By Chris McBeath

The night sky was better than any firework festival and from our grandstand seats at La Hacienda del Sol, it was a mesmerizing show.

Sometimes there was muffled thunder but usually, it was like watching a silent movie. When mid-summer storms come to Tucson, they travel across the sands as fast as a roadrunner speeds for cover. And watching the show from the serenity of La Hacienda del Sol, sipping Sangria and nibbling pistachios, it was an encore to a magnificent stay.

As one of Arizona’s legendary inns, La Hacienda del Sol has woven an illustrious history of cowboys, film stars and some of the most prominent corporate names in America. Clark Gable used to call it his ‘little hacienda’ – a place he could go to, unhurried and unknown while for Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, it was a romantic haven.

Built in the 1920’s, La Hacienda was originally a 34-acre ranching homestead and private school for girls. Located at the end of a winding, dirt road, it provided both privacy and seclusion for the daughters of families such as Pillsbury, Vanderbilt, Kellogg, Maxwell, Spalding and Campbell. Today, many of the guest rooms still have the Monterey bureaus, desks and chairs that the girls enjoyed and the Sante Fe inspired architecture still exudes a Spanish colonial charm that includes beautifully carved beams in the library and restaurant, cloistered walkways and shaded courtyards, hand hammered tin light fixtures and picturesque double doors – an early form of air conditioning against the blistering heat.

By the mid 1940’s, La Hacienda had been converted to a guest ranch, becoming the secluded desert hideaway for Hollywood celebrities, including Howard Hughes, Joseph Cotton, John Wayne and Clarke Gable, who spent parts of several winters there.

Today, La Hacienda is undergoing a renaissance. Adobe walls, Spanish-tiled bathrooms, saguaro rib and beam ceilings and porches have been painstakingly restored.

The garden is an open gallery of tropical flowers, art deco sculpture and assorted cacti while the tennis court and swimming pool, skirted by vibrant bougainvillea, are framed by acres of natural desert landscape and expansive views. The Grill Restaurant, which opened in 1997, has been nationally recognized in publications such as Esquire, Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine. But best of all are the newly renovated accommodations, a range of courtyards rooms, suites and private casitas, including Casitas Grande, reportedly the favorite of Tracey and Hepburn.

Each of the 30 rooms offers its own set of eccentric surprises from iron and copper-clad headboards to unique artwork and original designed furniture that reflect the rich history of the South west. And personal touches are everywhere, as if you were in the comfort of your own home.

As the stars of yesteryear discovered, and we came to understand, there is nothing ostentatious in this tranquil setting. It’s a place of simple pleasures. In the evening you can hear the murmur of doves rising out of the desert. A wild rabbit may scamper across the garden. As you walk across the courtyard you’ll feel the memories that are cherished at every turn. And, if you stay there in summer, the sky will dance at night.

Little wonder why National Geographic recognized La Hacienda as one of the best small lodges in the United States – it is, indeed, a rare delight.

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  1. Historic Entrance; credit hacienda del sol
  2. Outside view of the grill; credit hacienda del sol
  3. Rainbow at the driveway; credit hacienda del sol