The San Xavier Del Bac mission on the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona. MICHAEL SNEED/SUN-TIMES
Updated: January 2, 2014 6:22AM
They say history repeats itself.
Well, so do good vacations.
For nearly 40 years, I’ve returned to land owned by my heart; the southern desert of Arizona.
I’ve gone with people who count in my life; and some who didn’t count for very long. I’ve traveled the desert as a passenger, but prefer it as a driver.
I’ve stayed in unremarkable motels; two dude ranches; and tacky hotels. . . until a casual tip from a national political consultant during my short stint as Mayor Jane Byrne’s press secretary sent me to Tucson and the remarkable Arizona Inn.
In the spirit of giving thanks for life’s blessings, I’d like to share my favorite road trip. . . and advise you to bring along your passport for a footstep into Mexico.
◆ Day one: Rent a car at the Tucson airport and drive immediately to the old section of town known as the Barrio. Put on the brakes in front of El Minuto Cafe at 354 S. Main Ave., and dive into a divine Mexican “Crisp,” an uber-thin, crunchy chip dolloped with green chiles and guacamole. It’s also located next door to the only national monument dedicated to a guy killed by an angry husband buried on unconsecrated ground. It’s a love story. Candles are available.
◆ Check in at the Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St., an elegant, 80-year-old resort no longer encapsulated by the desert and a former hideaway for top Hollywood movie stars like Clark Gable, trying to escape from the madness of fame. Escape from the madness of your life at the 10 star swimming pool, hidden by lush grounds and a pristine desert garden.
◆ Stats: There are no signs leading to this exquisite, privately owned inn, which oozes old money; incredible service; high tea; a library, a classic desert garden and patrons with good manners. No golf. But the piano player at the chic bar knows how to play “Stella by Starlight.”
◆ Day two: Breakfast at the super busy Blue Willow cafe, 2616 N. Campbell Ave., for sensational huevos rancheros, then head south on Interstate 19 for a stop at the historic San Xavier del Bac mission, located on the Tohono O’odham reservation, to say a prayer and light another candle. Then head outside the church for a slice of Native American fry bread coated in honey, cooking in metal tins stuffed with burning Ocotillo branches. Yum. (You won’t get hungry on Sneed’s tour.)
◆ Continue south on Interstate 19 to the tiny, trendy artist commune of Tubac, once the home of legendary humorist Will Rogers, and try to be pithy while sipping a margarita at Elvira’s eye popping eatery; trying on Kim Yubeta’s stunning jewelry at K. Newby Gallery; visiting the Tubac Center of the Arts; and admiring the street signs of desert tiles made by the late Tubac artist, Susie Hesselbarth, Yubeta’s mother.
◆ Then head south on Tubac’s frontage road for a stop at the restored Tumacacori mission founded by the legendary Spanish priest Padre Kino — run by the National Park Service. A stone’s throw away is the tiny Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co. One whiff through the door and your sinuses are unplugged. Check out the tiny museum in the back of the shop and find out what killed legendary cowboy star Tom Mix, who died in Arizona. It’s a hoot.
◆ Day three: The desert trek. Head west on Interstate 8, deep into reservation country to stop at the eyeblink town of Why, to ask “Why?” This tiny pitstop, a fork in the road originally named “Y,” leads to the orgasmic Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which glows in late afternoon. For dinner: Try to snag a dinner reservation at the stunning White Stallion Ranch to dine with dudes lucky enough to be staying there. Amidst breathtaking desert views, the ranch is located on the flip side of Panther Peak heading north out of Tucson. The owners, Russell and Michael True, are true blue cowboys.
◆ Last day: Head east on Interstate 10 to Patagonia country. . . veering right onto Highway 83 toward the little town of Sonoita for a visit to high desert country. Once you hit the crossroads at Sonoita, turn right to the small town of Patagonia and stop for an ice cream cone next to the town’s legendary Stage Stop Inn; check out the silver jewelry at the Many Horses Trading Co.; and ask for directions to the nearby, stupendous San Rafael Valley. If the view of this free-range grassland doesn’t knock you off a horse, nothing will.
◆ Then head out of Patagonia to nearby Nogales, Ariz., where you will park your car in a lot located next to the entry turnstile at the Mexican border and walk — don’t drive — across the border to my favorite hideaway: Balcon La Roca. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump away, left across the railroad tracks to an oasis of trees and wisteria smack against a wall of rock. The elegant Mexican nightclub serves my favorite margaritas, guacamole, garlic shrimp and chicken mole.
Lastly, pitch a few pennies in the fountain for luck before you leave. Hang onto your purse. Re-cross the railroad tracks. Smile at the border guards. And chuckle at how silly you were to be nervous about crossing the border in the first place.
Sneedlings. . .
Saturday’s birthdays: Kim Delaney, 52; Don Cheadle, 49, and Minnie Minoso, 88. . . Sunday’s birthdays: Mandy Patinkin, 61; David Mamet, 66; and Bo Jackson, 51.