearly these were real professionals, not the typical hotel massage contractors who moonlight for various properties. We emerged after an hour in a blissful state of relaxation and energized for the evening.
As it turned out, we needed all that pent-up energy to prepare for the fantastic meal we shared outdoors at the on-property Azul Restaurant. Dinner turned into a festival of food, starting with pork belly sliders, mozzarella-stuffed arancini, a seafood tart, sizzling calamari, and a giant Caesar salad. From there, we gave ourselves up to our inner carnivores, sampling the filet and ribeye steaks on offer. Finally, we managed to save room for a perfectly moist chocolate torte and some delicate beignets. The food at Azul was beyond expectations for a resort restaurant (so often just average at best), and came with a friendly and refreshingly down-to-earth staff.