As we embark on our new column, Destination Diaries, I want to emphasize the profound significance journaling holds for me. Whether it involves planning or documentation, there’s an ineffable joy in revisiting those experiences life gives us, even months or years later. That being said, none of my journaling experiences have been as delightful as my recent escapade to Arizona with our Publisher, Karen Shayne.

Let’s get right to it. When your best friend’s inaugural documentary secures a spot at the Worldwide Women’s Film Festival in Phoenix, there’s no second-guessing—my response was an immediate “Just give me a minute to pack my bags.”

And so, off we jetted to Arizona.

I managed to persuade Karen to kickstart our adventure in Tucson a couple of days ahead (commencing on Tuesday), where we planned visits to the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) and the Saguaro National Park. Following a taxing day of travel, we snagged a bottle of wine and nestled into the Cactus Garden of our hotel—namely, the Courtyard Tucson Airport by Marriott—as we bided our time until our reservation at El Charro Café, the longest-running Mexican restaurant under the same family ownership since 1922. For a review of this culinary gem, click here.

Considering its proximity to the airport, the hotel’s rooms were surprisingly comfortable. The Bistro restaurant also pleasantly surprised us with its offerings for both breakfast and dinner, making it an excellent choice for a quick layover, despite the occasional aircraft noises.

On Wednesday, we made a last-minute audible call to venture to Tombstone—an hour’s drive from Tucson—where we immersed ourselves in the reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral. We enjoyed a meal at the Crystal Palace Saloon, partaking in the tradition of having a classic Sarsaparilla. While the cuisine was satisfactory, it was the meticulously restored bar that truly captured our attention. Post-lunch, we meandered through the historic town of Tombstone, which has undergone recent restoration efforts for visitors’ enjoyment. If you find yourself in Tombstone, a stop at the Boothill graveyard is an absolute must. It was during this time that we received the disappointing news of the cancellation of our stargazing experience at KPNO due to overcast skies—an especially disheartening blow as it was the primary reason for our Tucson excursion.

With the need for alternative plans, we devised a new itinerary. We drove a short distance to the Saguaro National Park (East)—specifically, the Rincon Mountain District Visitors Center. After watching a brief film on the park’s history, we spent the entire afternoon traversing the 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop—a picturesque route winding through the Saguaro Forest. Witnessing some of the cacti beginning to bloom, we were treated to breathtaking vistas of the desert juxtaposed against the Rocky Rincon Mountains. What struck us most was the challenge of encapsulating the desert’s beauty in words. Upon returning to the hotel, we dined at the Bistro restaurant and savored a glass of wine together before retiring early for the night.

I simply cannot conclude the day without recounting its most memorable moment. During our drive, we had the opportunity to witness the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and its historic aviation boneyard. From the roadside, we beheld hundreds of planes, prompting an immediate inquiry into its significance via Google, which informed us that it is a “boneyard facility that houses over 4000 excess military and government aircraft.” Wow. 

Our final day in Tucson (Thursday) held yet another excursion. We visited the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, a museum nestled in the Catalina Foothills of Arizona.

Our last few hours in Tucson transported us back to our “happy place” at the Saguaro National Park, albeit this time we ventured to the West side—Red Hills Visitors Center. These two sections (East and West) flank the City of Tucson, and the Red Hills Visitors Center proved to be nothing short of spectacular.

After a 2-hour drive to Phoenix, we arrived at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort. Our inaugural evening there was spent at the Twenty 6 Bar nestled within the confines of the hotel. I was introduced to the Desert Flower cocktail (soon to be a staple at cocktail hour). Despite the slightly cool weather, Desert Ridge Resort boasts water slides, a lazy river, a spectacular spa, and an array of other activities to suit your fancy. Another perk? Ample servers on hand to cater to your every whim, from your Tequila Sunrise to your Champagne sunset.

Breakfast was at Tia Carmen (located within the resort), offering an array of hot and cold options. Following our meal, we leisurely roamed around the pool, partaking in a Prickly Pear Margarita and Pina Colada—both of which come highly recommended. Later that evening, after dropping Karen off at the theater for her opening party, I rendezvoused with family at Red Devil Pizzaria—an establishment that comes equally commended.

Come Saturday, we reconvened for breakfast once more at Tia Carmen. I spent a leisurely day by the pool with my sister-in-law, where we stumbled upon the Indigo Empress Gin—a delightfully light concoction whose purple hue added a festive touch to the day. We dined poolside for lunch before making our way to the theater. Friends gathered at the Cork and Craft, where Karen’s business partner, Kiya, joined us. The restaurant boasted an impressive selection of fare, ensuring a delightful dining experience.  

From there, we made our way to the Worldwide Women’s Film Festival, where we bore witness to the premiere of “My First Breath,” produced by Karen and Kiya.

It would be remiss to visit Arizona during spring training and forgo attending a game. Consequently, Sunday morning saw us heading to Surprise, Arizona, to watch the World Champion Texas Rangers take on the Chicago Cubs at Surprise Stadium. The weather proved to be delightful, with temperatures warm enough to warrant a sampling of the Cactus Margarita—a delightful blend of sweet and spicy flavors.

For our evening repast, we ventured to The White Chocolate Grill, a short distance from the hotel. The establishment boasted an outstanding selection of dishes, rendering the meal one of the highlights of our trip. Exhausted from a week of travel, we found ourselves at the bar, raising one final toast to a splendidly successful journey, blending both business and pleasure seamlessly.

Below, you’ll find all the links pertinent to our western journey. Should you ever find yourself in Arizona, rest assured that every one of these offerings is guaranteed to enrich your experience. Here’s to you, Arizona! Thank you for the unforgettable memories.

Links:

El Charro Restaurant

Desert Ridge Resort

The White Chocolate Grill

Saguaro National Park

Red Hills Visitors Center

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

Kitt Peak National Observatory

Rincon Mountain District Visitors Center

Tia Carmen

Cork and Craft

Twenty 6 Bar

Surprise Stadium

Tombstone, Arizona