Article by Kristin Tovar

Perfectly situated amidst the Tucson Mountains, the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa is just minutes from downtown Tucson. Close to the city, but tucked away in nature, it is a luxurious oasis dropped in the middle of the desert. The resort provides guests with multiple opportunities to experience the surrounding beauty, from a guided hike to morning and evening rituals that not only highlight Tucson, but also motivate to explore the undiscovered, and encourage a grander feeling of purpose.

Dawn of a new day

When I wake up on my first day at JW Marriott Starr Pass, I’m immediately greeted with luxurious comfort and attentive service. I wonder how to start my day, but I soon discover the resort has this covered already. The helpful staff suggests I introduce myself to the day, and Tucson, by exploring the Sonoran Desert on a morning hike in Tucson Mountain Park, just steps from the resort. Intrigued, I join a group of other guests to meet the guide who leads us through the desert.

The further we hike, the more I understand the uniqueness of this location. Every saguaro grows to different shapes and heights, all complementing one another, but still holding their own individuality, much like the eclectic neighborhoods that make up the city of Tucson. I’m surprised by how lush the desert is as we pass by a variety of plants—jojoba, which is used for its medicinal properties; prickly pear with bright purple fruit spread across the desert floor; the small leaves of the Palo Verde tree that flutter into my hair. Not only is everything beautiful, but everything also seems to have purpose. I find myself not wanting to miss any opportunity to see the desert unfold.

Inspired to explore more of Tucson and comb through the desert’s multifaceted layers, after the hike, I head to the resort’s patio, Salud Terrace, for a morning ritual. Mitakuye Oyasin—meaning “all my relations”—is a traditional Native American ceremony led by Larry Redhouse, a Navajo man, who for many years has come here to greet the sunrise and share stories of his family and the importance of looking at life through our connections to nature and one another. A jazz musician, he leads with his heart and soul, and speaks of his gratitude for his parents’ support and teachings. They taught him that spirituality is a lifetime journey. And as he begins to greet the sunrise with music, I am welcomed to join part of his spiritual journey.

He begins to play the flute in tune with the surrounding nature, joining in the chorus of birds and pointing to the connection of all things. Immediately after his song, I make a sage prayer tie by taking a cloth and carefully placing pieces of sage into it, symbolically placing each one of my prayers in the hands of something greater than myself. We toss our prayer ties into the fire pit then take a moment to pass around a shell of burning white sage, using a bald eagle feather to cover ourselves with the scent. When it is my turn, I take the feather and pause to inhale the scent of sage. The scent surrounds me and I begin to feel liberated as the cleansing aroma, and sights and sounds of Tucson, offer a fresh start to the day. I am present, ready to freely explore my surroundings.

Starr Pass Tequila Toast

Call it a night

I spend the day exploring Tucson, finding new experiences that are distinctly off-the-beaten path and uniquely Tucson. As the day ends, I return in the evening to the Salud Terrace to hear The Legend of Arriba Abajo, which accompanies a tequila toast given nightly at sunset. Waiting to be served tequila for the complimentary toast, I look out at the same tall, resilient saguaros I saw this morning, noticing that they remind me that we all stood to see another day.

It’s one thing to see the desert, but another to taste its unique flavor, which is why I cannot wait to try one of the 150 artisan tequilas the resort has handpicked for the toast. A tequila aficionado from Salud shares the charming story of Pancho Villa asking for his love’s hand in marriage. Only able to win her father’s approval by out-drinking him in tequila, Villa comes up with the “world’s most difficult tequila toast”: Arriba, abajo, al centro, al dentro.

Jw Marriott Starr Pass Pool at sunset

JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa

As we toast and watch the sun set, I realize what was most memorable about my time here. It is the experience of connecting with Tucson and finding myself. From the very beginning of my day, JW Marriott Starr Pass has taken me on a journey to discover Tucson’s distinct personality and free my own. My Tucson, and resort, experience was amplified as they welcomed me with open arms, giving me a sense of freedom to discover the lush desert surroundings and rich cultural traditions. This is more than a resort. It’s a place where travelers become participants in Tucson’s culture and heritage.

Anything is possible in the desert, and I am ready for whatever is next. I am in a light-hearted mood ready to say goodbye to today’s adventures; excited for what’s to come. The sun may have set, but the day and my discovery of Tucson’s many layers is far from over.

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