Japanese Friendship Garden - Photo by Jennifer Mullins

Contemplative Spots

By: Bryn Bailer

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December 2, 2016

Find inner harmony at these reflective retreats.

About the author

Bryn Bailer

Bryn Bailer

Native Tucsonan Bryn Bailer is an award-winning journalist, former newspaper reporter, current-affairs junkie, and a firm believer in indecision. (At least she thinks so.) Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Dallas Morning News, Arizona Highways, Arizona Daily Star, international news service Agence France-Presse, scads of lifestyle magazines, and curiously, the English-language financial magazine Czech Business Weekly.

You can find bustling city centers in Phoenix, lively arts districts in Tucson and Bisbee and majestic natural landscapes throughout the Grand Canyon State. But when you tire of high-energy pursuits, you can also find spaces that allow for quiet reflection and – dare we say? – renewal.

Treat yourself with a visit to one of Arizona’s contemplative spots.

Spiritual Sanctuaries

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona: Perched delicately on a red-rock butte, this striking Roman Catholic chapel is visible for miles. The glass-walled chapel juts out from the sandstone hillside, seemingly supported by a single, towering cross. Visitors from around the world come to pray, light devotional candles and marvel at nature’s majesty stretching out below.

Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David: Located between Benson and Tombstone, this small Benedictine monastery features a lovely chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as a picturesque courtyard garden, stations of the cross and a shaded, waterfall-fed koi pond.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson: The celebrated “White Dove of the Desert,” considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, was built in the 1790s – when the area was part of New Spain. The mission still celebrates Mass daily and remains a vital part of Tohono O’odham culture.

St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence: Rising up from an arid landscape, this oasislike monastery features manicured gardens, soaring cypress and palm trees, splashing fountains and quiet chapels for private prayer. Modest dress is strictly enforced for visitors.

Our Lady of the Sierras, Hereford: This space – a popular Mexican pilgrimage site, and where the Virgin Mary is said to have delivered messages of hope to believers – is marked with a 75-foot cross and a monumental statue of the Madonna, both visible from State Route 92. It also includes a larger-than-life-sized marble statuary, a prayer chapel constructed of local river rock and a contemplative trail following the stations of the cross.

Zen Gardens

Japanese Friendship Garden, Phoenix: Completed in 1996 as a Sister City project between Phoenix and the Japanese city of Himeji, this is more park than garden – featuring more than three acres of lush landscaping, flowing streams and waterfalls, a traditional Japanese tea house and a half-acre pond filled with flame-colored koi.

Yume Japanese Gardens, Tucson: This outdoor space, constructed on an unassuming ¾-acre plot in midtown Tucson, is designed to look like a modest Japanese home garden. Its minimalist landscaping features dry-rock riverbeds, raked-gravel Zen gardens and a small, shoji-screened contemplation cottage. 

Tohono Chul, Tucson: Meandering trails in this desert preserve get you up close and personal with local flora and fauna, as well as a variety of demonstration gardens. Tohono Chul’s Desert Living Courtyard includes a small, Zen-inspired meditation garden featuring specimen boulders gathered from the Tucson Mountains, as well as desert-adapted white autumn sage and Sonoran potato bush shrubbery.


The Lodge at Sedona, Sedona: This bed-and-breakfast inn makes its large labyrinth open to the general public. The spiral walking trail is a seven-path classical labyrinth – seven being symbolic of the body’s seven chakras – and is constructed of locally harvested, precisely placed river rocks.

Superstition Mountain Museum, Apache Junction: The 15-acre desert site, located along the historic and scenic Apache Trail, is home to the Lost Dutchman Labyrinth, designed in 2011 by a former Green Beret, who based it on designs he encountered abroad. It measures an impressive 50 feet in diameter and is carefully constructed of earthen berms.

Sanctuary Cove, Marana: On the northern border of Saguaro National Park’s Tucson Mountain District, you’ll find Sanctuary Cove – a little-known oasis featuring scenic mountain vistas, a non-denominational chapel and a rock-bordered labyrinth. Built on private property in 2010, the labyrinth is open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

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