Starr Pass Resort & Spa, Tucson

Tucson is all abuzz – the first new resort in 18 years has risen like a welcome mirage in the Sonoran Desert. This particular desert is famous for its tall, green cactus, the kind that sprout arms. Although old Western movies seem to indicate otherwise, saguaro cacti are only found in one place in the entire world, the Sonoran Desert, an arid region encompassing parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.

Mexican influence is widespread in this region since the border lies just 65 miles away. The resort architecture is inspired by a Mexican hacienda and guests are greeted at the entrance by a long fountain replicating an aqueduct from colonial Mexico.

Starr Pass Resort

According the Mike Kass, director of sales and marketing, “The design and decor of Starr Pass is intended to offer a gracious welcome; rather than the overwhelming kitsch of turquoise and coyote motifs you sometimes find used in Southwestern themes.”

A focal point at Starr Pass is most certainly Salud. This large, open terrace brings inside comfort levels out into the fresh desert air. Inviting wicker and green sofas are grouped in friendly, intimate arrangements. Like cowboys gathering around the cook fire, guests congregate nightly at the three firepits on the terrace.

Daily at sunset, Salud is the site of the tequila ritual. A staff member, usually Brian Jaymont, the resident tequila expert, tells a tale of legendary figure Pancho Villa. It seems the gentleman has fallen in love and wants to marry, but the girl’s father has other ideas. The “potential” father-in-law challenges Villa to a tequila drinking contest. The story has a happy ending, as Pancho Villa out-drinks the fellow, wins the contest and gets the girl.

Starr Pass Resort

For the ritual, assembled Starr Pass guests are given a free shot of tequila. To keep things interesting, a different type is sampled each night. The resort carries more than 100 varieties, and Jaymont is always pleased to chat about his special tequila infusions and the countless ways to serve this potent potable.

But the real show begins minutes later when darkness falls. The resort sits on a rise creating a view downward toward Tucson. Two mountains peaks also frame the valley below. In the distance, the city lights appear to constantly dance and shimmer – whether due to air movements, distance or desert magic, I don’t know, but it’s beautiful.

Because there are so few other structures in the vicinity, the stars overhead appear especially luminescent. Adding to the scene, spotlights shine on the saguaro cactus close to the terrace. It’s a simple show of light and darkness, yet captivating.

Starr Pass Resort

It’s a common belief that the desert has natural calming qualities and for centuries, native people have made practical use of desert plant life. Unlike other desert topography, the Sonoran Desert is lush with plants, which somehow manage to sprout from hard packed earth. It may not be the green lawn and leafy trees you’re accustomed to, but it has its own appeal.

Named for the saguaro cactus, called hashani by the indigenous people, Hashani Spa brings those same soothing, restorative qualities to their treatments.

Combining the latest beauty technology with ancient traditional techniques, a glance at the spa menu provides a pleasant dilemma: What to select? I’d suggest a Sonoran Quench Wrap or an Enzyme Facial utilizing cranberries, papaya and pumpkin.

Golf is another major draw to Starr Pass. The course, situated among the mountains, traverses canyons, ravines and rocky desert washes. A “wash” is desert lingo for a naturally cut ravine where water rushes when it rains.

The original course was built in 1986 under the auspices of designers Robert Cupp and PGA Tour Professional Craig Sadler. Starr Pass has been a preferred choice of challenge-seeking golfers, and you’ll quickly understand why. Palmer Course Design Company has recently completed a renovation of the current 18 holes and added an additional nine.

Starr Pass Resort

Signature Grill is the primary restaurant at Starr Pass, serving three meals a day. You can find pastries at Starbucks, just off the lower level of the lobby, and snacks are available at the poolside bar called Plunge. Starr Pass Golf Club features steaks and chops, with views of the 18th green. The fine dining restaurant, called Primo, is scheduled to open April 1.

For local excursions, the most popular are horseback riding and jeep tours. Hiking and biking on desert trails are other options. For more of the “Old West,” atmosphere, Old Tucson Studios is located a few minutes from the resort. This famous movie set was used in more than 200 films and makes a fun outing, unique to Arizona.

Starr Pass has 575 rooms, including 35 luxury suites.