Tucson: The Land of Rejuvenation
Health, Wellness and Healing Opportunities Abound in this Sonoran Desert Sanctuary
Tucson has long been a land of wide-open spaces, abundant sunshine, and lush deserts – a place whose ethos is tied to its reputation for healing. Today, though Tucson’s metropolitan core has grown, it remains a destination known for its wellness offerings. You can find it in the hundreds of hikes dotting the city’s fringes, forcing you to be present while scrambling up the side of a mountain; in the spa treatments administered at the resort and destination spas, many of which feature soothing indigenous ingredients; and even after a monsoon rain when you inhale the cleansing smell of creosote. It’s no wonder why people have flocked to Tucson for decades, in search of healing, both physically and psychologically, and why many leave feeling revitalized and in some cases, even reborn.
Beginning around 350 B.C., the Hohokam Indians called the Tucson valley home, utilizing the more than 3,500 native plant species for food, shelter and medicinal purposes. While the Hohokam people mysteriously disappeared around 1450 AD, the verdant desert they left behind continued to flourish. Today, botanists look to the Sonoran Desert for respite from common ailments. Teas derived from plants such as sweet acacia and desert lavender cure everything from sore throats to nausea, and ingredients such as jojoba and aloe vera are commonplace in lotions and cosmetics.
It's not just the Sonoran Desert’s lush landscapes that are known for their redemptive qualities, however. Practitioners have long viewed the dry desert air and permeating sunlight as a source of healing. In fact, Tucson was home to thousands of so-called tuberculars, or patients diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 20th century. A 1913 federal public health survey concluded that more than half Tucson’s population had emigrated west in hopes of finding a cure for tuberculosis. Tuberculars lived in an area pejoratively called Tent City, just north of the University of Arizona campus, and later in sanitariums that cropped up throughout the city. Their treatment plans were simple: ample time outdoors, plenty of rest, healthy eating and exercising.
Today, Oracle State Park, just 45 minutes north of downtown Tucson, is an homage to the effectiveness of these treatments. In 1902, Neil Kannally moved from Illinois to a tuberculosis health resort in Oracle where he was successfully treated. After recovering, he purchased a cattle ranch, which he and his siblings eventually expanded to some 50,000 acres. His home and a portion of the land was later donated to the state of Arizona and today it’s open to the public for exploration, hiking and stargazing.
Holistic Medicine Takes Root
The distant cousin to sanitariums, Tucson-based Canyon Ranch and Miraval Arizona are two of the premier destination spas in the United States. The idea behind both is to treat the individual holistically, by healing from the inside out.
Canyon Ranch was the first to make this leap in 1978, when the spa’s founder, Mel Zuckerman, made the decision to live a more healthful life. Just a year later, Zuckerman shared the secrets to his transformation by opening the doors to the all-inclusive Canyon Ranch. It was a first-of-its-kind wellness resort, drawing upon western and eastern cultural beliefs to establish and treat each person’s overall health, spirit, fitness, nutrition and beauty. While the resort has grown in popularity (and now has a total of four locations), its core values have remained consistent – each person sets an intention upon arrival, which guides their custom itinerary through spa treatments, classes and activities throughout their stay.
Less than 20 years after Canyon Ranch’s inception, Miraval was founded with the intent of restoring balance in its guests’ hectic lives. At this one-of-a-kind resort, visitors check their electronics at the door and focus solely on their journey ahead. Rich activities like aerial yoga, ziplining and the trademarked Miraval Equine Experience are sprinkled in with spa treatments and nutrition courses.
It’s not just Tucson’s destination spas that are preaching the benefits of holistic medicine, however. The University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine was the first program of its kind. Founded in 1994, the program espouses the benefits of integrative medicine through a consortium with Duke University and University of Massachusetts, residency program, fellowship and global training program. Weil’s success in promoting integrative medicine led him to found True Food Kitchen, a restaurant that utilizes whole foods and local ingredients in menu items that are both appealing and healthful.
Today, Tucson’s wellness story extends far beyond the university and destination spas. It’s found at every resort and guest ranch where outdoor activities abound and spa treatments ease achy muscles.
Begin your resort spa journey at Hashani at JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa. The name Hashani is derived from the local Tohono O’odham language and means saguaro. It’s aptly named, considering the lower level has floor-to-ceiling windows with vistas of nearby Saguaro National Park West, where hundreds of the towering cacti dot the mountains. Indulge in a Cactus Blossom body treatment, which incorporates native ingredients such as the blue corn scrub, or enjoy an Arizona Copper Peptide Facial, which harkens to the state’s longstanding history as the leader in copper mining.
The Sonoran Spa at Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa features an array of massages, scrubs and facials, all of which contain Sonoran Desert botanicals and therapeutic herbs grown at the resort’s Wellness Garden. Splurge on the Monthly Wellness Garden Scrub, featuring seasonal ingredients from the resort’s gardens, such as citrus in the spring, aloe vera and mint in the summer, or pomegranates in the fall, for the ultimate treatment that will leave your skin feeling refreshed and renewed.
Book an afternoon of indulgence at the Hiapsi Spa at Casino Del Sol. Hiapsi (pronounced Yop-See) is the Pascua Yaqui word for "heart and soul,” both of which will feel full and cleansed after the spa’s signature Flower Ritual. This one-of-a-kind Yaqui-inspired ritual merges nature’s healing herbs and acupressure massage with the power of aromatherapy to establish a stronger connection with Mother Earth.